Umberto Eco on American Trains

American trains are the image of what the world might be like after an atomic war. It isn’t that the trains don’t leave, it’s that often they don’t arrive, having broken down en route, causing people to wait during a six-hour delay in enormous stations, icy and empty, without a snack bar, inhabited by suspicious characters, and riddled with underground passages that recall the scenes in the New York subways in Return to the Planet of the Apes. The line between New York and Washington, patronized by newspaper reporters and senators, in first class offers at least business-class comfort, with a tray of hot food worthy of a university dining hall. But the other lines have filthy coaches, with eviscerated leatherette cushions, and the snack bar offers food that makes you nostalgic (you’ll say I’m exaggerating) for the recycled sawdust you are forced to eat on the Milan-Rome express.

He should see our buses!


2 Responses to “Umberto Eco on American Trains”

  1. ben wolfson Says:

    Well, how much luxury do you want on a bus? My extremely dim memories of buses in Berlin (I think I was on at least three, back in 2003) indicates that they aren’t markedly better than those in Chicago. (S.F., I grant, could do a lot better in the routing department.)

  2. Matt Says:

    I’m not sure when the essay was published but I think it’s less true now. Union station in DC isn’t bad except right by the boarding area. 30th st. Station in Philadelphia is bright, pretty, and has some excellent food, including a really good bar and restaurant, one good not by train station standards but normal standards. Penn station isn’t wonderful but, except for the crowds, isn’t terrible, either. The main station in Boston is also pretty nice. New Jersey Transit is utilitarian in design but generally functions fairly well. Amtrack’s problems, though real, are not so much it’s doings but that of the tracks. The food isn’t great, but what is great is that you can take you own food, of whatever quality you want, and wine, and enjoy it at your leisure. In the North East, now, even the buses are pretty good if you take Bolt Bus or something similar. Some even have leather seats, there’s wireless internet, they are reasonably clean, and as close to on-time as you can get, given traffic and the like. Booking in advance is easy as well. It’s true that there are nicer buses in Europe and even in Russia, but these ones are not at all bad for rides up to 3 hours or more.

Leave a Comment