Trains: What We’ve Lost

Last week, I rode a vintage diesel-powered Union Pacific train from Provo to the top of Spanish Fork Canyon. I wrote this article for the Daily Herald about the experience. Though the article focused on safety, what really stood out to me from the whole experience was how much we’ve lost as rail travel has become less integral to our culture (particularly in the West).

As the pictures below try to show, the train was grand, efficient, and spacious. It was faster than car travel and more comfortable than a plane. In fact, it was very comparable to trains I’ve had the opportunity to ride in Europe. (I’d say it was nicer than typical Italian trains, but grungier than the average German train.)

Anyway, because the train is now mostly a museum piece that gets only occasional usage, the interior was decorated with framed documents from its heyday in the 1950s. Apparently, at that time trains connected Utah and other parts of the county more efficiently, more often, and more economically.

An official I talked to pointed to numerous factors behind the demise of rail travel (again in the West): a few accidents gave trains bad publicity; air travel was faster; Amtrak was mismanaged at least initially and possibly later on as well. There are also many other reasons, of course.

But in any case, the experience emphasized to me the fact that train travel really works. It works in Europe today. It worked once in the U.S. And as the arrival of Frontrunner suggests, there is interest now making it work again.

This Union Pacific train used to carry passengers across the U.S. Today, it’s used for safety and promotional activities.

The interior of the train was spacious and comfortable.

Close up of the seat upholstery. The train had a lot of cool details like this.

Stairs to the second floor, which had panoramic “dome” windows.

Framed information from the train’s past.

Provo’s current train station. The population on the sign is out of date.

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