Monday, May 20, 2013


There's a lengthy and interesting article in the Sunday edition of the New York Times about the decaying railroad lines in Pakistan.  The problem seems to be one of funding disappearing as more and more shipping went to different modes of transportation.  That coupled with a country rent by militias and warlords and the Taliban and the tracks are rusting and trains are running later and later and passengers are leaving in droves to ride buses.  The last time the railroad, which was created by the British in the days of the Raj, made a profit was 1974.  That's nearly 40 years ago!  The destruction of the rail industry seems to echo much that has gone wrong in Pakistan.  

The wealthy and the military center around Lahore, on the Indian border, but their lavish social events have to be held in secure compounds even there.

But the railroads.  I remember reading Paul Theroux' wondrous tales of traveling to mysterious corners of the world on some of those trains that used to run from the Khyber Pass all the way to the former capital and largest city of Karachi, on the Arabian Sea.  But now the railcars are hot and dirty and less used and always late.

I couldn't help wondering if this is the future of Amtrak in the United States.  Much of the freight shipping business has left the trains here for trucks.  We hear of a crumbling infrastructure here, too.  Can Amtrak be far behind the wasting railroads of Pakistan?

I have ridden Amtrak trains . . . up the California coastline, from New York to Washington, D.C. on the Metroliner, and even before it was Amtrak, taking to the rails between Minneapolis and Bismarck, North Dakota.  When I was a very young lad, the train still stopped at the depot in Stanley, my very small home town, and occasionally I would ride it to Minot, a mere 60 mile trek.

I have ridden trains in Mexico (decidedly NOT a good experience) and through Europe (a grand experience).  I remember a wonderful meal served on a white table cloth covered table between Innsbruck, Austria, and Florence, Italy.  My memory seems to tell me there was even a flower in a vase on the table and I'm sure wine was served.  Somewhere I have a photo of SWMBO and I standing outside a railcar with a sign proclaiming it "The Orient Express".  It wasn't the train of fame but one of many that have borrowed that title.

All of which is to say that I would hate to see Amtrak go the fate of the Pakistani trains.