What’s the most pleasant form of public transport? Bar none it has to be the long distance train. We’re sitting on a train from Salzburg to Munich, having a very relaxing morning. We got up slowly this morning, did a bit of school work, packed ourselves up, and walked to the station.
And we’ve just whiled away the last two hours very pleasantly. Chatterboy and Hungry Boy have watched a bit of educational television, and are now playing a game and reading a book respectively. Mr Penguin and I have been reading our current books. We had a nice lunch of filled rolls, which I picked up at the train station before the train left, and at each end we have an absolute maximum of half an hour between the station and where we are staying.
Hard to imagine a trip that nice involving a car, even if you aren’t the driver.
To make that work, you do need a high population density. Even in rural areas, we can almost always see a village. That’s certainly not true when we drive to Canberra from Sydney (a trip that is nearly twice as far).
And part of the reason our train journey was so pleasant was that the train was practically empty, as it was around the middle of a working day. I imagine that the German train system gets a fair degree of subsidy from the government, and certainly the amount we paid for this trip (€29 for around 150km) didn’t pay for our share of the deserted carriage.
Ryan Avent, the Economist’s economics online editor, had a fascinating post a while ago describing the flawed analysis that means that even in parts of the US where long distance travel makes sense, the established economic discourse means that road subsidies and rail subsidies are measured completely differently.
There is a similar discourse in Australia, too, and from everything I’ve read, the NSW Treasury, in particular, had an ideological objection to trains for many years, since they weren’t enough of a market solution to transport issues.
So I can’t see the Australian train system getting significantly better any time soon. A shame, since trains are such a civilized way to travel.