I’m Jacob Wallace, and I’m going to be your Summer by Rail guide for the next few months. I’m currently studying abroad in Madrid, and over the course of my semester I have travelled as much as possible, which has opened up the door to all kinds of wild mistakes, from missed meals to missing tickets.
As a young traveler I am eager to learn, and sometimes I accidentally set up situations for myself in which I learn a bit more than I intended to. Case in point: during two recent trips to Vienna, Austria and Valencia, Spain, I managed to book lodging so far out of the city that a quick Google Maps search informed me I’d be walking for over an hour, heavy suitcase in tow, to get there from the center of either city.
What can I say? Student debt has me bargain-hunting.
Considering the whole point of choosing my lodging was trying to keep prices down, I didn’t just want to take an expensive taxi or an Uber if there was any way I could avoid it. Luckily for me, both cities have extensive passenger rail networks.
In Valencia, I had an Airbnb booked all the way in the nearby suburb of Rafelbunyol even though I was spending all my time in the city center for the Las Fallas festival. Were it not for the Metro’s extended hours for the festival, I would’ve been wandering around the city for about 45 minutes finding a taxi stop and fighting for a ride amongst the other festival-goers.
In Vienna, I took the U4 line all the way to its end in Hutteldorf and only had to walk a further seven minutes to reach my hostel. Imagine, if you will, a lanky American wandering deserted suburban streets with a duffel bag whose shoulder strap, attached with plastic hooks, squeaks so loudly that its echoes reach his hostel long before he does. Now imagine squeaking along for over an hour.
Without the transit rail systems in either city, getting around would’ve been a nightmare.
As I spend a semester studying in Madrid, one of the truisms I most often hear is that European public transportation is far superior to anything that we have in the United States. If we’re being honest, the state of infrastructure in the US has drawn attention for all the wrong reasons: it has become a presidential campaign hallmark to talk about all that needs to be done to fix the system.
However, what’s so remarkable about our train systems in the US is that even in their current state, it’s still possible to have completely unforgettable experiences by rail that can take you to cities across the country.
Over the course of this summer, I’ll be journeying across America documenting how rail and other “last-mile” transportation options can get you just about anywhere you need to go. Along the way, I won’t be turning away from those areas in which help is needed. Rather, I hope to demonstrate that Amtrak and rail in general are a tremendous opportunity. They’re an opportunity for the passengers who can catch unforgettable views on observation decks or pass out in sleeper cars only to wake up several states away from where they started. They’re an opportunity for lawmakers to invest on behalf of travelers and commuters. Most importantly (to me), they’re an opportunity for me to have one heck of a cross-country tour of America. I hope you’ll join me on my journey when I hit the road.
By – Jacob Wallace