Building a train set

Looks like a feature of this road trip will be trains. I was never a train spotter but, like many boys growing up in the 1950s, steam trains were a feature of life. I recall fondly seeing steam engines chug through the glens of Scotland.

My first cross-country journey by train in the US was as a boy scout to the 1967 World Jamboree in Idaho. We travelled like cattle on the Great Northern from Chicago to Seattle. Fond memories.

Living in Europe, we’re used to high-speed rail travel, at least on the continent. The UK is well behind, and still relies on its Victorian infrastructure – or at least what is left of it after the infamous Dr Beeching took his axe to the network in 1963. I have a map of Glasgow from the late 1950s and, if the rights of way had been retained, then the city would have a first-class light rail and trail infrastructure for the 21st century. Instead, we’ve got motorways.

The US has an interstate highway system to provide high-speed travel, from which I benefit on this road trip. 48,756 miles built since 1956. Imagine if this amount of money and effort had been put into rail infrastructure? This is what China has done, with its new high-speed train set of over 24,855 miles and growing.

So far I’ve seen the Union Pacific Big Boy in Denver CO and the replica Golden Spike trains at Promontory Point UT. Most of the trains I see are freight, but I’ll be taking the Southwest Chief from Flagstaff to Chicago at the end of this first leg of the road trip.

In the meantime, I’ll drive along the roads, trying to stay off the interstates so that I experience the slower life of America.

Great Northern at Coeur d'Alene ID 1967
Central Pacific Jupiter at Promontory Point UT
Train track in Cisco UT
Union Pacific No 119
Union Pacific Big Boy
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