Next Time Take the Train

I like trains. I have great memories of traveling across Canada with my then two-year-old granddaughter; traveling through the Alps on a swift, quiet Swiss train; taking the snow train to Reno, etc. I have never taken the Coast Starlight to the Pacific Northwest, but hear it’s a beautiful ride and may do so later this month.

But, scenery isn’t the only thing that rail travel has in its favor. A person’s energy footprint is much lighter riding a train than on either air or auto travel. Amtrak has announced forthcoming eco-friendly trains that will offer a 90 percent reduction in emissions as well as require two-thirds less fuel than the traditional trains.

You probably read recently that Cal Train, which runs from San Jose to San Francisco, will soon be converted from diesel to electricity benefiting Bay Area air quality and noise level. The next big thing in the evolution of trains may be a shift to fuel cells. Trains started off burning wood, then shifted to coal before switching again to diesel and electricity. Fuel cell autos haven’t caught on yet, probably because of lack of filling stations carrying hydrogen. This is not a big hurdle for rail lines and Germany expects most of its trains to be converted from diesel to hydrogen in the next 10 to 15 years. As I’m sure you know, when hydrogen is combusted the bi-product is water….not smoke or smog.

According to the manufacturer, the new fuel cell trains will travel at up to 100 miles per hour and cover a distance of up to 1,000 km between refueling stops. I don’t know about you, but I’m pulling for Jerry Brown’s high-speed train from San Francisco to San Diego. It’s frustrating that the cost keeps going up, giving the Republicans a strong argument for canceling the project.

I can’t believe that China and many other countries are capable of economically building bullet trains, but we aren’t. Maybe if our national priorities were stronger on transportation and less on weapons of war, we could lead the world on train transportation instead of aircraft carriers and fighter jets. The United States has the best engineering brains in the world. Let’s put those brains to work making a more livable world. Trains will be an important part of that world.

This article first appeared in the December 13, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Bob Hanson can be emailed at doctoroutdoors@

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