Rome to Sicily: talk about transportation convenience and accommodation!
My friend, P.J., and I climbed on the train in Rome bound for Sicily. We must have boarded around eight o’clock at night. We knew that Sicily was an island (See map) and we knew that it would take us 12 hours to get from Rome to our destination, Palermo. What we didn’t know was how we would cross the water. We tried to ask but because of the language barrier, all we got back was “we’ll wake you when we get there.” We just assumed we would board a ferry to cross. So, trusting that we would be awake when we needed to be, we climbed in our night car and tried to get some sleep.
Several hours later, I woke up. I remember being startled for a few reasons. First, the train was not moving. I assumed that was what had jarred me awake. Second, as I looked out the window, it appeared as though we were in some sort of tunnel, or maybe inside of some sort of train station. I couldn’t see anyone outside, just a wall with steel beams along it not two feet from the side of the train car. Third, the other people in my compartment, other than my friend P.J., were no longer there.
You can imagine the thoughts that went through my head. They’d forgotten us. No one woke us up and somehow they missed us before they parked the train in some train yard. I decided to explore a little before waking P.J. I moved towards the hallway and was relieved to hear voices. As I moved towards the voices, I noticed that several of the doors to the outside were opened. As I walked off the train and into this strange enclosure, I found myself face to face with other train cars. I would have been sure that we were in a train yard warehouse or something except that at that point I realized something else– we were moving. I was standing still, the trains were standing still, but EVERYTHING was moving.
Still dazed from sleep, I followed a sign that appeared to point to an exit. I climbed the stairs and rounded the corner. I saw the night sky ahead and suddenly, everything started to make sense. As I walked out the door and into the open air, I was awestruck by the view. Lights in the distance, a warm breeze, and the smell of the sea met me. We certainly did board a ferry–just not the way I assumed. I was on the deck looking out at the water, on a massive ferry. The TRAIN boarded the ferry. I hurried back down to the train, nearly getting lost in all of the compartments, woke P.J. and the two of us returned to the deck.
We laughed and joked about this surprise. Later we learned that the train gets separated into three parts and is loaded onto the ferry. What this means is that you never have to leave your compartment. You can take a train to an island that is not accessible by bridge or underwater tunnel. This idea was SO foreign to us. We spent some time considering the cost that must have been associated with developing the Eurail system (I use that term to refer to all of the rail systems that are available to travelers purchasing a Eurail pass).
I suppose that if we lived in that part of the world–where trains are so much a part of travel– that this would not have surprised us as much. However, living here in Pennsylvania, it is hard to imagine places in the world that go to great lengths–like putting a train in a boat in a matter of minutes– to accommodate transportation that serves the public and is economically and environmentally sustainable.
I was reminded of this experience several times this Memorial Day weekend. I was reminded of it when I was driving back from the Jersey shore where I met my brother and some friends. As I left for home on Sunday heading North on the parkway, I measured the backed-up traffic heading South. 15 Miles of stopped traffic and another 20 miles of slow moving, bumper to bumper traffic.
I was again reminded of this when I was checking my wallet to see if I should spend the gas money to travel to my Fiancées house near Lansdale for a family cookout yesterday. Of course, I would love to be able to hop on a train to Lansdale or Norristown, but that is not an option.
I couldn’t help thinking about some of the critics’ arguments against rail service and other investment in multi-modal transportation in the Lehigh Valley. It’s too expensive at a time like this. We should just widen Route 22. Cars are more convenient and accommodating to my needs. As far as I’m concerned, we can widen roads all we want, we can put off investment in mass transit in the name of road repair demands and new road construction, and we can shout about the convenience of cars and the horrors of mass transit. But when done correctly, mass transit is an incredible luxury.
My experience in Europe and the ease and convenience of the rail systems there, far outweigh the seldom convenience that I get from my car. I’d rather sleep/read/work on a train than sit in my car staring at break lights, stop lights and digital billboards…ANY DAY