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by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

What we need is more trains

It started with a sneeze. Then another, and some runny red eyes, and a couple of boxes of tissues. Suddenly, all the plans changed. My husband and son were sick, and I was taking an emergency day off from work and bringing our daughter to New York City for a college orientation.

And, as often happens, complaining about the lack of mass transit in this country.

When the plan was one dad and two kids traveling, the intention was to drive something like 125 miles to Poughkeepsie to pick up the MetroNorth train at its northernmost stop, a far cheaper option than Amtrak. It meant leaving home before 5 a.m., something that could only be done if I got up at 4 to push everyone else out the door.

I must admit I was looking forward to a couple of hours of solitude after they left and before I had to head to work. I was thinking about all the things I could get done — a batch of peach jam? An extra long walk? Both?

But the plan changed, and I was on the phone the night before the trip with the Automated Voice of Amtrak, calculating whether the exorbitant cost of two round-trip tickets from Rensselaer was worth not having to drive to Poughkeepsie. The voice quoted me $218, and I almost screamed at it. Now I know why they don’t put a human on the phone.

What I don’t know is why there has never been any serious push for reasonably priced light rail in this country. I certainly can’t be the only person who could use it, or the only person who would prefer not to be in my car all the time. I can’t be the only person who would love to ride a train, or even a bus, to work every day and I know I’m not the only one who thinks it’s crazy for hundreds upon hundreds of cars to be heading in the same direction at the same time every day, when all those people could be on the same train.

Last weekend I went to the ocean with the kids, and judging from the traffic jam we got ourselves into, many other people think going to the ocean in the summer is a fine idea. Aren’t there enough to support some sort of mass transit to the ocean? Ever try to arrange it? Last time I tried to get to Boston by train the route took me through New York City, just a short 150 miles out of the way.

I drove.

But I wasn’t driving my daughter to New York City this time, and when I calmed down from my fight with the Voice of Amtrak, I realized I wasn’t driving to Poughkeepsie either. It was too late at night to do any mileage/gas cost calculations, and MetroNorth at peak travel time was going to cost the two of us $84 anyway.

“It’s worth it for your peace of mind,” my husband said. “Well, not worth it. I mean, it’s outrageous! I mean, what is the matter with this country?!” He had a coughing fit before he could finish his rant.

I could have finished it for him, but really. There wasn’t time to move to another country, enroll the girl in a ballet school in, say Stockholm, on a convenient metro line. So I went to bed.

The next morning I got up at 4:30, made the sick husband walk the dog while I made breakfast. We drove to Rensselaer, and when the ticket man said two round trips would only cost $160, it sounded like a bargain.

We enjoyed watching the herons on the river out the window from the train. And wondered why roads are subsidized and trains are not.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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