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Worst Public Transport in the World

This country is broken.

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Worst Public Transport in the World

I am riding on an Amtrak train going to visit my family in upstate New York.

No, my wording is flawed, I am not riding, but sitting in an Amtrak train. The train is late and is not moving at the side of a platform in Albany. The train is broken, the switches on the tracks are broken, everything is broken. The story of this brief journey and can sum up public transport in the USA in totality:

It is all broken.

It seems as if my country was once the beacon of progress in the world, now it is just a stale imposter of what it use to be: a bright smiling face in a two dimensional photograph, a stage set of ply-board facades, an empty lot hidden behind glorious castle walls.

I fear to say it but the USA is quickly becoming a Potemkin village that has been erected to mask our insecurities from a world of czars.

“Potemkin villages were purportedly fake settlements erected at the direction of Russian minister Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin to fool Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787.” Wikipedia Potemkin Village

It is my impression that the public transport of a country signifies, more than anything else, the current state of the nation. If people can not efficiently move from point A to point B then I feel that this is one of the first signs of societal collapse.

The USA is big. People here are accustom to travel long distances quickly and efficiently as a part of their regular existence. It is a part of our psychological makeup of geography to know that we can traverse a continent as a way of course. A distance of a thousand miles means little to an American. There was once cheap fuel and traveling was easy: we just jumped into our car and went. Now gas is nearly four times the price it was when I was growing up and long distance automobile travel is quickly becoming less of a possibility.

Sadly, public transport has not jumped to the rescue, and taking trains and buses in the USA is not a strong locomotive possibility. Trains are regularly late, continuously breaks down, and are expensive. The long-distance public bus service of the USA is even more of a joke, as it is often times cheaper to fly in an airplane than to take the Greyhound.

Now, I sit for some silly reason in the Albany train station wondering when my train will move again.

When India, China, Latin America, and most of the world can move people within their borders far more efficiently and cheaply than the supposed economic and cultural superpower on the planet I must decry that a reevaluation of this title must be sought. The public transport of the USA would be staunchly unacceptable in most of the regions of the globe that I have traveled.

From where I am sitting, bored and stiff in a go-nowhere train, the USA is no longer a top-dog sort of nation.

I predict that within the next 10 years the infrastructure of my country will collapse upon itself. Too many corners have been cut, too much of the substance that made this country great has been diluted, too many resources have been misplaced. We are a nation of people who are accepting plastic over wood, fancy packaging over a good product, the cheap and synthetic over good quality. Americans are growing accustom to losing their jobs, getting paid less, and paying more for what they need to survive. Even the Wall Street geeks are feeling the noose. And it is no longer a surprise for the Amtrak train to be hours late as it chugs to a standstill on the precipice of America.

It is all downhill from here.

This is my country.

The law of diminishing returns is plunging fast to ground zero.

The USA is as broken as this train.


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Filed under: Train Travel, Transportation, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

2 comments… add one

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  • Chris Smith March 17, 2012, 8:05 am

    Last year I rode Amtrak and the Municipal electric trains in Southern California – in fact, I rode the new electric trains for a couple hrs into Downtown LA´s expanded underground Union Station and boarded an Amtrak train for San Diego (my Coach seat was generally equivalent to Business Class on an airplane), then taking the Red “Tijuana Trolley” right to the Frontier where I walked across without any border check whatsoever – follow the Latino´s for the right entrance – (the scrutiny was on return to the U.S.A.). However, you have to search for the Visa stamp office under the bridge once walking into Mexico or be there illegally (a switch for a Gringo). I rode both directions back up into Los Angeles, about 500 miles. I stayed just over the border at the beach for 6 months and had a GR8 time. My experience was uniformly good with Amtrak trains through California which has now been linked to Vans and Buses to reach railheads as yet unconnected, even northward to Southern Oregon and east to Nevada. Public transportation is a reality in California – I never thought I would see it arrive but if you take the train in California you will arrive on time and have a good experience.

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