Customer Review

30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I LOVE the smell of diesel in the morning.", January 30, 2014
This review is from: Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World-from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief (Hardcover)
If you've ever ridden the train in Europe or Japan or even on one of the few commuter routes in the U.S., you've probably wondered why there aren't more trains in this country. They're convenient and fun to ride. Tom Zoellner rode the trains on four continents to find the answer to that question.

He describes train enthusiasts as "frothers," those who froth at the mouth with enthusiasm for all things having to do with trains. He fits the bill. The project gave him an excuse to ride the train on long distance trips in Great Britain, India, the U.S., Russia, South America, and Spain. He combines old-style travel writing, channeling Paul Theroux and Eric Newby, with thoughtful commentary on transportation policies in various countries. It's a good mix.

I enjoyed learning about the politics and policy of train travel around the world. But the best parts are about the people Zoellner meets and the stories he tells about the history of the rail. He tells the story of how the train spurred the popularity of paperback books. There's Walt Disney, train buff, in his striped engineer's outfit playing with his trains while eating a doughnut dipped in scotch. And the American train baron in South America who tells Zoellner, "I LOVE the smell of diesel in the morning," stirring up memories of the psycho commander in Apocalypse Now.

Zoellner's conclusions about the feasibility of long distance train travel in America are pessimistic. In short, it's too expensive. None of the successful long distance trains in the world is profitable -- it's a trade-off that other countries have made, but that we are unlikely to.
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