I think we can take it as a given that there are some issues with our current preferred modes of transportation in the United States. First off, obviously, our automobile-conscious (or should I say "automobile-fetishization"?) culture comes at a tremendous penalty to our balance of trade, given the hundreds of billions of dollars each year we send overseas for the sole purpose of buying the oil to turn into the gasoline to fuel those automobiles. Then there's the fact that fewer and fewer of them seem to be built here at home, with concomitant declines in our manufacturing sectors that make the sorts of things car manufacturers need to put into our cars.
There's also, of course, the huge environmental costs--in terms of pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, the amount of space in landfills taken up by junked cars or car components, etc. Those costs are further complicated by the need to transport the raw materials for our fuels (and the fuels themselves, once they're distilled from crude oil) to our shores, and thence from the refineries to where we buy our gasoline and oil and whatnot. For cars that aren't made here, we also have to transport those vehicles to our shores from wherever they were put together.
Those salient facts are complicated, however, by the fact that we've more or less engineered ourselves into a corner on this issue. Beginning after the Second World War, the phenomenon of suburban sprawl has reigned unchecked for the better part of three full generations, as more and more people moved farther and farther away from city centers in search of a nice home with good schools and low taxes. (I won't bother to do more than point out the obvious inconsistency of such criteria here; that can be another post, someday when I have more time.) Even as we moved out into the sticks and started to pave them over to make them car-friendly, we started tearing up our rail lines and cutting back on passenger rail service. Why take the train, we seem to have thought, when it's so much more convenient to drive?
Except that it isn't, always. Case in point: when I was a sophomore in college, one of my cousins got married back home in the Chicago suburbs. She asked me to be in the wedding, which meant that I had to be there for the rehearsal, a day ahead of the actual ceremony (which, if memory serves, was to be on a Saturday, with the rehearsal on a Friday). I didn't have a car of my own at the time, and my alma mater really didn't encourage students to bring their cars onto campus even if they had them, and the folks couldn't come and get me. Ergo, I had to find another means of getting home.
My first thought was that I'd take the bus back. It was only about 120 miles from school back home, so that shouldn't have been an onerous trip, and a bus ticket should be affordable even for a starving undergraduate's bank account. Just one tiny fly in that ointment: Galesburg was served by Trailways; DeKalb was served by Greyhound. There was no direct bus from where I was to where I wanted to be. Still not too much of an issue, I thought: until I looked at the schedules. I had to be in Elmhurst for the wedding rehearsal by 5:30 p.m. on Friday (if memory serves; this is 25 years ago now!). The Trailways bus left Galesburg early-ish in the morning, made the short hop to Rock Island--where I would then have to wait three hours to catch a Greyhound to DeKalb, which would get in at just about 5 p.m.--not nearly enough time to get me to the church on time, as 'twere. It would only cost me around $12--but instead of having to miss just one day of classes to go, I'd have to skip two.
Time for Plan B. Fortunately, Galesburg is a railroad town. Originally served by both Burlington Northern and Santa Fe, it's now a one-line town since the two lines merged in 1996. It's also still an Amtrak stop, with two trains a day heading for Chicago, and two coming back. Fortunately for me, there was an intermediate stop at a suburban station (I want to say it was in Aurora or thereabouts) that was reasonably convenient both to my home at the time and to the place I needed to be--and the train trip only took a couple of hours. The ticket cost about twice what I would have paid for the bus--but I didn't even have to miss a full day of classes. I paid the fee, happily--and grew to like traveling by train. For the remainder of my time in school, whenever I needed to go back home and didn't have the opportunity to wait around for someone to pick me up, I took the train.