Before the Wright brothers came along, America lived on the rail. Our country’s transportation infrastructure rested on the clickity-clacks and chug-chug-chugs of rail. It was a delightful way to travel. You could see the country out your window, and stroll to the dining car for a fine meal at the end of the day. But cheap, easy air travel removed all the romance from long distance transportation, thrusting us into joyless fuselages with experiences so terrible we built an entire social platform, Twitter, just to complain.
Rail travel still survives, in small pockets and corridors, and mostly along the coasts. But today, an Elon Musk sparked idea, the so-called Hyperloop, threatens to finally kill the last graceful way to get from Point A to Point B.
Musk’s dream involves cramming a bunch of people into a tube, sticking that tube into a big pipe, and whooshing it from place to place at record speeds. A Hyperloop trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it is said, could take as little as 30 minutes. And while that may seem convenient, just imagine the view from the Musk-tube. It will basically be whatever's on your phone. (Or perhaps, this.)
If the Hyperloop works, it will completely eliminate the need for high speed rail — and could mean passenger rail will exist solely as an image in children's books and historical texts, illustrating a grand technology that once was.
I decided to hop aboard and experience its glory while I still could. And so, on a recent Sunday, I boarded Amtrak’s Coastal Starlight, embarking on a wistful journey that would take me from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles in a speedy 12 hours. Here’s what it was like.