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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 65: 28 November

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysWell-stocked railway sidings indicate that though passenger traffic, run by federally-financed Amtrak, is still struggling, freight traffic, still in the hands of private companies, is healthy. If I'd jumped a freight train I could have been in Chicago in 36 hours. The fastest passenger express takes 42.

Once out of industrial L.A. we pass a string of good-looking, well-maintained stations in the Spanish Mission style like Fullerton and San Bernardino, complete with domes, balconies, wide-eaved tiled roofs, wrought iron fences and twirly stucco, built by the Southern Pacific Railway, one of three working this line, the other two being the Santa Fe and the Union Pacific. 'Here at San Bernardino the very first McDonald's hamburger stand opened fifty years ago.'

The engine horn wails as we pull out of the station into countryside which seems to have turned suddenly lighter. The earth is now a rich golden brown. Is it an illusion? Is there really more light outside at four o'clock than there was at three? A knowledgeable couple in front of me, forest rangers from Colorado, assure me it isn't an illusion, we're just out of the smog.

'On the left of the train, the birthplace of Richard Nixon.'

No one rushes to the windows. Perhaps they should, for it was under Nixon in 1971 that Amtrak was created. By unburdening private companies of the need to run passenger lines, his administration expected passenger travel to wither and die. But it has, against all the odds, survived, is popular and will not be cut again. Indeed Dukakis, until three weeks ago a Presidential contender, had promised to double Amtrak's spending. Bush hadn't.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 65
  • Date: 28 November
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Los Angeles River
  • Book page no: 209

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