Trains, No Planes, and Fewer Automobiles: Alternative Travel Photo Essay

Jul 29, 2022 | Guest Blogs, Merge Blog

Participants in Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) care about our meetings’ sustainability and impact. Through photos and short essays, several attendees of the 2022 July ESIP Meeting share why they chose alternative travel.

Slow Trains and Turbo Chargers – Allison Mills

I debated whether the 11:59 p.m. boarding time was worth the hassle. Just a small-town girl, leaving the not-so-lonely ESIP Meeting. But for many reasons – for myself and others – I would gladly take the midnight train.

I considered the lower carbon impact, long stretches of quiet work time, and the observation car windows. But what sealed the deal for me was a chance to see my brother while going to and from the ESIP Meeting in Pittsburgh. He lives 20 minutes from one of the Wisconsin train stations and the opportunity reminded me that slow travel helps make space for us to be whole people. 

But slow might be an understatement. On the way back, my six-hour layover in Chicago turned into an additional four-hour delay as the train crew swapped out our engine three different times. Then we herked and jerked our way through Wisconsin, stopping several more times for other, more important trains as well as tornado, high wind and flash flood warnings. Safety first, sanity second. 

By the time we pulled into my tiny rural stop, I realized I had been mostly awake for 42 hours straight.  And the next day I still had a seven-hour drive home with a two-hour stop to charge my Chevy Bolt. 

Slow travel may open up space for wholeness as individuals – enabling me to see family, commit to my values and enjoy some stillness in motion – but U.S. passenger rail and EV charging have a long way to go before a whole lot of people are willing to jump on board.

Well-Planned Stops – Cyndy Parr

I was excited to plan my first EV road trip to my first in-person conference since the start of the pandemic. I charged at a strategically located level 3 station in Hancock, MD, near the C&O Canal towpath trail. Saw some very nice flowers.

To Single Task, To Gaze Out the Window  – Becky Reid

I’m often asked why I ride the train to ESIP meetings. As I type this, farms of rural Pennsylvania are slipping quietly by the window of my “office” on steel rails. I’m taking a break from preparing my fall classes to reflect on why I travel by train, secretly hoping I can inspire you to consider it, too.

I didn’t begin my habit of traveling by train — everywhere possible, not just ESIP meetings — for environmental reasons. I started traveling by train when I discovered how much more enjoyable, comfortable and satisfying it is to travel this way, as I’m reminded each time I have to wedge myself into a tiny airline seat with all the other hurried, harried, stressed-out fellow travelers for another flight I can’t distinguish from any other.

But what a joy to discover that carbon emissions from trains are significantly less per individual passenger mile than they are for air travel. For me, it’s a bonus that motivates the creativity it sometimes takes to put together a train trip. The train allows me to actually see the country, floating just above ground level. Today I’ve seen cities and steel towns, farmhouses and row houses, Amish farms and dense forests.

Of course, I need to acknowledge my privilege to hold a job that doesn’t require my physical presence. I can get my work done as I roll along, and not everyone can. But as more and more of us are able to use technology to work from anywhere, maybe we can also use that technology to help us slow down rather than speed up. The train reminds me to slow down, to single task, to gaze out the window and think about the work I’m trying to accomplish. If part of that work is doing my part to slow climate change, I’m happy to slow myself down, too.

Virtual  This Time – Ruth Duerr

I’ll be traveling to ESIP virtually this summer. Why? Several years ago I gave up airplane flights as part of my ongoing efforts to get carbon emissions out of my life. Yes, I used to buy the carbon offsets some airlines offer; but let’s face it, given the high levels of greenwashing that is happening, I finally concluded that the only way I could really be sure about my impact would be to not have any or at least be in control of it.

Since then, I’ve traveled to ESIP via train (ESIP winter meeting, three years ago now) or in my Tesla (Tacoma Washington, 2019 with my hubby and dog Sadie as part of a long vacation). This year, virtual attendance seems to be the way to go given COVID and that it is a full two-day trip by train from here.  Also it is way too far for me to drive given that I couldn’t make it part of an extended vacation.  

Here are some images of the ways I am decarbonizing my life. From growing my own food and xeric gardening to our solar panel array, battery backup and EV.

This blog post was co-written by Allison Mills, Becky Reid, Cynthia Parr, and Ruth Duerr. 

ESIP stands for Earth Science Information Partners and is a community of partner organizations and volunteers. We work together to meet environmental data challenges and look for opportunities to expand, improve, and innovate across Earth science disciplines.

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