Guest Post: Riding the Train back from AASHE 2010
The following article is a guest blog post from Cecil Scheib, Director of Energy and Sustainability at New York University.
As I travel home by train from the wonderful AASHE 2010 conference in Denver, I write this with my laptop on my lap aboard the eastbound California Zephyr, eventually to meet the Lake Shore Limited bound for New York City. It's the second half of a round trip I made from the East Coast to Colorado for the 3-day conference.
My total trip will have me spend about as much time on the train as at my destination - which may explain why, for most people, airline travel is the only reasonable way to expect attendees to arrive at a national conference in any numbers. And in a country that has no problem funding airports and superhighways, the sad state of support for a national rail system means I shy away from recommending Amtrak to friends. While unpleasant trips have been rare in my 15+ years of cross-country rail travel, one does encounter the occasional stopped-up toilet, rude conductor, or unpleasant seatmate, and I guess I've never wanted to feel responsible for the encouragement that puts someone I know in that position.
Despite all this, and while I personally enjoy flying, I love the train. I relish the stress-free connections on both ends - no airport shuttles, security lines, or arriving hours early at the airport. All it took was a simple subway trip in NYC and an easy walk from my Denver hotel, arriving at the station about 15 minutes before departure. I look forward to watching the scenery flow by with my favorite book in hand or podcast in ear, and arriving rested and relaxed, with my body already adapted to the time change, instead of jetlagged and dried out from pressurized cabin air. I make the most of my brief time during the lunch stopover in Chicago, taking in a meal at a favorite restaurant by Union Station and a walk along the Chicago River before reboarding.
This trip, thanks to the gracious understanding and support of New York University, I counted the full day I spent on the train in each direction as a work day. With the help of a laptop and a Verizon USB stick, I wrote proposals, answered emails, drafted contracts and presentations, reviewed building plans, and did data analysis the whole way. In fact, I think I got more accomplished on the train, free from distractions, than I often do in the hectic office environment.
It turns out Amtrak is an affordable way to travel. With discounts available for students, AAA card holders, NARP members (a one-year membership pays itself back after one trip!), and even through university purchasing portals (I got a free upgrade to sleeper class on the return trip thanks to our friendly sales rep at the NYU vendor fair), train fare prices track airlines pretty closely – I paid the same amount, to within a few dollars either way, of my colleagues who flew. Frequent rider miles mean regular free travel for those of us who use the rails on repeated basis.
I know I’m not the only person from the conference traveling home on this train, and it could be a good way to extend the networking opportunity. Maybe AASHE could ask people how they are arriving at conferences and help share this type of information to allow easier meetups for those who desire it. In fact, perhaps AASHE should encourage low-carbon rail travel for next year’s conference! After all, we got a drink ticket this year for showing up for a 7am session -- why shouldn’t we get one for reducing our travel emissions 90% on the way to a sustainability conference? And since most of the population of US and Canada lives within a one-day train ride of Pittsburgh, maybe it’s time to change the conventional wisdom that air travel is the only way to get farther than a car ride away from home. If anyone can change that kind of thinking, it just might be the folks who go to AASHE conferences.
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