Houston by Train

It had been a long, uneventful journey. I hadn’t slept much at all; I didn’t anticipate how bright and noisy the train would be. I didn’t pack enough to drink, so until the cafe car opened in the morning I was parched. What was supposed to be 28 hours on a train turned into 32 due to a problem with the track; my 4 hour layover in New Orleans had dwindled to about 30 seconds. By some miracle I managed to make my bus traveling from New Orleans to Houston; I’m not sure what I would have done had I gotten stuck in the Big Easy.

I’d decided to travel by train after watching a talk given by Kevin Anderson, who works at the Tyndall Centre in Manchester. I highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in climate change. One of the conclusions he’s drawn is that most flying is incompatible with holding warming below levels we’ve deemed unacceptable. To stop flying, we’ll likely need to build a much better (faster) national rail system, so that trains can be a real alternative to aviation. But in the meantime, wanting to at least minimize my own complicity, I decided to travel by train and then bus to visit my partner in Houston.

It had not occurred to me that I was traveling between two cities which have experienced some of the worst weather disasters in US history, but I was reminded of that fact quite abruptly on the bus. Sitting across from me was a woman from New Orleans who was visiting her children in Houston. They’d been dislocated when Katrina hit, as were a great number of people. She told me they’d lost everything in Katrina, except for the clothes on their backs. After going through that, two of her children told her they couldn’t move back to New Orleans; the city held too many memories for them. I didn’t have the heart to ask her how they had fared Harvey.

When I got to Houston, things seemed mostly normal, as most people have been able to get back to a regular routine. But every so often you catch a subtle reminder of what happened just a few months ago. We would drive past one of the bayous and catch a glimpse of the massive damage they’d sustained: uprooted trees and extensive erosion. Or we would drive through one of the lower lying areas that received the worst of the storm. In these places, there are still piles of debris sitting on lawns, driveways, and sidewalks. Many people have not yet been allowed to move back into their homes, to say nothing of those that lost friends and family during the storm.

When I got off the train in New Orleans, I was pretty feeling pretty annoyed at my first trip by train; I was tired, bored, and more than a little bit frustrated. By the time I got to Houston, those feelings had evaporated; by the time I left, they felt petty. Our emissions over the past 50 years made an event like Harvey 6 times more likely. It seems like the least we could do now is to stop loading the dice.