I have decided that trains are to Merced what garlic is to Gilroy. That is to say, pervasive, and possibly a little too fundamental to the history of the city to actually wish away. Do people read this that aren't familiar with the strong smell of garlic that hits you every time to you come down over the hill into Gilroy? Well, if you don't know what I'm talking about, just take my word for it. Gilroy smells like garlic. That's what makes it Gilroy. And in Merced, apparently, you can hear trains. Any time of day, any time of night, and they're pretty dang loud.
Of course, I'm a good little liberal and think that trains are awesome. Trains are the perfect alternative to gas guzzling long commutes, and gas guzzling airplanes, and gas guzzling semi trucks. There are very few things out there that are bad that couldn't be replaced by a train. This is what I think about at 2 AM when I'm up, listening to trains go by. The trains themselves aren't actually so bad. It's their horns. And then the dogs that apparently, despite presumably living within earshot of train tracks their entire lives, still feel a need to bark at the giant monster of doom hurtling towards them. I live about three blocks from the tracks right now. There are some really awesome old houses a block or two closer...but I'm not really sure if it'd be worth it.
Oh and also, as much I would like to, I can't really come up with a practical reason to take the train anywhere from Merced. The hills between here and the South Bay mean that the route goes up and around Sacramento...not exactly a time saver. Trying to get to LA or San Diego is similarly convoluted. The tickets are so expensive that it's cheaper to drive...much cheaper, if it's going to be more than one person in the car.
This is all just getting around to throwing out this link,* which is an article that lays out some of the reasons that the problems with trains that you run into living here in Merced aren't really inherent to trains, but rather consequences of rail policy in the United States. Is anyone in congress really worrying about rail policy right now? I'm guessing not as much as they maybe should (there are so many other flashier things to concentrate on!). I just emailed my congressman though. Maybe he lives close enough to the tracks to hear the horns too.
*which I totally got from Matt Yglesias. I'm not really that original.