Bleary-eyed, I arrived in Toulouse and to a complimentary breakfast provided by the rail service. This breakfast gives the rail workers time to shuttle the vehicle-carrying rail cars to the unloading area and begin the unloading process. This can take up to three hours-in our case, because the train wasn't crowded, it only took about an hour and a half.
Despite my negative experience on the French system, I do like the idea of my car traveling by rail. The sheer size of the United States and the vast distances we must cover would seem to make the idea of cars on trains a no-brainer. In the U.S., Amtrak offers a vehicle rail service that travels between Washington D.C. and Orlando, Florida, a distance of almost 900 miles. I've never taken this service, but the routing would seem to be ideal for those heading south for a Florida vacation. A quick check of the Amtrak website shows this trip to be a bargain too, running about $200 for a one-way ticket. Amtrak claims the trip takes about seventeen and a half hours, about five moresthan driving it non-stop.
Would I travel by French Motorail again? Not if I could avoid it. In this case my travel plans were simply too tight to provide for driving from Calais to Toulouse and I thought that I would get a good night's sleep before the start of the event in the South of France. On reflection, the uncomfortable ride mooted the idea that I would get any rest. The other alternative, driving the whole distance, seemed like a better option at 3 a.m. when the train was hammering over rough tracks and I couldn't sleep.
My experience with the French Motorail brings up a bigger issue. As fuel prices continue to rise and the consequences of long-distance travel in personal vehicles become more significant, the idea that you could put your car or motorcycle onto a train, spend the night comfortably sleeping, and arrive hundreds of miles away is an appealing one. Clearly, the French system doesn't deliver on that promise, but I am not willing to give up entirely on the concept. I've ridden a lot of trains in a lot of different parts of the world, including through much of France, and I am convinced that the Motorail experience is not typical. Perhaps it's the age of the railcars or the types of tracks that the Motorail uses that makes the ride so noisy and uncomfortable. It's hard to imagine that the U.S. track system, which is designed and used primarily to haul heavy freight, would be much better.
If we wish to have a future that allows us to enjoy our personal mobility, still take long trips, and promote better fuel efficiency and transportation responsibility, maybe it's time for someone to look at the real possibilities of travel by rail. Make it quiet, comfortable, easy and affordable and I'll be one of the first to sign up for my next driving vacation.