As we traveled around Europe by train, we saw huge parking lots near the railroad tracks in several cities and towns — not for commuters’ cars, but for their bicycles.

There were rows and rows of hundreds of bikes, sometimes double-decker rows and rows. It was heartening to see so many signs of environmentally tuned-in commuters.

Whether the popularity of bicycle-train commuting is due (along with environmental awareness) to high gas prices or high taxes or incentive programs, the fact is there’s a lot of commuting that isn’t taking place behind the wheel of a car.

Of course, Europeans have an advantage: Their trains run on time. Their trains run on time. Their trains run on time.

Oh, the efficiency of it! The ability to plan your day! The dependability! In America, of course, there must be a few golden examples of this marvelous public service, but not many.

Here’s an example of the opposite situation:

The Amtrak train along the coastline of California is hampered by sharing rail service with the Southern Pacific freight train line which has priority over mere passenger service.

Recently, we took the train from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo for an overnight outing. We spent a pleasant Thursday evening enjoying the Thursday Farmers’ Market where musicians and restaurants share space with fresh fruits and vegetable booths.

We strolled around the lively and attractive downtown, grazed our way through the Farmers’ Market, stopped and listened awhile to a trio playing jazz, and slept like babies after all the good food and exercise.

But heading back to Santa Barbara the next day, our Amtrak train rolled to a stop halfway between the two cities, and there we sat for the longest time, on a side rail overlooking the blue Pacific. If we had known we’d be stranded there for more than an hour, we would have packed a picnic lunch.

Finally, a slow-moving freight train rumbled by. Then our train started up again and chugged on down the coast.

Not until we arrived back in Santa Barbara did we find anyone to explain to us what had caused the delay. We were told that when Southern Pacific sold rights to the government for Amtrak to use their rails, they retained right-of-way for their freight trains.

Over the years, there has been little political will to change the terms of the longstanding agreement that favors freight over humans, nor to add tracks for passenger trains. I guess the powers-that-be would rather add lanes to our crowded freeways and build more parking lots for cars.