Passenger Rail Isn’t Just for “Rail Buffs”

I just returned from an overnight train trip on Amtrak a couple of days ago, riding the Crescent
from Meridian, Mississippi, into Penn Station, after completing the
southbound trip a week earlier. It’s a route I’ve traveled before, one
of dozens of long-distance hauls I’ve made on Amtrak over the last 20
or so years. And while it may be wishful thinking, I felt like there
was an improved mood on the train this time, among both crew and
passengers. I heard several hopeful conversations in the dining car
about the future of intercity rail travel in this country.

DSC_0026.jpgThe Amtrak Crescent connects New York, Atlanta and New Orleans. Photo by Sarah Goodyear.

The
people having those conversations were as good a cross-section of
America as you could hope to find anywhere in the nation: old and
young, black and white, and, almost certainly — although politics
never came up explicitly — liberal and conservative. They were
traveling for business, for pleasure, for family obligation. There was
no typical passenger on that train.

Which is the point Streetsblog Network member blog Trains for America made in a recent post about how passenger rail in this country needs better advocacy:

We,
as advocates of good ground transportation, have been segregated into
the slums of public policy with a bunch of pass-riding sentimental
blowhards that reflect nothing of the people on the trains. Amtrak’s
customer base includes students, business people (even in the middle of
America), minorities, and women with their families.…I think an
Internet community can more easily reach out to people of different age
groups and backgrounds and include them in the national discussion.
That is what Trains for America is about.

Riding
the rails isn’t simply a hobby for "train buffs" any more than riding a
bike is merely recreation for "bike freaks." I’ll be writing in a
future post about how the small city of Meridian has leveraged its
railroad infrastructure into a powerful tool for economic redevelopment
precisely because its mayor recognizes that passenger trains provide
efficient and pleasurable transportation. Rail needs more advocates
like him, and like the folks at Trains for America.

Elsewhere around the network: Phoenix’s Light Rail Blogger talks about DOT Secretary Ray LaHood’s visit to see that city’s light rail system; Hub and Spokes reports on Neal Peirce’s vision for a regional approach to urban affairs; and Seattle Transit Blog shares some thoughts on the phenomenon of "transit heroes."

  • arthur

    What a delightful article. Your point about the sheer pleasurable aspect of taking the train can not be emphasized enough and adds to the many other values passenger rail usage contributes to society.

  • Spokker

    I wouldn’t criticize the rail buffs just yet. They were keeping the rails warm all this time while everybody and their mother tried to starve Amtrak of funds. While everybody was driving and calling rail fans creepy weirdos these enthusiasts were advocating rail travel. Now you’re going to push them aside because passenger rail got a little more popular? That’s bullshit.

    “I dearly wish I had the financial capacity to work on this full time”

    So do a lot of people. So do I. But Jesus Christ Trains for America is pitting rail advocates against each other because they don’t quite like the way they advocate. Give me a break.

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