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A post of some months ago recently drew the following comment:
My wife and I priced a two person bedroom from Phoenix to New Orleans round trip. The price was over $2,000! Opted for two non-stop SW Airlines tickets round trip and less than four hours for about $250 each. Of course we got a tiny bag of pretzels instead of those Amtrak meals but the $1,500 saved brought a lot of great meals in the Big Easy. This is why Amtrak is going the way of the iron horse.
Let me start by saying, with respect, that Amtrak has many roles to play and many different services to provide to many different segments of our society.
The first thing you should consider is the possibility that you and your wife missed out on $2,000 worth of enjoyment.
You missed sharing several meals in the dining car with fellow passengers. I’ve broken bread with an Irish poet, a history professor, a man who restores ancient pipe organs, an American Airlines captain (think about that!) and, in a staggering coincidence, with a couple who live in a small Connecticut town literally next door to the home where my father and grandfather were born.
You missed crossing the Pecos River on a 76-year-old bridge that’s 275-feet high and 374 feet long.
Just before the train arrived in El Paso, you missed passing within 30 feet of the Mexican border, marked at that point by a chain link fence, not a stupid wall.
You missed entering New Orleans by crossing the Mississippi River on the Huey Long bridge that climbs to a height of 240 feet and is more than four miles long.
And you missed two-plus days of seeing a fascinating section of our country.
You also missed the point that a national passenger rail system exists to serve many constituencies.
For instance, there’s a couple in Dodge City, Kansas, that run a charming bed-and-breakfast in that town. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief stops there once a day in each direction. It’s my understanding that an average of four times a week, the train brings someone who spends a night or two in that B&B. So Amtrak is an important factor in this one small business’s success.
A disk jockey at a radio station in Montana has a medical condition that restricts him to a wheelchair and requires him to make two trips a year to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The Superliner sleeping cars on Amtrak’s Empire Builder have an accessible bedroom that’s perfect for him and his wife. They get on the train at Cut Bank, Montana; they get off at Winona, Minnesota, where a shuttle from the Mayo Clinic meets them.
A retired couple in rural Utah have recently become grandparents for the first time. Their daughter and her husband are graduate students at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Flying to see the new addition involves driving their 15-year-old Toyota to a regional airport and leaving it there for ten days. Or they can buy two coach seats on the California Zephyr, board the train in Green River at 8:00 in the morning and their daughter will meet them 10 hours later in Denver.
The point is, Amtrak serves many different constituencies—including people of modest means and for whom there is no reasonable alternative.
Furthermore, may I point out that, in the case of that B&B in Dodge City, Amtrak is actually making a significant contribution to the entire town’s economy by bringing a slow-but-steady stream of B&B guests, who also patronize local restaurants and shops before they “get out of Dodge!”
Amtrak will“go the way of the Iron Horse” only if our leaders at all levels of government fail to understand that Amtrak is as essential to millions of Americans as the subway is to New Yorkers . . . that Amtrak actually contributes to the economies of the more the 500 communities it serves.
It would also be nice if the American taxpayers understood that ALL forms of public transportation are already subsidized, from the airlines to bike lanes.
It’s really not that complicated. Most of the rest of the world figured it out more than 60 years ago.
Respectfully, if a bit long,
This article first appeared on www.trainsandtravel.com
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