Will Long-Distance Amtrak Travel Derail?

May 11, 2018, Dallas:

The romance of the rails drew me to traveling through the American West on Amtrak. I saw the country as I imagined the pioneers saw it – miles upon miles of grasslands, great river crossings, mountain ranges and canyons. I traveled in style, sleeping in my own small compartment, eating meals in the dining car, joining conversations in the observation lounge.

Today’s Amtrak travel doesn’t evoke the romance of vintage train posters, but it does deliver scenic travel at a different pace. You see fly-over country up close, without focusing on traffic.

I dreamt of this epic trip “someday” but realized that if I put it off too long, someday might never come. Amtrak’s cross-country routes are not moneymakers on their own, and the rumors of limiting the national railway to the Northeast Corridor commuter lines continues. Never mind that highways and airports are not moneymakers either – they all require huge government subsidies. But Amtrak seems the most threatened, so this was the year for my trip.

I’m glad I scratched this itch to travel the American West by train. Will I do it again? Maybe not, as there are so many places and means of travel that interest me.

In preparation for the trip, I became a member of the Facebook group Amtrak Fans. It is a good place to learn the tips and tricks of Amtrak travel. As you might expect from a group of Amtrak enthusiasts, it also is a trove of rumors about the future of the rail system.

The new AMTRAK CEO, Richard Anderson, is the catalyst for many of the group members’ concern for Amtrak’s future. The conspiracy-minded wonder if Anderson, a retired CEO of Delta Airlines, is intent on eliminating long-distance rail competition to airlines.

Actions such as the recently announced elimination of dining cars on two routes (substituting “new and contemporary dininga la prepackaged meals requiring no preparation) leave many of us wondering if Anderson has spent any time traveling the long-distance routes himself.

I suggest he quietly and anonymously book one of the Chicago-West Coast routes, sleeping in a roomette and dining community-style with other passengers. I believe he would discover, as I have, that the romance of train travel isn’t simply in getting from here to there, but rather in the social experience of crossing the country. It would give him a whole new perspective.

Meanwhile, if you have any interest in American train travel, plan your trip while you can. And write your Member of Congress expressing support for Amtrak.