Published in the August 16-22 issue of Weekly Alibi (Albuquerque , NM)
Long Train Runnin'?
by Charles Reuben
Don't you just feel a chill run down your spine every time you see Amtrak's Southwest Chief pull into the downtown station bound for Chicago or Los Angeles?
I gave up flying altogether five years ago and have been traveling long distances exclusively by Amtrak ever since. We are truly blessed to have the train run right through the center of town.
Unfortunately, if you have never traveled cross country by Amtrak, you may never have the chance; Amtrak is in danger of becoming extinct.
You may never know what it is like to eat outstanding food served to you on linen tablecloths by attentive waiters in the dining car. You may never know what it is like to lounge in the observation car and watch the scenery pass you by.
Amtrak is very much on the chopping block this year. Although it may manage to survive on the East and West coasts, its long distance routes are in jeopardy.
The High Speed Rail Investment Act (S.250) is now before Congress and if it passes, Amtrak will have the means to stay alive and improve its service. Senator Bingaman is a member of the Senate Committee on Finance to which this bill has been referred and would like to hear from you.
Senator Domenici wrote me a personal letter on June 13. He said, "I recognize the importance of Amtrak to our nation, and to New Mexico in particular. Amtrak provides many Americans with a viable alternative to air and highway travel."
"In addition, as America continues to grow exponentially, we must have the necessary infrastructure to utilize different modes of travel, including rail transit."
"Amtrak serves as a safe, energy-efficient mode of travel, providing transportation for Americans of all levels of income."
In the U.S., the taxpayers spend more money on road salt than they do on passenger rail travel.Consider the numbers: Last year we spent $33 billion dollars on highways. We also spent $14 billion to support air transport. But we only spent around $500 million on passenger rail.
Amtrak ridership has been going up dramatically in the past few years thanks to its low fares, its "satisfaction guarantee" (the only guarantee of its nature in the travel business) and its new frequent rider program.
The revenue generated by Amtrak has also gone up. Furthermore, Amtrak is now diversifying its services to carry mail and freight as well, which will further cut its costs. So why on earth would we want to disband Amtrak?
Highways and airports do little to generate money that will support their own infrastructure. They contribute to urban sprawl, congestion, pollution, and the mortality rate. They are also the most fuel-inefficient means of transportation.
Write, e-mail or phone your Senator or Congressperson right now and tell them that you want to see long distance passenger train travel continue and flourish in this country.
Because if you haven't traveled by Amtrak, you just don't know what you're missing. Start your journey at www.amtrak.com.
© 1996-2001 Weekly Alibi