May 16, 2005
Riding the Rails
As anyone who follows my adventures, you will know I now
spend as much time on the rails as I used to spend crisscrossing
the country by air. I have Select Status in Amtraks
Membership Rewards Program which means I have traveled at
least 10,000 miles by train in the past twelve months.
As I write this, I am riding the rails. Yesterday morning
I took the train from New York to DC and am now on the way
back. On Monday, I took the train from Hudson to New York.
Friday I will take it back to Hudson. Next week I will do
virtually the same thing.
As I got on the train in Hudson, I found that flyers have
been stuck on the walls of the train station there [the oldest
working train station in the country] exhorting one and all
to get out pen and paper to contact our Senators and Congressmen
to save Amtrak.
The flyers pointed out the devastating consequences to New
York if Amtrak should disappear. Now, why would Amtrak disappear?
Well, the Bush Administration in its current budget has allocated
zero dollars to Amtrak. Zero, none, nada, zilch
I am aware that Amtrak is a flawed organization how
could it not be? It was born from a variety of compromises
and needs. However, particularly since I have been on the
East Coast these last five years I am aware of the importance
of rail transportation. To lose Amtrak would strand a good
body of individuals in Hudson who work in New York City and
commute in everyday. To me, it seems like a long commute but
there are those who do it, Monday through Friday.
They do it because one has to move that far beyond New York
[two hours] to find affordable housing. And Amtrak is what
makes it possible. It also makes a great difference in getting
to and from DC or up to Boston. It is a time and cost
Yesterday, in the Financial Times of London, I read an interesting
article as traffic jams in the US have increased we
are now wasting approximately $63.4 BILLION dollars worth
of gasoline idling in traffic jams. That doesnt count
the cost of the pollution and its side effects. Thats
about 200 bucks worth of gas wasted for every man, woman and
child in the U.S.
It is an amazing statistic which has staggered me
and I am wondering why it is that I read it in the Financial
Times of LONDON?
I certainly have better things I could do with $200. Dont
you? Beyond that, it raises the issue of what planning we
are doing to alleviate this situation. This all came from
figures developed over two years ago so it probably is just
worse now. And more expensive.
As I have been riding the rails, a pall has come across the
people who ride it on a regular basis. The crews I see regularly
from Hudson to New York are all worried. Some of them have
been with the railroad since Amtrak was launched more than
two decades ago. They are wondering what will happen to their
lives and livelihood.
Passengers are wondering what they are going to do.
Across from me as I write this is a group of people in the
café car of the New York bound train extolling the
virtues of train travel, even with the current dysfunction
of the Acela.
The Acela is an example of the flaws. It is sidelined indefinitely
due to unforeseen brake problems. But despite those flaws
we need to find ways to make rails work better for the country.
Los Angeles is benefiting from light rail. The entire New
York metro is fed by the rails of Amtrak and the MTA. If we
creatively redesigned the rail system of the country how much
of that wasted gas could stay in the tanks? How much would
our lungs benefit from the pollution reduction?
Amtrak might not be the answer but rail is an integral part
of the transportation solution for the United States and the
entire puzzle needs to be addressed with a magnificent seriousness.