Figuring Out What NARP Wants for Christmas.

The internet is humming these days with emails zooming back and forth among members of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. We board members meet in Washington every April for three days, one of which is spent knocking on doors in the halls of Congress asking our elected representatives to support passenger trains … everything from long distance to short haul to commuter service.

When you go looking for money in Washington – in this case, we’ll mostly be urging increased financial support for Amtrak – it’s critically important to figure out ahead of time what the specific “ask” should be.

When it comes to passenger rail, there’s a very long list. Just a very few that have been mentioned so far:

* Restore the New Orleans-Florida portion of the Sunset Limited’s route, which was discontinued as a result of damage to the tracks by Hurricane Katrine … damage that has long since been repaired.

* Increase the Sunset schedule to daily service. The train now operates three days a week between Los Angeles and New Orleans. (This photo was taken as the Sunset was loading passengers in Palm Springs, California.)

* Folks in New England want to re-establish overnight service from New York to Montreal and extend existing routes to cover more communities.

* The Cardinal also operates only three days a week and many rail advocates are pressing for daily service for that train. It’s one of Amtrak’s more scenic rides, running between New York and Chicago over a southerly route through Washington, across the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and through the New River Gorge in West Virginia.

* There are infrastructure needs – a lot of them: bridges need repair, ingress and egress for trains must be improved at major stations like New York and Chicago, hundreds of miles of double track must be laid where single track is now causing delays.

* And for my money, the most pressing need is new equipment. The typical life expectancy of a passenger rail car is 50 years, and most of Amtrak’s fleet of bi-level Superliner coaches and sleeping cars are now some 35 years old.

The problem, of course, is that there is a helluva lot more need than there is money to pay for it all. Still, our loins are girded and, come April, we’ll be ready to make the case for our “ask” … and to do battle if necessary.