Small Town Folks Need Amtrak, Too.

Garden City is a small Kansas community of some 25,000 people, a little over 200 miles west of Wichita.  It’s also a stop on the schedule of the Southwest Chief, Amtrak’s daily train running between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Several hundred miles of track on the Chief’s route have deteriorated over the years and, of course, no one wants to pay for the repairs. As a result, there is the possibility that the train’s route will be changed or — worst case scenario — that it will be terminated altogether. Either way, Garden City would lose its daily train.

A number of other communities would also lose service, including Lamy, New Mexico, which is the Amtrak stop serving Santa Fe. New Mexico’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez, in an astonishing lack of vision and leadership, has refused to join in the effort by public officials and civic leaders from communities all along the Chief’s route … an effort which, if successful, would ensure continued Amtrak service to her state’s capital city.

Nevertheless, support for these communities is growing on both regional and national level and one of the strongest supporters is the National Association of Railroad Passengers. Some months ago, NARP’s board chairman, Bob Stewart, was in Garden City discussing the situation with city officials and civic leaders.

After an appearance before the local Chamber of Commerce, Bob was approached by Sister Catherine, a Catholic nun working as a nurse at the small hospital there. She was very concerned about the possible loss of Amtrak service. Why? Because their little hospital refers patients needing specialized diagnoses or treatments to larger, better staffed and better equipped medical facilities in Kansas City or Chicago. And, said the nun, for reasons of cost or comfort or because there are no other transportation options, those patients very often get there on the Southwest Chief.

Of course, those of us involved with NARP have known that there is an almost critical need for more and better train service everywhere, and particularly in the less populated parts of the country. But we were all struck by this one very powerful example.

So the next time the chair of some Congressional committee starts criticizing Amtrak and complaining about the railroad’s pitifully small subsidy, I hope we can send Sister Catherine from Garden City, Kansas, to testify at the hearing.

And, if the chairman is Amtrak basher-in-chief and all-‘round blowhard John Mica (R-Florida), I’d love to see Sister Catherine smack him with her ruler.