Long-Distance Trains = Essential Public Transportation.
The most frustrating aspect of this whole passenger rail advocacy gig is the vast amount of misinformation out there about train travel—especially about who rides trains and why. It’s particularly maddening that the media gets it wrong over and over again, which just perpetuates all the bad information and eventually turns it into “fact”.
One of the most common myths is that Amtrak’s long-distance trains are primarily used by wealthy retirees on vacation. Why, ask the anti-Amtrak elements in Congress and elsewhere, should we subsidize those folks?
OK, first, if you’re talking about people like me, who choose to take Amtrak for a trip from L.A. to Chicago instead of flying, I can assure you that what we pay for our sleeping car accommodations more than covers the cost of our transportation.
But the fact is, up to 80-percent of the people on board a long-distance train are traveling from one mid-point along the route to another. For these people, Amtrak is essential public transportation. And that, says the National Association of Railroad Passengers, is a fundamental right of all Americans.
For the purpose of this illustration, let’s say you’re a retired couple and you want to travel from your home in Garden City, Kansas, to Gallup, New Mexico, where your daughter has just delivered your first grandchild.
But Gallup is some 650 miles from Garden City and, according to MapQuest, it’ll take 9 1/2 hours of actual driving time to get there—really not an option for two senior citizens. So let’s look at what’s available in terms of public transportation.
I confess that I only spent about 15 minutes searching on line, but I was unable to find any bus service from Garden City to Gallup. And it is a fact that for years now, the bus companies have been focusing on long-haul routes linking major cities. At any rate, if it is possible to take a bus from Garden City to Gallup, it would be a convoluted route taking many hours, if not days.
It is possible to get to Gallup and back by air, however, but the cheapest round-trip fare will be about $830 each—more than $1650 total—and, with two intermediate stops, it’ll take at least eight hours to get there.
It’s a 12-hour ride if you choose Amtrak but, for a roomette in both directions, the round-trip fare for the two of you is $977, including all meals for two people. However, since neither trip is overnight, you could opt to travel in coach. The round-trip fare on Amtrak will be $280 … total for two seniors.
Once again, the point is that Amtrak’s long-distance trains are providing essential public transportation at reasonable prices for vast areas of the west and Midwest. We have to educate the media to this fact. The politicians, too … although both groups damn well ought to know that anyway.