As far as I know, there is no hard evidence—no professionally done survey, for instance—to support a gut feeling that on the subject of long-distance trains, a significant slice of public opinion has moved from unaware to interested to concerned. Can it be that people are finally beginning to get the message that the future of the long-distance trains really is in doubt?
If public opinion is indeed shifting, it could well be just in time. Should the anti-national network faction within Amtrak’s top management prevail and make a serious effort to eliminate the long-distance trains, it’s a good bet that members of Congress would hear cries of outrage from constituents. It really is true, isn’t it, that you don’t appreciate something until you face the prospect of losing it. For literally many millions of people, losing the Southwest Chief or the Cardinal or the Crescent—whichever of the long-distance trains is “their” train—is simply not acceptable.
After all, there are great swaths across this country—many areas in the south and much of the midwest and west—where Amtrak is the only affordable public transportation. Yes, there are a few small regional airports scattered around these areas (also subsidized by the feds, by the way.). But do they offer convenient, affordable transportation? Not if it’s a two hour drive to the airport where you’d have to leave your car in an open parking lot while you’re away for two weeks.
And here’s more evidence that there may be an awakening among the general populace: a new public opinion poll says that a majority of Americans think the federal government isn’t paying enough attention to the needs of this country’s transportation infrastructure. Well, I should hope so … with some 60,000 bridges judged to be in serious need of repair; a cost estimate of $52 billion for repairs and deferred maintenance along the Northeast Corridor; and Amtrak running a fleet of Superliners, some of which were actually built back to the mid-1970s.
An older gentleman, upon hearing that there is a possibility the Southwest Chief could stop operating, was quick to give us his reaction: “That’s my train! My congressman will be back running his damn hardware store if he allows that to happen!”