Old School Chums Appreciate Trains … Because They Travel!

My prep school reunion is winding up and we’re approaching the part where they thank you for your past support and then ask you to double down. Still, it’s nice to see old friends and wonderful to realize that they’re still your friends even after so many years have passed.

There’s always a lot of catching up, of course, and my interest in train travel and in the efforts of NARP to improve passenger rail almost always sparks some interest and starts a conversation on the subject. What I found interesting and encouraging is that almost without exception these people agree that the U.S. needs more and better and faster trains.

They also seem to have something else in common that is at least partially responsible for those positive opinions about passenger rail: they travel! More to the point, they have traveled in Europe and have seen what a good, extensive rail system can do. “London to Paris in two hours on the Eurostar,” said one. “It’s beautiful!”

Another of my old school chums said he was in France last summer and wanted to go to a small town that’s somewhere in the Loire Valley. He missed the train that was going to take him there and was sure he was facing a real problem.

“I went to the window and explained to the man that I had missed my train and was astonished when he actually apologized that I would have to wait a whole hour for the next one.”

Most Americans have no idea what a good passenger rail system means in terms of convenience and mobility and cost savings. Why? Because most Americans don’t travel to places where they have those kinds of rail systems which, of course, is almost everywhere else in the world. The fact is, only 19% of Americans have passports … and without doubt most of those are carried by people traveling to Mexico or Canada.

It’s unfortunate. The Europeans have had this figured out for 40 years: their trains go fast, there are a lot of them, and they go almost everywhere. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., because probably 90% of Americans have never been out of the country, we’re still arguing about whether or not we need Amtrak or if people will ride on high-speed trains.

It’s more than unfortunate … it’s damned embarrassing!