Get Ready. More Passenger Trains May Be Coming!

It takes a while to notice a groundswell. Gay marriage, for example. Just a few years ago, this was an issue no one discussed. Or, if they did, it was in opposition and with apoplexy. Suddenly, 60-some percent of the country says, “No problem.”
The same thing could be happening when it comes to passenger rail. It seems as though we’ve been beating our heads against a stone wall for a long time, and I don’t mean just the ideologues in Congress. The best we could get from much of the general public, when pressed, has been a vague-but-favorable opinion of passenger trains.

Europeans can travel almost anywhere at almost any time of the day or night, much of the time on fast, comfortable trains like this one operated by Germany’s DB Bahn.

That seems to be changing. In almost every part of the country, people are starting to organize in support of new or expanded rail service. Either that, or they’re organizing to stave off a threat to an established train.
Taken individually, these are citizens exercising their right to petition their elected officials. But collectively, at least to me, it looks like the beginning of a groundswell. Here are just a few examples:

  • There’s a grassroots movement in New England to have the Vermonter’s route extend to Montreal.
  • People from Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico organized to save the Southwest Chief.
  • Private investors are proposing a high-speed train between Houston and Dallas in Texas.
  • A private company in Florida will offer conventional service linking Miami and Orlando.
  • A coalition of business and community leaders across the south pressing for restoration of passenger service between New Orleans and Orlando.
  • Citizen groups asking that both the Sunset Limited and the Cardinal become daily trains.

Furthermore, there are couple of projects, in progress or about to get underway, where existing service is going to be upgraded: Chicago to St. Louis, for example, where trains will run at 105 miles-per-hour.
There are more, too. The frustrating thing is that there isn’t the realization among all these groups that they’re not alone … that they’re actually part of a movement. It’s going to be exciting when they do. And it’s really going to be interesting when the politicians begin to figure it out.