Passenger Trains: Essential Transportation.
One section of the comprehensive Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act—hereinafter and into perpetuity referred to as the FAST Act—created the National Advisory Committee on Travel and Transportation Infrastructure (to be called NACTTI, and be careful how you say it). This committee is to serve as a conduit for recommendations to the administration from experts in transportation and tourism from both public and private sectors.
Members of the committee are being selected by the current Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, and one of his first appointees was Jim Mathews, president and CEO of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP).
Mathews says he will do his best to make the case for passenger rail, especially from the perspective of the millions of Americans who live many miles from an airport, but in or near towns through which an Amtrak train passes. After all, the Transportation Department’s mandate is to ensure “fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation” that “enhances the quality of life” for all Americans.
Some months ago, we surveyed NARP members and the results clearly supported our position that long-distance trains provide essential public transportation for millions of people all across the west and midwest. One of the better ones came from an older couple living in a small town in western Kansas. Their daughter, married and living in Albuquerque, had just given birth to their first grandchild and of course they were eager to visit her and meet the newest addition to the family.
But how best to do that was an issue. It’s almost 500 miles from their home to Albuquerque and, quite understandably, both being well up in their 70s, they were reluctant to undertake a journey like that in their 15-year-old car. Flying was an option, but the nearest airport is an hour’s drive from their home. The flight itself would take the better part of a day and require a change of planes. And they would have to leave their car at the airport for however long they would be away.
Ah, but just a dozen miles away in the neighboring town is a stop for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. The ride to Albuquerque would take just over ten hours and the cost would be $125 round trip for each of them.
So let us all hope that passenger rail gets a real boost from the incoming Trump Administration. Better yet, let us hope that, once named, the incoming Trump appointee to head that Transportation Department will be open to the idea of more and better and faster passenger trains.