Selling Amtrak a Different Way.

When it comes to supporting passenger trains and, in particular, supporting Amtrak, the more I see and hear of our elected officials, the more it seems that the pro-rail people might be better off giving greater emphasis to another pro-rail argument.  The fact is, a lot of the elected officials—when it comes to Amtrak—don’t have a clue.

For instance, in order to restore train service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, the Mobile City Council had to approve a good-faith expenditure of $80,000 in order to secure a cash grant. 

That prompted Joel Daves, a member of the Mobile City Council, to flaunt his parochialism by saying he doesn’t see why the City of Mobile should contribute $80,000 to help pay to study what was, according to the councilman, nothing more than “a joy ride for the affluent.” Wow! Clearly, the man has never been on an Amtrak train.

But let’s look at Amtrak from another perspective. Let’s think for a moment about the impact a daily train from New Orleans will have on Mobile’s economy. There will be all kinds of people–businessmen and family vacationers and folks relocating to a vibrant city . . . a city with Amtrak service!

Amtrak will impact the local economy by bringing all those people to Mobile. They will dine in restaurants and stay in hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments and they will charter boats for fishing trips out into the Gulf of Mexico and before they get back on Amtrak and return to their homes, they ‘ll buy souvenirs to remind them of their time in Mobile. 

The General Manager of the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, can tell you what it’s like without Amtrak. He says two Amtrak trains a day, every day—one eastbound, the other heading west—account for between ten and twenty room nights in his hotel, every day, day after day. And when, because of the pandemic, Amtrak had to reduce it’s schedule to three  long-distance trains a week, the Hotel Colorado had to furlough eight employees.

Finally, I’m happy to report that Mobile Council Member Daves has seen the light and now says daily Amtrak service would be worth the investment of a relatively few tax dollars. Bravo, sir!