A Story Worth Repeating

For years now there has been an effort to discredit and subsequently eliminate Amtrak’s long-distance trains. 

Most of it is based on a false premise: that the long-distance trains are losing millions of dollars a year and there is little if any economic benefit to justify the cost of any subsidy by taxpayers.

Those who say the long-distance trains lose money are basing that on Amtrak’s own accounting system, which has been suspect for years . . . the suspicion being that Amtrak allocates disproportionately large operating costs to the long-distance trains. 

Moreover, any economic benefits these long-distance trains bring to cities and towns all across the country are either blown off as insignificant or simply ignored.

I experienced a moment of illumination two years ago when I decided to make a 24-hour stopover in Dodge City, Kansas. I had arranged in advance for a room at a very nice B&B and, despite the westbound Southwest Chief’s early morning arrival time, Kurt, the owner, said he would meet my train and bring me back to the house where breakfast would await.

Sure enough, he was there to meet me at 5:30 in the morning and, during the very short ride back to the B&B, I thanked him for going to the trouble.

“No problem,” he said. “I meet either this train or the eastbound two or three times a week.”

I quite enjoyed my short time in Dodge City, including a hike up Boot Hill, a visit to the very interesting museum and a wonderful steak dinner at a local restaurant. Kurt brought me back to the station the next morning and once again I thanked him for getting up at such an early hour. Once again he shrugged and said it was not a problem . . . that he meets either the eastbound or the westbound train “a couple of times a week.”

It was an hour later when the significance of his off-hand comment struck me: Let’s say guests for his B&B are coming by train at the rate of twice a week and if half of those people stay for two nights, that means—at an average room rate of $200 a night—the Southwest Chief is responsible for bringing $20,000 to $30,000 a year in gross revenue to this one small husband-and-wife business in Dodge City, Kansas. 

And of course Kurt’s guests are also spending money for meals in local restaurants, paying admission fees at the Boot Hill museum, and picking out souvenirs from local shops.

So explain to me again why we should get rid of Amtrak’s long-distance trains. No, wait! Never mind me. Better you should try explaining it to the folks who run that B&B in Dodge City,  Kansas.

And good luck with that!