A Little of This; Some of That.

Stand by for a possible highly significant ruling by the Surface Transportation Board . . . a ruling supporting RPA’s position favoring approval of an Amtrak train running once a day in each direction between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama. The two freight railroads involved are CSX and Norfolk Southern (they own the track) and they have, in the opinion of many observers, vastly overplayed their opposition to Amtrak’s very modest proposal, claiming that a passenger train making one round trip a day would have a “devastating impact” on their freight business. Oh, really? At a public hearing held by the STB, major customers of the freight railroads jockeyed for the chance to take whacks at the railroads for high prices and poor service. Yes, this could be just wishful thinking. Yes, I know it’s hard to predict what a supposedly independent Washington commission will do. But the issue here is so damn clear!

It’s still not clear—at least to me—what Amtrak management’s long-term intent is regarding food service on long-distance trains. Is there going to be any variation on the menus from one train to another? As someone who travels from coast to coast and back again by train, three or four days of seeing the exact same dishes offered at every evening meal makes you want to run screaming to the snack bar in the Sightseer Lounge car. When I first resumed my love of train travel back in the 1970s, Amtrak chefs were permitted to bring their own seasonings on board, thus providing the opportunity for at least some minor menu variations from train to train.

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Finally, on the subject of the Rail Passengers Association, let me make a pitch for membership in this organization. We’re seeking more members because the bigger the number, the more attention we get from the politicians and the more likely they are to vote the way we want. Our organization’s credibility has been firmly established and, in fact, RPA staff members are now being asked by Congressional staffers to help draft proposed legislation that affects passenger rail. Won’t you join us? Thank you!