Sunday, December 21, 2008

No Cure From Amtrak

Something that Amtrak has not been able to cure in all of its three decades plus of existence is the public perception that the days are numbered for the train. I'm talking about any train.

Throughout the decade preceding Amtrak, those of us old enough to remember will recall that news of one or another passenger train's demise came out almost weekly. Unless you were a train nut trying to get mileage that would become unavailable onto your log book, you weren't very enthusiastic about riding a train that you knew wouldn't be there in the very near future. It was a protective reaction, really, because you knew that if you liked it you would be sad not to do it again, and if you didn't like it, it was probably because you waited too long to try it.

The same thing has been going on throughout the Amtrak era. There is always a rumor of a certain train in danger of discontinuance, and the press makes no bones about putting it out there when it's just a rumor. Some of this has got to stop if Passenger Rail is going to grow and if public confidence is going to grow with it. Amtrak should spend some new money on public relations initiatives that will tell the public, not just the train nuts that watch for the info, like me, what is in store for them if things go right. What new trains can we expect? How will this help my life and how will this help the country and the environment?

Today, even the reporting and the editorial slant for potential new trains is in the negative. It's about what might go wrong, how horrendously large is the needed money, or how it's just a "study" that will cost lots and no train is likely to result.

As a society, we are now conditioned to breath a sigh of relief when things don't go too wrong. So we don't expect to hear about what could go right. We rejoice over $2 gas, we turn handsprings when the train schedule doesn't get cut back, we thank God and Southwest Airlines that somebody still gives us peanuts during a long flight. It's ridiculous, and we should all expect more.

Wouldn't it be a lot more fun to rejoice over Amtrak doubling its route structure and its on-board amenities? And somebody at Amtrak needs to get their head out of whatever dark hole its up and start to let the public know how good things could be, not just how bad they could get.

I look forward to it.

©2008 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com
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