During one of my recent trips, a “ding” was discovered during the final inspection after everyone had been seated on the plane. After listening to the standard update announcements (which basically stated nothing had changed from the last announcement) someone questioned if the train would have been a better choice. This quickly led to a discussion not only about the “joys” of traveling but also passenger rail service. It was an
interesting discussion, as the week before I had rode the City of New Orleans from Jackson, Mississippi to Hammond, Louisiana.
For several of the Jackson passengers, this was their first train ride. They were clearly excited. (There was one guy who sang the chorus to Arlo Guthrie’s “City Of New Orleans”, but everyone ignored him.) They were abuzz when a train pulled into the station, only to discover it was a Canadian National train. Obviously, they felt disappointed when they realized it was not the Amtrak train.
A few weeks earlier, I participated in a rail panel at the SAHSTO annual meeting. Both Gene Conti, Secretary, North Carolina Department of Transportation, and Paul Nissenbaum, Federal Railroad Administration, spoke on the need to encourage and fund passenger rail services. I spoke about ensuring rail services should remain a viable transportation option for freight traffic in the region. When in D.C. the following week, I had a long discussion about the future of railroads with several FRA staffers. The same concerns were raised: how do you encourage more passenger rail service over commercial railroad networks? Passenger rail services do operate well in certain corridors. However, operating freight and passenger services over the same line requires a delicate “touch” (which was strongly highlighted when discussing rail operations in Chicago). Anything we do regarding rail services will be an expensive proposition. We need to educate the public about the associated benefits and challenges, so they are not waiting for the wrong train at the station.