Thursday, September 13, 2012

Riding the rails

I have always been fascinated with trains and railroads in general.

Perhaps it was because I grew up in a town that had two railroads pass through our tiny community. One line traveled north and south, the other traveled east and west.

Back in the day, as they say, you could pretty much set your watch by the train's schedule.

As I've grown older, much older, I've become fascinated with train travel.  While it's not the fastest mode to choose, it certainly offers highlights you can't get from the air or in your own car.

Last year, it's reported, Amtrak carried 30 million passengers. Earlier this week, record monthly ridership records were announced for the past 11 months.  The increased ridership shouldn't come as a surprise with gas prices hovering around $4.00/gallon.

A ticket from Lapeer, MI to Chicago, IL is a mere $29.  That nearly 300 mile trip would take less time by car, but even at the 30 mpg in my Ford Fusion, the cost would be $40, plus parking! And I wouldn't be able to sit back and read an ebook or just stare out the traincar window and enjoy the scenery.

But I'm torn by some alarming numbers Amtrak isn't so quick to share.

Last year, Amtrak lost move the $450 million and the federal government allocated $562 million just to keep the operations side of the company rolling.

While I support public transportation over individual vehicles polluting the environment, I have issues getting behind my good tax dollars being thrown after bad.

On top of it all, Amtrak has lost nearly $1 billion since 2002 on their food and drink services, mostly due to fraud and theft.

Both Democrats and Republicans have mentioned Amtrak recently. Some are trying to make it a campaign issue, but both parties seem to be on the same track (pun intended) with continued funding.

Regardless of the outcome, I hope to see Amtrak around for a long time. Mostly because I plan on making several trips, via rail, in the coming years.

Maybe one day the U.S. will have have high-speed bullet-trains capable of speeds up to 200 mph like they do in Europe. Then, perhaps, people will choose rail travel rather than the highway.

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