I am writing this in the lounge/observation car watching the sun rise behind the Southwest Chief as I travel west toward home in New Mexico. We have just crossed the state line from Kansas into Colorado and were told to change our watches from CDT to MDT. Due to lack of WIFI, I am writing this on the word processor. I will have to post this after I get home.
Those of you who read my earlier post about my reunion, know that I planned to take the train from Albuququerque to Chicago. In Chicago I rented a car for the drive to Waukesha, Wisconsin where the Waukesha High class of 1961 had a great reunion, our 55th. Being a bit more mature than we were for earlier reunions, we dispensed with the fancy dinners, music and dancing. (Who wants to dance at a reunion anyway? We want to talk with our old friends.)
We started the reunion by joining a breakfast club Friday morning. This club is former athletes and fans from all classes along with current and retired coaches from all sports. All of the ’61 alumni gathered together on an enclosed porch at the restaurant. What a great way to start a reunion.
Friday night the class of ’61 met for a fish fry. I think they were about to kick us out by the time the last of us finished talking. Saturday night, rather than a formal dinner, we met for a buffet. There was no formal program, but there was an open mike. Several of us made short remarks. Most of the evening we circulated and renewed old friendships.
After a quick visit with my brother, I started back.
At one time the United States enjoyed a vast network of passenger rail service, all provided by the private railroads. The trains with longer routes had dining cars, Pullman sleeper cars and cars with private compartments along with coach cars. Passenger rail travel was comfortable, efficient and within most people’s budgets. It was faster than traveling by automobile, but slow in comparison to air travel. Of course, airlines were in their infancy following World War I and really did not mature until the late ’50s.
Following World War II, automobile ownership became very popular. Families began taking vacations by auto. Long distance auto travel was not very efficient, but as roads and cars improved, passenger travel by rail declined. The improvements in air travel cut further into rail travel. One at a time, the railroads reduced their rail service. Most railroads stopped passenger service entirely as freight became more profitable than passengers.
Passenger rail service would have died a quiet death had not Congress passed a law establishing AMTRAK. My trip on AMTRAK from Albuquerque to Chicago was 26 hours. The seats in coach are wide and spaced five feet apart. They recline and have foot rests. I was very comfortable. I slept better on my trip than I have on most of the intercontinental flights I have taken. Seats are equipped with tray tables and 115 volt AC power. My only complaint is that there was no WIFI. I was told WIFI was only available in the sleeper cars. The observation car provides great views, but the view from my seat on the upper level was pretty good.
Unfortunately in many places, AMTRAK travels mostly on tracks owned by freight lines. In some places, track conditions do n ot permit high speed travel and in other places we had to wait for other trains to pass the other direction. I have been told by a railroad employee that AMTRAK trains no longer have priority over freights. This makes it difficult to stay on schedule. To the credit of the train crew, we reached most scheduled stations within a few minutes of the schedule, but we were up to an hour late at other stations.
Someone will comment that I could have traveled to Milwaukee much faster by air, but I had no need to get there quickly and I saved some money. I also saved the time and aggravation of going through TSA security.
AMTRAK is hamstrung by being a government owned company that is ruled by bureaucrats and crippled by politically mandated budget restraints, but all things considered they do a pretty good job of providing passenger service. The crews on the two trains I rode, took good care of the passengers.
My criticism of AMTRAK is that they do a terrible job of publicity. I suspect there are many people who are not even aware of the availability of passenger service between major cities. The AMTRAK websites are poorly done and a little confusing.
In my opinion AMTRAK should have more routes servicing more cities. On some routes, trains need to run more frequently. Unfortunately, no transportation provider can afford to provide service without adequate ridership. This is why I think AMTRAK needs better publicity. If they increase ridership, they will be able to justify the the fund for additional equipment. With additional equipment and increased ridership, they will be able to expand routes an schedules.
When I was a business traveler, air travel was the travel of choice because I needed to get to the clent quickly. Time is money in business. As a retiree, I seldom have the need to get to my destination quickly. Retirees, college students and some vacationers often can take their time when traveling. It is in the country’s best interest to have good passenger rail service, even better than what AMTRAK currently provides.
(My apologies for not posting this sooner. I wrote the draft for this post on the train, but could not send it for lack of WIFI. Once home I got busy, but better late than never.)
Reynold Conger is a retired scientist and teacher who has taken up writing as a retirement career. He used his train time to write this blog entry, finish revising his next novel, a Christian thriller and to begin on a middle grade nonfiction book about bees. For more about Reynold’s books, visit www.ReynoldConger.com.