Image via WikipediaFor the second time in less than 7 years we are caught with our pants down. First it was September 11th when our airline system came to a halt and now with high fuel prices hurting the airline industry and driving. Today we have little alternative to those two modes since our rail passenger system is a joke.
You would have thought we might have learned something after Sept. 11th but it looks like we have not. Just like then our rail passenger system is a joke. It is made worse by many issues within our national rail passenger carrier Amtrak.
While rail passenger service will never replace automobile travel or airlines, what is important is to have an effective rail passenger service as an alternative to the two. I am not talking high speed trains here as they are impractical but an effective network of long distance and short distance trains that would allow more convenient travel across the country.
In the past year I have ridden several passengers trains run by Amtrak including the California Zephyr from Salt Lake City to both Reno and Denver, the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Portland, the Cascades Talgo service from Portland to Seattle and finally the Empire Builder from Seattle to Spokane.
While the crews have been hit and miss, overall the experience has been wonderful. While on the train I can do some computer, enjoy the scenery since I am not driving, and relax in a way I cannot do any other time.
The biggest blockade to better rail passenger service sadly seems to be Amtrak itself. The only real progress in rail service has been in such states as California and Washington not because of
Amtrak but in spite of it in most cases. Amtrak on the other hand seems to only care about taking money from the states. Despite record ridership Amtrak is not pursing expanding routes or buying much need new equipment except in the northeast corridor.
Utah's only work on rail passenger service has been a proposed high speed train from Logan down to Cedar City which seems like a wasted effort at the present time. It would seem that a better strategy would be to work on rail passenger projects with neighboring states that will improve both rail and freight passenger service.
Here are more sources of information about our rail passenger service:
United Rail Passenger Alliance
National Association of Railroad Passengers