For those of you who have ridden Amtrak cross country, do you remember the last time you did it? If so, be forewarned the next time you ride, it probably won’t be the same.
In December of 2017, former Norfolk Southern freight railroad CEO Charles Moorman retired from the role of Amtrak CEO after serving approximately one year and four months. Richard Anderson, who had previously served as CEO of Northwest Airlines and Delta Airlines, was his successor. Since then, Mr. Anderson has been hard at work essentially gutting Amtrak like a fish in a couple of ways in which I will further elaborate. In just the past month or two, he has cut discounts for students, seniors, and veterans. He also ended what is referred to as; “charter runs,” affecting the livelihoods of people who work the chartered rail cars year round. That was followed by an announcement on April 20 that they would soon offer, “new and contemporary dining,” which really sounds like a glorified TV dinner on rails. It, as I understand, will have no onboard preparation whatsoever.
To add insult to injury, the “new and contemporary dining” will only be available for the passengers who book the higher end accommodations, so if you’re in coach, I hope you bring a lot of snacks. The final attack on Amtrak thus far was a recent announcement that a lot of the stations that have agents working there will soon no longer have agents. This would affect people’s jobs, as well as how passengers buy their tickets. This could also create a safety hazard for passengers.
What comes next is anyone’s guess. With Mr. Anderson being a former airline CEO, I am guessing airplane seating will be in the near future for Amtrak. In Congress, Amtrak has always been a very controversial topic. Democrats believe that Amtrak should be funded by the government, and Republicans believe it should be privatized. The main point of argument is whether the government has enough money to fund Amtrak. One could argue that maybe we could go back to the old days when the freight railroads ran both freight and passenger services. But if they made that argument, they would be blind to history. The last time we tried that as I understand it, the freight railroads almost went bankrupt.
So that leaves us with this question: How do we handle passenger rail service going forward? If Congress is going to underfund it and can’t be counted on and private companies can’t afford to fund it, then what do we do? For the sake of passenger rail in this country, I sincerely hope we don’t just look the other way and let it die. Rail was the first modern day method of travel for people and goods - long before airplanes, buses, cars and trucks were invented. Ridership has been up overall in recent years due to several factors including the cost of gas. To let it die would be a disservice and a shame in my eyes. Is it slower than flying? Yes, but flying is not for everyone, and rail travel is a great way to see this land we call the United States of America.
There are two ways to halt the decline of passenger rail in our country. The first is ride it and help prove that it is still vital. The other is to contact our elected officials, Congressman Adam Kinzinger and Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and inform them that it is important to us. Our nation should not let an airline CEO, or anyone else put the final nail in the coffin of one of our most crucial and easily-accessible methods of travel. The passenger rail system in America is in jeopardy, so let’s band together and save it.
MATTHEW PETERSON is a young Streator resident who recently rediscovered a passion for writing and getting people thinking. His columns will range in topic from anything going on in the world, to his perception of local news, and anything and everything in between. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.