Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Advocacy

The coming of a new administration is an opportunity to tell the good news. To borrow a page from the Apple play book (and some other famous work of literature), we need to be “evangelists.” This is no time for overconfidence. Airline and highway special interests still have the ears of powerful congressmen.

We should go on the offensive without being offensive. There are two kinds of advocacy. One is the personal style of conversation between neighbors. Be serious, polite and firm. The other “target” is decision makers. These are mostly in government, but you might also include local Chamber of Commerce types and opinion writers. People in government need a well-written personal letter.

Some folks have special skills of local organization which fit well with small local “cells” of rail activists. Get organized but stay under the radar as a local group. The other side always has more muscle and will look “correct” because they can muster greater numbers. Remember, the other side is well paid to oppose good transportation.

Since TFA began in 2007, things have changed a lot. The passage of a HSR proposal in California has profoundly altered the transportation outlook in the USA. There is finally some political traction. Nonetheless, rail is still the “poor stepchild.” When we promote budget increases for Amtrak, we must remember the URGENT need for new equipment. There will be no system expansion untill there are seats for all those happy passengers. Amtrak will continue to be the operator of long distance trains operating outside the northeast corridor.

It is essential to recall that LDT’s and corridor trains (such as Acela) can operate side-by-side both operationally and politically. We promote a balanced transport system.

Long distance trains:

  • Serve “corridors.” For example, Minneapolis – Chicago on the Empire Builder or Omaha – Denver on the Zephyr.
  • Provide necessary transportation to communities without airports, or limited air service.
  • Allow one to continue forward movement while sleeping.
  • Provide an economically reasonable transportation choice for families and students.
  • Provide necessary feeder service to shorter corridors.

Although TFA does not necessarily take the NARP positions, it might be a good idea to state your thoughts in light of the NARP 40th Anniversary “Vision” plan. Here is the link to that. Oklahoma and Kansas folks may use the Heartland Flyer as your vehicle. There is also a wealth of information in “The Ohio Hub.” These and other initiatives to enhance conventional tail service are on the right hand column.

We strongly support the corridor initiatives of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. Check their web site for the latest information. It is always top notch.

As you contact your elected representatives, some of these thoughts might be worth including in a well written personal letter. Your senator needs to hear from you . Congress is making very important long-term decisions.

Smart folks like you can think of many more objective positive contributions of conventional long distance trains, so let us hear them.

Some tips on advocating.

  • No nostalgia, or discussion of personal illnesses. Never mention that you were employed by a railroad, unless your experience is recent and relates directly to the fact case you are developing. Opponents will presume that you are a pass riding freeloader.
  • Avoid referring to operating lines as “freight railroads.” This language tends to legitimize the industry’s anti-Amtrak position. Call them “host” railroads or “operating” lines.
  • Make your argument in the light of general good, not your personal convenience.
  • Allow for the possibility that the “host” railroads deserve to be compensated for operating passenger trains.
  • Emphasize that we are not necessarily advocating European style HSR.
  • Point out rail’s place as a part of a transportation system that includes highways and air.
  • Avoid all rail travel descriptions that might tend to depict Amtrak as elitist or providing luxury service.

What to do about Republicans? Remember that some of our strongest supporters have come from the GOP. I have in mind Kay Bailey Hutchison and Trent Lott. There is a powerful opinion piece published in the Washington Post: A Conservative Investment, Why the Right can Get Behind and Infrastructure Program. A must read.

3 Responses

  1. walt veit says:

    Those advocating rail solutions need not be afraid to compare the lack of planning in the U.S. with the rest of the world. The glaring paucity of discussion here compared with Western Europe, Korea, Japan, Singapore and even other emerging economies puts us to shame.
    Even the president’s transit stimulus is modest compared with plans in Spain to spend 100B on high speed rail in the next few years. Local critics here have been able to trump regional, let alone national, planning.

  2. Michelle Heusinkveld says:

    At the risk of sounding ‘elitist’, I’ve spent some 33 years flying all over the world as required by my job and never, never felt comfortable like I do on a train. Trains in America and Japan, trains in India, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Italy. Trains are for everyone, elites and freeloaders included. Some of my favorite memories are of train trips, suitcase stowed overhead, paper bag of something bready and sweet on my lap and a cup of coffee in my hand, watching through wide windows as the country rolls past. So safe. So punctual. The accessible utility of trains to much of the world expiates the purported inefficiency of that mode of travel in some countries, and I say purported because I have simply not found the anecdotes to be true. I recall one early morning train trip from Rome to Naples, a short two or so hours, nearly every seat taken by well-dressed businessmen going down for the day, lap tops humming with quiet industry. The trip was comfortable, uneventful and on time. And utterly civilized. I want to help in whatever way I can to expand rail in the U.S. to where it becomes a fact of life again, not a novelty. I want to see a Pittsburgh to Chicago in four hours. I envision a Washington, DC to Atlanta in 6 hours. Put me on a train in the early morn with a warm croissant, a cup of coffee and a paper and I’ll arrive ready to work, not wasted! Tell me what I can do to help this.

  3. I am with an advocacy coalition in Southeastern Pennsylvania that is working to redirect limited transit funding back to rail projects that would grow ridership and service in our region.

    Please feel free to link to our site, http://www.PA-TEC.org.

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