Passenger rail advocates step up efforts to promote long-distance Amtrak trains

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WASHINGTON — Amid changes to some of Amtrak’s long distance services, passenger rail supporters are stepping up efforts to promote their favorite trains while simultaneously building grassroot movements to let elected officials know how important the services are to their communities.

Mark Meyer is a member of the Rail Passenger Association who recently created a website, to promote and advocate for Amtrak’s Empire Builder. Meyer, who lives in Portland, Ore., but originally hails from Cut Bank, Mont., says he was inspired to build the website because he does not believe Amtrak is doing enough to market the Chicago to Seattle/Portland train. Meyer’s website will eventually feature articles about every town the train serves, a history of the train and ways for people to easily connect with their member of Congress to let them know how important the train is to them.

Earlier this year, Amtrak replaced traditional dining service with boxed lunches aboard two long distance trains in the Eastern U.S. More recently, officials with the passenger railroad suggested that they were exploring replacing the Southwest Chief with a bus for part of its run through Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. Passenger rail advocates fear those initiatives are the first in a series to degrade or even eliminate some long distance trains.

“Someone needs to promote the (long-distance trains) and explain what they do and why they're needed,” Meyer tells Trains News Wire, adding he hopes it will “galvanize and organize supporters” of the Empire Builder.

Independent groups supporting specific long distance trains isn’t a new phenomenon. The Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization, or TEMPO, was created in the 1990s when Amtrak was looking to discontinue the Chicago — San Antonio — Fort Worth — Los Angeles train. Besides gathering support for the train, TEMPO also maintains a website to attract potential passengers. Dr. William Pollard lives in Conway, Ark., and has been part of TEMPO since the beginning. He says every passenger that sees the website and decides to ride the train is a potential advocate for the Texas Eagle and long-distance trains. He says gathering support from the general public is more important than ever considering changes that underway at Amtrak.

“Over the years we’ve had to battle with Congress to fund these trains but now it seems the battle is with Amtrak itself,” he says.

Jim Souby, president of ColoRail, says that grassroot efforts such as those supporting the Texas Eagle or the Empire Builder are critical to saving and promoting long-distance trains in the future, especially in an era where it seems Amtrak’s top executives are more interested in corridor trains. Since 2011, ColoRail has helped organize efforts to support the Southwest Chief and Souby says the most effective messengers are local leaders.

“These local folks have the ears of their legislature and congressional leaders and that makes all the difference,” he says.
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