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wildchicken13

Train Attendant
Joined
Feb 19, 2022
Messages
42
I apologize if this comes across as insensitive, but as someone from a major metropolitan area, I struggle to understand the value that trains provide to people living in rural areas. Even living in the suburbs of a major city, it is difficult to get anywhere without a car, and since public transportation is almost nonexistent in most rural areas, I would imagine that the situation there is even more dire.

For example, I often ride the Illini and Saluki trains between Chicago and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. The train stops in Gilman IL, a small town with fewer than 2,000 people. The station is on the outskirts of the town, about a mile from the town center. I'm not sure what the public transportation situation is in Gilman, but there do not appear to be any bus lines (Greyhound, Peoria Charter, etc.) serving the town. The nearest major cities—Kankakee, Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, and Lafayette—all have Amtrak stations of their own. There are many other small towns in the area, but many of these towns are closer to these other cities than to Gilman.

And yet, according to the Amtrak fact sheet for the state of Illinois, Gilman had 2,128 boardings and alightings in 2019. That may not seem like much, but that's more than the population of the entire town! By comparison, Chicago had 3.3 million boardings and alightings in the same year—not bad for a city of 2.7 million people (9.6 million living in the metro area).

The only reason I can think of that Amtrak chose to put a station here is because the town is located at the intersection of Interstate 57 and U.S. Routes 24 and 45, so people can easily drive from Gilman to… where, exactly? There's really not that much to see or do in the area. And again, all of the major cities nearby are already served by Amtrak.

I'm not saying that Amtrak should or should not serve small towns—I know that trains have great value to small towns. I am simply wondering what that value is, and how rural people use the train.
 

AmtrakBlue

Engineer
Gathering Team Member
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Messages
14,070
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Delaware
I think you answered your own question. "I'm not sure what the public transportation situation is in Gilman, but there do not appear to be any bus lines (Greyhound, Peoria Charter, etc.) serving the town. "

Everyone should have access to public transportation.
- unable to drive
- unable to fly
- driving is too expensive (to get to the bigger cities)
- etc

And just like me, who lives close to two train stations (though one is only served maybe 2-4 times a day), I'm able to drive and I can fly, but I prefer to take the train to cities close enough to drive to (2-3 hours away).
 
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Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
4,893
Location
Baltimore. MD
The members of Congress who represent these rural areas seem to think that having the service benefits their constituents, and I'm sure they don't get that idea from a vacuum. Having Amtrak provide services for their constituents is part of the deal they make to vote for funding for the Amtrak corridor service that serves mainly metropolitan areas. Remember that a rural state with less than 500,000 residents has the same two Senators that a state with 10 million+ residents has.

Furthermore, there are apparently plenty of economic impact studies that show that having train service to a small town has a definite economic benefit for the town. Compared to a large metro area, it might not seem very much, but it does help the town. And a lot of small benefits to a large number of rural towns add up.

As to how rural people use the trains -- In some of these small towns, the train is the only public transportation available. In my daughter's small rural college town, they didn't even have taxi service. There was also, surprisingly, no regional or any other kind of bus service. Just like everywhere else, there is a percentage of the population that can't or won't fly or drive, and, in any event, many of these rural towns are not near airports with decent commercial airline service. And even for the people who do drive, if they're headed for Chicago or New York or similar city, they might prefer to let someone else to the driving for them rather than deal with the traffic congestion.
 

Trollopian

Lead Service Attendant
AU Supporting Member
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Sep 19, 2014
Messages
303
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Washington, DC and Pittsburgh, PA
Purely anecdotal, but I take the Capitol Limited often between Washington and Pittsburgh. The Friday afternoon outbound trip leaving Union Station at 4:05 is (or was, B.C., = Before COVID) extra crowded with people who worked in Washington during the week and went "home" on weekends. I witnessed their exodus at every station up the line. Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg, which are also served by MARC, and Cumberland and Connellsville, which aren't. In fact I know a retired Congressional staffer, in bucolic Somerset (30 miles from Connellsville), who made the trip for decades. And of course it's not just Congressional staff but clerks and administrative assistants and construction workers. Yes, construction workers. The stereotype is that construction workers commute exclusively in their pickup trucks loaded with equipment. But that's not entirely true. Especially on a big commercial job, like a lot of the office-building or mixed-use projects in the dense core of the metro area, they're going to the same worksite for months or even a couple of years. And they can get there by carpool or public transit, and go "home" on weekends.

The DC area is a job mecca, but I suspect that the same phenomenon repeats in the other major cities along the Limited: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and of course Chicago.
 
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cirdan

Engineer
Joined
Mar 30, 2011
Messages
3,027
I am always surprised how many people do board or leave the train in the relatively small stations.

It is one of the advantages of trains vs planes that trains can make intermediate stops relatively easily and without incurring huge costs in doing so. The smaller stations thus do not need to justify the entire train but must merely justify the incremental costs of maintaining and serving a station. A handful of users per day may be enough to make that work.

In this way a huge additional utility is created on the back of a train that would, arguably, be running anyway. So it's a classic win-win.
 

Trollopian

Lead Service Attendant
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Messages
303
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Washington, DC and Pittsburgh, PA
relevant video!


"17:12?" I thought. "About a day trip to Gilman, IL? This is gonna be damn tedious." It wasn't. I loved every minute, none so poetic as at about 15:00 when the giant locomotive approaches the tiny station at night, whistle tooting. (It's not even an Amshack. Think bus shelter.) I like their joke that they upped Gilman's average daily ridership by 50%. This mom is right, she raised her kid well.
 

daybeers

Conductor
Joined
Jan 6, 2016
Messages
1,658
Location
NHV
"17:12?" I thought. "About a day trip to Gilman, IL? This is gonna be damn tedious." It wasn't. I loved every minute, none so poetic as at about 15:00 when the giant locomotive approaches the tiny station at night, whistle tooting. (It's not even an Amshack. Think bus shelter.) I like their joke that they upped Gilman's average daily ridership by 50%. This mom is right, she raised her kid well.
Yeah, Miles is great! Glad I ntroduced you to his content.
 

oregon pioneer

Engineer
Joined
Feb 15, 2011
Messages
2,655
Location
near Seneca, Oregon
I live in the middle-of-nowhere eastern Oregon, inconveniently located about 4-5 hours from THREE different Amtrak lines, the CS, CZ and EB. Sometimes I am the only one waiting at my little station (most often WIH, Wishram WA, for the EB). However, at CMO (Chemult OR) or WNN (Winnemucca NV), there can be up to 20 people getting on or off. That may not sound like very many, but it sure beats driving for days and staying in hotels in winter, which is when I get to travel. I don't know if there are more folks boarding at these small stations in summer season, but it's a lifeline for people like me.
Acres_19v1.jpg

BTW, even if I preferred flying, even smaller airports are at least as far away. And just like many small towns, there *is* a small local bus available to get to bigger towns where they have Amtrak stations or airports:
NE1_peoplemover.jpg
 
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BCL

Engineer
Joined
Nov 16, 2012
Messages
4,161
Location
San Francisco Bay Area
I am always surprised how many people do board or leave the train in the relatively small stations.

It is one of the advantages of trains vs planes that trains can make intermediate stops relatively easily and without incurring huge costs in doing so. The smaller stations thus do not need to justify the entire train but must merely justify the incremental costs of maintaining and serving a station. A handful of users per day may be enough to make that work.

In this way a huge additional utility is created on the back of a train that would, arguably, be running anyway. So it's a classic win-win.

The utility to Amtrak is that they have service and usually someone else is paying for nearly all the costs for a station, whether it's a municipal government or in some cases a local or regional transportation authority. Even in metro areas.
 

BCL

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Nov 16, 2012
Messages
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San Francisco Bay Area
The members of Congress who represent these rural areas seem to think that having the service benefits their constituents, and I'm sure they don't get that idea from a vacuum. Having Amtrak provide services for their constituents is part of the deal they make to vote for funding for the Amtrak corridor service that serves mainly metropolitan areas. Remember that a rural state with less than 500,000 residents has the same two Senators that a state with 10 million+ residents has.

Furthermore, there are apparently plenty of economic impact studies that show that having train service to a small town has a definite economic benefit for the town. Compared to a large metro area, it might not seem very much, but it does help the town. And a lot of small benefits to a large number of rural towns add up.

As to how rural people use the trains -- In some of these small towns, the train is the only public transportation available. In my daughter's small rural college town, they didn't even have taxi service. There was also, surprisingly, no regional or any other kind of bus service. Just like everywhere else, there is a percentage of the population that can't or won't fly or drive, and, in any event, many of these rural towns are not near airports with decent commercial airline service. And even for the people who do drive, if they're headed for Chicago or New York or similar city, they might prefer to let someone else to the driving for them rather than deal with the traffic congestion.

There's certainly a benefit to rural people that they absolutely want, especially now that bus service to remote areas has been cut back.

The Essential Air Service does something fairly similar.


Current%20list%20of%20EAS-Eligible%20communities%20excl%20AK%20%20HI_Dec2021_0.pdf


 

west point

Engineer
Joined
Jun 9, 2015
Messages
3,588
Location
SW ATL airport
My problem is that I am 52.5 miles from the ATL station. Driving time usually misses the major rush hours. However, the parking situation is poor. Sometimes can park about 1 mile away at a friend's home.
 

Siegmund

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 19, 2018
Messages
378
Location
northwestern Montana
I apologize if this comes across as insensitive, but as someone from a major metropolitan area, I struggle to understand the value that trains provide to people living in rural areas

The easiest way to sum it up is... trains come to those areas. Planes don't. We have fewer choices; that means that that the choices we do have are more likely to get used. You'll see any number of rural towns with very high ridership. Upthread mentioned Gilman,IL getting 2,000 boardings. Shelby, Montana is in a similar situation: it's where I-15 crosses the Empire Builder's route, but it's a depressed, non-scenic town not drawing tourists... population 3,000... as many as15,000 boardings in its best years, 9,000 in 2019.

Yes, we need cars to get to the train station (just like we do to get to the airport, and just like most city people do to get to either one.) We don't always want to drive a thousand miles, and we don't always want our car with us on the other end. If I have 3 days of business in Seattle, for instance, paying $30 a day to leave my car in a hotel parking garage is not a bonus.

I would also mention that, from a pure time standpoint, when non-hub city pairs that have direct train or bus service, that service is often faster than flying via a hub-and-spoke system is. Here in Montana, none of the major cities are connected by direct flights. Missoula to Bozeman, for instance, is 3 hours on the highway; it was 5 hours on the old North Coast Limited; flying, it's an hour and a half to Salt Lake City, a a couple hours waiting for a connection, and another hour and a half back north from Salt Lake, for the slowest trip of all three.
 

fillyjonk

OBS Chief
Joined
Mar 10, 2011
Messages
546
I live in southern OK; I still have to drive 2 hours to catch a train. But it would be worse and harder getting to an airport (we have two commercial airports of any size in my state; the closest one is a solid 2 1/2 hour drive away) even if I liked to fly (I don't). Won't ride buses any more; even with delays and longer stops the train is faster.

I'm a single woman who travels to visit family; I have no one to split up driving with me so it would be a solid two day's drive (with an overnight stop) if I were driving to see m y mom in Illinois because I can't drive 10 hours in a day, it's not possible for me. On the train I can sleep and read.

I think some city dwellers are unaware how great the distances in middle America are, and how little there is between population centers. If I want a bookstore I have an hour's round-trip; same for a fabric store of any size. Some people have it even worse in terms of isolation.
 

cirdan

Engineer
Joined
Mar 30, 2011
Messages
3,027
The utility to Amtrak is that they have service and usually someone else is paying for nearly all the costs for a station, whether it's a municipal government or in some cases a local or regional transportation authority. Even in metro areas.

True.

In the case of Gilman IL, according to the Amtrak website the station has minimal facilities so I can't imagine that it costs very much to maintain and run.
 

jpakala

Service Attendant
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Jul 13, 2014
Messages
150
Landing and taking off costs a lot, so air travel apart from big metropolitan areas is either non-existent or very expensive & infrequent in comparison. Some years ago American charged $500 for a no-changes ticket (I think roundtrip but forget) from STL to Springfield, IL and a change in Chicago was required (regular fare was $1000) so it took 6 hours one-way. Train was under $50 or $60 roundtrip, much quicker, and stopped downtown within walking distance of many places.
 

George Harris

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finally! Back in Mississippi
So far as most of the rest of the country outside the northeast is concerned, the Northeast gets gold plated train service while the rest of the country gets erratic we will get there on occasion some where between once a day and once a week rattletraps. Been asked more than once, how many passengers would there be between Washington, New York and Boston if they had one train a day that might or might not be within three hours of the advertized time? The general feel is that the Northeast is overfunded. Yeah, I know, population density, traffic congestion on the roads, blah, blah, blah. but this overfunded northeast attitude is the reality of much of the rest of the country when they think about trains at all. As to the "essential air service" That is strictly a political construct and now that fares are unregulated is exorbitantly expensive if it even exists. Many of the places that were served by the "essential air services" in the 50's and 60's now have nothing.

There was a feeling at that time when there was significant government funding for these services, why not have essential passenger rail service funding? Nope that did not happen until Amtrak and by that time most of the you can go most places on a train services were gone. In 1960 I could leave Memphis in 11 different directions and most of these had two trains a day with the ICRR having 5 north and 4 south and two others one only. With these it was possible to get to most towns of 2,000 people or more by train.. But by then passenger loading were dropping fast so funding began to be minimized. Would funding for station maintenance and improvements plus equipment maintenance and replacement plus more emphasis on reliability made any or much difference? Who knows, however it is funny how in much of the rest of the world passenger rail traffic did not take the nosedive it did in the US. Now, out of Memphis I can go either north or south, and is it daily, 5 times a week, or who knows what and even more, what will it be next week or month?
 
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Northwestern

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 3, 2022
Messages
164
Location
Santa Rosa
I agree with Siegmund and others. Amtrak stops in rural areas, I think, are a vital and indispensable service to people living in those rural areas. I once lived along Highway 2, in Northern Montana, and anyone who has driven that road knows how hazardous that road can be during the winter. You don't want to get stuck in a snow drift at 20 below. The Empire Builder provided a valuable means of travel. What if a person wants to go from Minot, ND to Winona, MN to visit a relative. What flight options does that person have?
 
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CCC1007

Customer Service Agent
Joined
Jan 2, 2015
Messages
1,846
Landing and taking off costs a lot, so air travel apart from big metropolitan areas is either non-existent or very expensive & infrequent in comparison. Some years ago American charged $500 for a no-changes ticket (I think roundtrip but forget) from STL to Springfield, IL and a change in Chicago was required (regular fare was $1000) so it took 6 hours one-way. Train was under $50 or $60 roundtrip, much quicker, and stopped downtown within walking distance of many places.
As an example, I currently live in a metro area of 100,000 people, and our local airport has three routes that operate on a daily basis, usually 2-3 flights each on 50-76 seat aircraft. Our nearest Amtrak station is 2 hours north, and is the second busiest in the state. We also have 2 daily east-west motor coach runs, but that is the only inter-city operations available to the local area, other than simply driving to where you want to go. Please tell me when the NCH (North Coast Hiawatha) will be coming back, so that we can change the status quo here.
 
Joined
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Messages
1,441
here was a feeling at that time when there was significant government funding for these services, why not have essential passenger rail service funding? Nope that did not happen until Amtrak and by that time most of the you can go most places on a train services were gone. In 1960 I could leave Memphis in 11 different directions and most of these had two trains a day with the ICRR having 5 north and 4 south and two others one only. With these it was possible to get to most towns of 2,000 people or more by train.. But by then passenger loading were dropping fast so funding began to be minimized. Would funding for station maintenance and improvements plus equipment maintenance and replacement plus more emphasis on reliability made any or much difference? Who knows, however it is funny how in much of the rest of the world passenger rail traffic did not take the nosedive it did in the US. Now, out of Memphis I can go either north or south, and is it daily, 5 times a week, or who knows what and even more, what will it be next week or month?

My personal take on the era was it's more complicated than we want to remember, a combination of too much competition (London's underground is an example, as are parts of NYC's system, too many repetitive lines) for shrinking ridership, poor business practices and a lingering anti-robber baron sentiment among large segments of the population and politicians who didn't want to enrich railroads. Other countries had even more drastic reductions in rail service than we did, Mexico, Argentina, New Zealand - even many European countries removed rail lines, not just Britain - it's still happening in Portugal - my new crackpot theory is that as the countries get wealthier people buy cars and running and upgrading the service rapidly becomes more expensive to upgrade and run - even basic maintenance becomes more costly and then lines get abandoned - even Sweden has a fair number of abandoned regional lines - especially narrow gauge, some of which are heritage lines now. A lot of continental railways in Europe were government built and sponsored and didn't have the same redundancies hence they remained well used and were better suited for the routes (not sure I'm expressing that well, but it's almost bed time) hence their survival and support.
 
Joined
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Messages
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Location
Lubec, ME
So far as most of the rest of the country outside the northeast is concerned, the Northeast gets gold plated train service while the rest of the country gets erratic we will get there on occasion some where between once a day and once a week rattletraps. Been asked more than once, how many passengers would there be between Washington, New York and Boston if they had one train a day that might or might not be within three hours of the advertized time? The general feel is that the Northeast is overfunded. Yeah, I know, population density, traffic congestion on the roads, blah, blah, blah. but this overfunded northeast attitude is the reality of much of the rest of the country when they think about trains at all. As to the "essential air service" That is strictly a political construct and now that fares are unregulated is exorbitantly expensive if it even exists. Many of the places that were served by the "essential air services" in the 50's and 60's now have nothing.
I would hardly call the NEC "gold plated": compared to what it should be it is more like barely adequate with much of the infrastructure 90 - 100+ years old. It is not so much that it is overfunded than the rest of the country is severely underfunded. There are a few bright spots such as California, North Carolina, and Illinois but there are still many places where good corridor services would likely thrive but this is held back by (1) the need for state governments to take the lead and (2) lack of interest by said state governments due to an auto oriented mentality e.g. Ohio. Then you have the problem that outside of the NEC most of the tracks are owned by mostly hostile freight railroads.
 

Tom Booth

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321
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Jersey City
So far as most of the rest of the country outside the northeast is concerned, the Northeast gets gold plated train service while the rest of the country gets erratic we will get there on occasion some where between once a day and once a week rattletraps. Been asked more than once, how many passengers would there be between Washington, New York and Boston if they had one train a day that might or might not be within three hours of the advertized time? The general feel is that the Northeast is overfunded. Yeah, I know, population density, traffic congestion on the roads, blah, blah, blah. but this overfunded northeast attitude is the reality of much of the rest of the country when they think about trains at all. As to the "essential air service" That is strictly a political construct and now that fares are unregulated is exorbitantly expensive if it even exists. Many of the places that were served by the "essential air services" in the 50's and 60's now have nothing.

There was a feeling at that time when there was significant government funding for these services, why not have essential passenger rail service funding? Nope that did not happen until Amtrak and by that time most of the you can go most places on a train services were gone. In 1960 I could leave Memphis in 11 different directions and most of these had two trains a day with the ICRR having 5 north and 4 south and two others one only. With these it was possible to get to most towns of 2,000 people or more by train.. But by then passenger loading were dropping fast so funding began to be minimized. Would funding for station maintenance and improvements plus equipment maintenance and replacement plus more emphasis on reliability made any or much difference? Who knows, however it is funny how in much of the rest of the world passenger rail traffic did not take the nosedive it did in the US. Now, out of Memphis I can go either north or south, and is it daily, 5 times a week, or who knows what and even more, what will it be next week or month?
It's not a zero sum game though. If Amtrak were to cut funding for the Northeast there is not necessarily an increase in money for rural areas. Also, the Northeast makes money. That said, I agree with you that rural funding should be substantially increased.
 
Joined
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Baltimore. MD
I would hardly call the NEC "gold plated": compared to what it should be it is more like barely adequate with much of the infrastructure 90 - 100+ years old. It is not so much that it is overfunded than the rest of the country is severely underfunded. There are a few bright spots such as California, North Carolina, and Illinois but there are still many places where good corridor services would likely thrive but this is held back by (1) the need for state governments to take the lead and (2) lack of interest by said state governments due to an auto oriented mentality e.g. Ohio. Then you have the problem that outside of the NEC most of the tracks are owned by mostly hostile freight railroads.
Also, the NEC might be the only place in the country where passenger rail is actually a significant part of the transportation mode share, especially if you consider the commuter lines that run on it. Abandoning the NEC would probably cause all sorts of traffic tie-ups and bring the region, which contains both the political and financial capitals of the country, to a grinding halt. The main goal should be to try to replicate the NEC in other parts of the country to get people out of their cars. Serving rural populations in remote areas is a spin-off benefit that's also needed to build the political support for the main purpose of taxpayer funded passenger rail -- getting a significant number of Americans out of their cars.
 
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