Communities across the country will celebrate the 7th annual National Train Day tomorrow, May 10th, taking a moment to enjoy both the romance and significance of passenger rail in connecting people and places.
From the Museum of the American Railroad in Frisco, Texas to the Train Museum, Converse County Visitor Information Center and 1886 Historic Depot in Douglas, Wyo. to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Miami, Fla. to Union Station in Cincinnati, Ohio, and over a hundred other places in between, train enthusiasts will join the record 31.6 million people who rode Amtrak trains last year in recognizing the significance of Amtrak passenger rail.
National Train Day began early in the City of St. Paul, Minn., where NLC President Chris Coleman welcomed Amtrak service to the restored Union Depot with the promise of an intermodal transportation hub for the city. St. Paul joins Denver and Kansas City in revitalizing historic railroad stations, connecting them to the national and local transportation network and creating a welcome mat to the community.
In St. Paul, Amtrak passengers from Chicago and western states will soon be able to connect to the Metro Transit Green Line from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis, which begins June 14.
As Mayor Coleman told Congress last December, development of the Green Line has spurred $1.2 billion private sector investment in housing and economic opportunities, with 18 stations along an 11 mile route in poorly served communities.Mayor Coleman and regional officials hope bringing Amtrak to historic Union Depot expands these economic opportunities and the transportation network that will bring new housing, jobs and businesses to an area that has been unserved for many years.
The national investment in Amtrak brings value to the entire nation through expanded connectivity, economic growth and vibrant communities. Not every person in America has to ride an Amtrak train to make it a worthwhile national investment, the same way my 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax provides the support for a highway I may never travel; or investment in a port that brings in a good that I may never use; or an airport in a city I may never visit.
Amtrak connects more than 550 communities in the US and Canada, providing more than 300 daily trains, connecting 46 states and the District of Columbia and employs 20,000 individuals across the nation. Yet, each year the federal subsidies for Amtrak faces an uphill battle in Congress. As young people and baby boomers continue to gravitate toward urban life, passenger rail and public transit will continue to grow as transportation options.
As Deputy Federal Railroad Administrator Karen Hedlund noted at St. Paul’s early National Train Day celebration, “In 2013, more people chose public transportation than at any time since 1957, the year President Eisenhower authorized the beginning of the interstate highway system.”
Federal passenger rail and public transportation investment supports citizens, economic development and local and national economies. Find a National Train Day celebration near you and urge your officials in Washington to celebrate along with you by supporting continued federal funds for these vital transportation links.
Next week NLC will join a number of national organizations to call attention to the importance of interconnected infrastructure as part of National Infrastructure Week 2014. See a list of events NLC will take part in on our website.
About the Author: Leslie Wollack is NLC’s Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability. Through Federal Advocacy, she lobbies on behalf of cities around transportation, finance, infrastructure and community development. Follow Leslie on Twitter at @lawollack.