Passenger rail need not be about partisan politics

A recent post on a train-related Facebook group puzzles me.

I thought this site was about traveling on the Coast Starlight but I was wrong. It appears to be political also and disrespectful. I will leave you with my hope that this group will focus more on enjoying the ride sharing your experiences.

Is anyone naive enough to truly believe that train travel can be divorced from politics? Yes, we “enjoy the ride.” But passenger trains exist because lots of people support them, and fight for them.

We do not need to be disrespectful. Indeed, the passenger rail community is one of the few places where people who disagree on just about everything else can come together in support of better train service.

As we begin a new year, we need to focus on building a safer and more robust passenger train network. To make that happen, we need to work together on the local, state and national level. Please join and contribute to the Rail Passengers Association and to the rail advocacy organizations in your area.

Let’s make our resolution for 2018 to Grow Trains!


Celebrating Jim Hamre, and continuing his work

Yesterday (December 30, 2017) several hundred of Jim’s family and friends gathered at All Saints Church in Puyallup, WA, to remember and honor him. He was remembered for his tireless work for his church, his community, and for passenger rail.

Jim Mathews of the Rail Passengers Association announced that RPA will create a fellowship in his honor for students pursuing graduate degrees in transportation. All Aboard Washington will be meeting on January 20, 2018, to discuss how we can continue his work.

My hope is that we can pursue these goals:

  1. Advocate for an appropriate memorial for Jim and Zack. I like Hendrik’s idea of naming the new Tacoma station after them, with an appropriate permanent plaque or other memorial.
  2. Make sure that the governor, WSDOT, Amtrak and BNSF follow through on their promises to implement PTC as soon as possible. Despite its limitations, it’s the best tool we have to make sure such a tragedy never recurs.
  3. Push for funding to allow WSDOT to purchase the Wisconsin Talgos, and get them in service ASAP to replace the equipment now out of service.
  4. Press the governor and the legislature to conduct the “official” studies of Stampede Pass service that we were told in Pasco would need to be the next steps.
  5. Press the governor and the legislature to give WSDOT the mandate to proceed with the Blaine station stop.
  6. Strengthen our fragile passenger rail network. Cascades service could only be re-started because the Point Defiance route was available as a backup. No such option would exist in Seattle and elsewhere.

Let’s do everything in our power to build a safer, more robust, and more sustainable system. Zack and Jim would, I believe, want us to do this.


Wishes for the future

A personal note from Charlie: Thank you, everyone, for the birthday wishes.

The best gifts you can give me, and you, are to the next generations. So please:

  • Support education. Make sure that our children and grandchildren have the knowledge and skills they need to understand the world and make good choices.
  • Support information. Keep diverse media strong: even the ones we don’t agree with. Don’t rely on our friends’ posts to broaden our outlook. Try my collection of sources at Feedly, and read articles from paywalled sources for a few cents each at Blendle.
  • Support travel. Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” We understand each other better as we travel to other communities, states, nations, and planets. Which is why it’s my passion.
  • Support your passion. Give what we can, and communicate our enthusiasm to those around us. My passion, of course, is passenger rail service. Please consider supporting the organizations listed in my last post.
  • Register, research, and vote! Register to vote. Research the positions of the candidates (and consider running yourself!) And vote for every position on the ballot. They’re all important.

In the terrible events of the past few days, I’ve been thankful for the great support from my friends. And I’m thankful for today’s extra minute of daylight. Together, we can make 2018 a brighter year.


Remembering Jim and Zack

Sometimes, terrible news takes a while to sink in.

Leaving Kelso on Monday morning on train 502. Jim Hamre and Zack Wilhoite had planned to board and meet me in the bistro car. But they didn’t show.

I had already seen the images of 501 hanging off the highway bridge while waiting to board 502 in Portland. It looked bad, but those of us in line figured, well, at least we can detour over the old Point Defiance route.

The news dribbled in all morning. Three fatalities; no, six; no, three…No word from Zack and Jim. But maybe they were injured and in a hospital. Maybe they’d lost their phones.

By 2am Tuesday we’d heard, unofficially, that they were among the fatalities. And by the morning, it was official.

It’s too early to speculate on causes. But let me share some of the wonderful things that have been said about Jim and Zack in the press.

Seattle Times

New York Times





LA Times

Tacoma News-Tribune


Carl Fowler

Everett Herald

Jim Hamre’s obituary

Jim and Zack were board members of organizations that advocate for passenger rail. In their memories, please consider donating to

Rail Passengers Association

All Aboard Washington

Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates

The organization in your area

And our friend Hendrik has proposed an idea I like very much: He suggests that we push to have the new Tacoma station named for Jim and Zack, with an appropriate memorial located there. This would be permanent recognition for the two Pierce County residents. Contact us if you would like to help.

Thank you.


The Adirondack Scenic Railroad Decision and What It Means


The September 26th ruling from New York State Supreme Court Judge Robert Main, Jr was not only a welcoming for supporters of passenger rail across New York State, but also an act of common sense. I applaud Judge Main’s ruling and the efforts that Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi and others have done to ensure the rails stay in place. Rail advocates have long disagreed with Governor Andrew Cuomo and many others on the plan to remove 34 miles of rail line from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake, as it would destroy a vital transportation artery.

For years I have been part of the argument that the rails should be restored to allow trains to travel the full length of the line from Lake Placid to Utica to connect with buses and Amtrak service. While I understand that the state is under fiscal stress right now, such a dream should stay alive. The railroad brings campers into the Adirondack Park. The railroad has been used in the past to fight fires and even to install and maintain power lines. While the long-term goal to rehabilitate the line would cost millions of dollars, I still think it is a cause worth pursuing, and so does the state, as NYSDOT has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Adirondack Scenic for vital improvements. While the need for trails is an important issue to the Adirondacks (and one I can appreciate), tearing up a perfectly good railroad is an inappropriate way to do so.

In his current frustration,  Adirondack Rail Trail Advocates (ARTA) board member Lee Keet took to the Adirondack Almanack to voice his disappointment, claiming that Judge Main might have been bias in his ruling. Unfortunately, I expect the ruling to be appealed, as the region, the DEC, the DOT and the governor’s office are extremely eager to see the line come to fruition.

I have to disagree. While New York State law is mind-boggling to say the least, Judge Main has been known to uphold the law. Had Main ruled in favor of the APA, DEC, DOT and ARTA, I view it as having opened up a Pandora’s box which could have threatened many tourist railroads operating across the country.

ARTA’s site claims that:

The seasonal tourist train between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake was provided for in the 1995 Unit Management Plan as an experiment that had to prove itself through market development for the benefit of the local economies.  In addition, the operator was committed to upgrading the entire line from Lake Placid to Old Forge to Class III service (60 MPH max) at its expense. This experiment has failed: ridership has never exceeded 14,000 per annum and the New York Department of Transportation continues to expend massive amounts to keep the corridor open and the limited train service running. 

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad operates on a revolving 30-day agreement between the State and the railroad. It is near impossible to get funding and support when the state could tell you at a moment’s that your operating rights are not being renewed. While the state owns the tracks, ARPS (the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s parent organization) if I recall correctly owns the equipment to operate. In recent years the organization has gone through an adolescence, paying off debts, bringing in a young and dynamic executive director. Far from an organization without aim, the ASRR has become a far better operation.

As someone who finished high school and college outside of the Adirondacks, the line is dear to my heart. The father of a friend of mine from college has been a longtime volunteer for the railroad. When I came back to the region last fall to ride the train, I had a very delicious lunch at the Downhill Grill. The train made that in part possible.

While I know that many of us will not change the opinions of Keet and others on the railroad, I hope that they can appreciate that there are many of us who believe that preserving the railroad (and a vital part of the region’s past) is the right thing to do, and that a rail-with-trail is perfectly sensible (and also benefits the rail riders as well!). I understand why so many people in the Tri-Lakes support the idea for a trail linking the three villages, and I am strongly in favor of economic development for the Adirondacks and the North Country as a whole. My disagreement stems from the method to achieve that economic development and the trail to drive it. Tearing out a perfectly good rail line, even if it is need of rehabilitation, makes little sense.

What bothers me and other rail advocates is the groupthink in the Adirondacks, that the railroad is a significant nuisance, dishonest entity that does nothing but inconvenience the people it serves. That being said, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad should make a public relations campaign to highlight the benefits the railroad brings to the Tri-Lakes to quell the negative opinion people have of the railroad.

Rail travel and the pursuit of happiness

Taking a train may not give us life or liberty, but, ah… it’s a great way to pursue happiness. My trip last week on the Empire Builder reminded me that trains are the best way to enjoy our spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!

No matter what your political beliefs are, we need your help to keep the trains running.

Happy Independence Day!


Photo: “Dawn with fruit trees, Wenatchee, WA,” C. Hamilton

How to advocate for passenger rail with your elected representatives

Several passenger rail advocates were fortunate to meet with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) in April while we were at the National Association of Railroad Passengers meeting in Washington, DC.

Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to meet with Congressional representatives in person, but Rep. Jayapal has some suggestions, taken from a Facebook Live interview published in Crosscut.

Is the new Resistbot app [which allows a person to text a message and have it show up in a congressional member’s office as a fax] a good way for the public to provide feedback?

Our mailroom tells our office we get the most mail of any congressional district in the country. I think it’s something like 80,000 phone calls, emails and letters that we have received. The most effective thing is when we get a personal message or person’s story. It doesn’t mean you can’t use Resistbot with a standard message. But if you take that standard message and add something that is personal to you and why it important to you, it really makes a big difference. If we see it as part of a campaign, it probably doesn’t have as much impact.

And there are many ways to advocate for passenger rail. Check them out!

Some good news. Now, let’s make it better.

Congress is rejecting the president’s attempt to kill our national rail passenger network. That’s very good news. Our elected representatives, from both sides of the aisle, recognize the importance of the rail services in their community — what the National Association of Railroad Passengers calls “My Town, My Train.”

But NARP knows that saving the existing network is not enough. America needs to fix the hundred-year backlog of underinvestment, fill the holes in today’s skeletal system, and add service in places that haven’t seen a train in years. That will take funding, equipment and determination.

What should be the priorities? One of NARP’s goals is to “Put 80% of Americans within 25 miles of a rail station by 2035.” To make that happen, we’ll need massive support, not only in DC, and also in state legislatures, city councils, and community groups around the nation. We know it can be done: witness the enormous support we’ve seen for restoration of Gulf Coast service, the daily Cardinal, and the Colorado ski train.

But to meet this goal, we need a long-term, large commitment to a passenger rail vision. One wonders sometimes whether anyone in Washington, DC, these days has the ability to pursue such a vision, but if the baby boomers have failed, the next generations will succeed.

NARP members should read the group’s Strategic Plan. And if you’re skeptical that it can be made to happen, well, that’s understandable–but with your help, and the help of younger people, we can make “A Connected America” happen.

This fall, NARP will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a large event called RailNation Chicago. Please join us, and bring your friends and family–we can begin to build a rail future for the next generation.


Post rail advocacy info in train stations

Sometimes you will see information from chapters of the National Association of Railroad Passengers posted in train stations.  You don’t see this at [Washington] Union Station, but you do at Penn Station in Baltimore (at least back when I used to ride MARC to Baltimore a few days each week for work).
Richard Layman

I first learned about NARP from a newsletter posted on a bulletin board in Baltimore’s Penn Station in 1977. Even in this age of electronic and social media, print materials reach people who might not find out about our advocacy any other way.

NARP offers several types of print materials. Some stations are willing to let us post brochures and newsletters, others are not. Ask.

And if you’re a NARP member, don’t forget to order NARP business cards that you can hand out to fellow passengers. Information is available to members at this link.

Trains don’t grow on trees

Every once in a while, someone will post that they’re tired of politics, and just want to talk about trains. But are these folks naive? Whether they like to ride trains, or watch them roll by, how do they expect service to survive without the hard work that’s done every day in Washington, DC, by organizations like the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and by state advocacy groups in state capitols and with local elected officials?

I think most of us would agree that the current political environment can be poisonous and hyper-partisan. But support for passenger rail service is still one of the few subjects that finds support on both sides of the aisle….if you and I keep telling our elected representatives that passenger rail is important.

Please join NARP for our annual “Day On the Hill” if you can make it to DC in a couple of weeks. And if you can’t, contact your elected representatives, and show them how passenger rail affects your community.

Working together, we can make sure that the “Train Tree” stays healthy and growing!