All posts by Grow Trains

Better ways of connecting with people like us

Privacy issues at Facebook and WhatsApp. The relentless onslaught of ads on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Social media is getting less welcoming by the day.

And yet, communicating with people like us–people who share our interests–is more important than ever, as we plan ways to build a better future.

So if you haven’t done so already, connect with us on private messaging platforms like Signal and Telegram.

And help us build communities on the ad-free, tracking-free social media site Let’s see if we can “communicate differently”!

Shrink Trains? No!

The current Amtrak management seems to be moving toward shrinking or eliminating the national network, despite being given increased funding.

  • Amtrak has bought out the contracts of many of their senior people, thus losing much knowledge about how to successfully run a passenger railroad.
  • Amtrak is using safety concerns as a cover for reducing service on the national network.
  • Amtrak is proposing replacing long-distance services with shorter routes that the states would be required to pay for.
  • Amtrak is reducing passenger amenities to the point that they’re driving high-end passengers away.
  • Amtrak is ending discounts for students and other groups.
  • Amtrak is reducing or eliminating staffing at many stations.
  • Amtrak is discontinuing significant revenue sources like carrying private cars.

EDIT: Malcolm Kenton has expanded this list in his post at Trains Magazine.

Amtrak management may have been directed to make such changes by certain voices on their board, in the US Department of Transportation, and in the White House. But you and I, as voters and taxpayers, are their bosses.

So what can we do?

  • Thank our US senators and congressmembers for their continued support of passenger rail.
  • Ask our elected representatives to communicate directly with Amtrak that they must continue to provide the long-distance services for which they are receiving public money.
  • Ask our state and local officials to communicate to Amtrak that it must continue to provide quality services that many states are paying for.
  • Ask our friends and family–especially our younger friends and family–to become members of the Rail Passengers Association and local rail advocacy organizations.
  • Participate in RPA’s upcoming Day on the Hill, where we can communicate our support for passenger rail directly to those who represent us.

Attempts to kill American passenger rail have happened many times before, and they have always been beaten back. We can defeat the train-killers again.

Photo courtesy walstib373. Used with permission.

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.


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.