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Civilized Travel on Trains

November 09, 2002

Re "Uncertainty Shadows Starlight," Nov. 3: People who ride the long-haul Amtrak trains either love them or are fed up with them. Admittedly, my family's Amtrak trips are usually part of an annual vacation excursion, though many fellow travelers obviously regard the train as the only mode of interstate transportation that they'd consider. My aged aunt and uncle, as a typical example, only considered visiting family in the San Fernando Valley from the Midwest when offered train tickets on the Southwest Chief, having ruled out driving and jetliner travel. Many senior citizens rely on Amtrak because they simply consider the skies off-limits.

Having ridden the Coast Starlight and many other Amtrak long-haul trains, I can promise you the food and service are usually excellent and the ambience superior in this most civilized way of travel.

Keep the cheap air tickets to Seattle; I'll pay a bit more (maybe less if the trip is to a smaller city otherwise requiring expensive connecting flights) any chance I get to indulge in the national treasure of a scenic, sociable and civilized Amtrak excursion.

Greg Potenza



Your article was most timely. I just returned from a trip on the Southwest Chief. The main problem is trying to carry passengers over tracks maintained for freight. Passengers and train staff must be ever vigilant lest they fall from the jostling.

Railroads found passenger service not as profitable as freight, but the Interstate Commerce Commission required the railroads to continue passenger service. To convince the ICC that there were no passengers interested in rail travel, they let the service deteriorate to where passengers stayed away in droves. The marginal track bed and service is what Amtrak inherited.

Following WWII, the Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe and its rail service. President Eisenhower determined we needed a modern interstate highway system for "national security." Why not a modern rail system for our national security as in Europe? We deserve super train service too. Rail travel would once again be popular, with modern, fast trains that kept a schedule, using their own rails. Sleeping compartments would be popular if they were larger. To perpetuate the present discredited service will lead to the end of passenger service, which would be a tragedy.

Bruce M. Stark

Seal Beach

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