Selma has two main claims to fame. Well, besides being the home of a great newspaper and television commentator (typed while my tongue was firmly pressed in my cheek), we can claim to be the birthplace of Vicks Vaporub, and we can claim to be a railroad town. I don’t know if the latter can really be considered a reason to be famous, really. Thousands of towns across the country have railroads running through them. We just happen to be a high traffic railroad centric town.
As anyone who has traveled through Selma can tell you, freight trains run through town many times a day and Amtrak makes regular stops at Union Station (an original name if I ever heard one). Amtrak may be making more trips through the area sometime soon. A newly announced Thruway Motor Coach service will be serving eastern North Carolina through the Wilson train depot. One route will connect cities like Greenville, New Bern, Havelock and Morehead City to train service on the north/south corridor of New York City to Savannah, and another will run to Goldsboro, Kinston, Jacksonville and Wilmington.
I don’t know how popular the routes will be, but the most likely people to benefit may be college students and military personnel. The ones who will least benefit are the American taxpayers. Don’t get me wrong, I have made use of Amtrak service before and I may again. Unfortunately, my experience has been that traveling by train has been no cheaper than traveling by air or automobile.
I once took a trip on Amtrak from Selma to New York City. I appreciated being able to get on a train just a mile from my house and step off the train in Penn Station in Manhattan. The down side was that I literally paid a little more for the round trip tickets than I would have if I had flown direct from RDU Airport to New York City. The flight would have taken about ninety minutes whereas the rail trip took nine hours. I had to put up with expensive onboard food, train staff with bad attitudes, backed up train bathrooms, and nine hours of “buck and sway”. On the plus side, I didn’t have to travel to RDU, pay to park, go through security, board, deplane, and get transportation into the city once I arrived.
The sad part about Amtrak is that the train system loses billions of dollars. We taxpayers foot the bill for it. Every rider’s trip is subsidized by the taxpayer. I have read the arguments both pro and con about federal and state funding for Amtrak. I realize that with gas prices staying high, ridership has increased. I also realize that the US taxpayer can’t afford to keep paying for every service, program, and policy that some bureaucrat thinks is needful.
Personally, I don’t like flying. I drive most places to which I travel. Of course with an increasing and young family, I don’t always relish the thought of putting three children in a mini-van and driving fifteen hours to go visit family. On the other hand, Amtrak doesn’t go everywhere I would like to go and I don’t feel like packing lightly for air travel and hustling a family of five through airports.
I would love to see rail service privatized, but I don’t know if an efficient private service could make it or not, considering the amount of improvements that would need to be made to compete while keeping fares affordable. I was looking at fares to go see a Carolina Panther’s football game in Charlotte. With service being indirect to the destination, the train only leaves from Raleigh, and the cost being as much as gasoline, is it worth it? It’s probably not.
Will thousands of people take the train from down east to connect to New York and points north or even just to the Triangle or Charlotte? I don’t know if they will or not.
As much as I would like to see rail passenger service be a viable form of transportation, I am having a hard time maintaining support for it when I see the dollar figures for the losses incurred per passenger and for the high fares charged per passenger. When fares are as much if not more than airfare, the travel times are horrendously longer, and the taxpayer subsidizes the service, I am finding it hard to support the idea of more routes being added to a money pit.