High-Speed Midwest Trains Matter

East Lansing Amtrak train passenger

Passenger arrives at East Lansing Amtrak station

Amtrak’s daily Blue Water train carries passengers departing Chicago’s Union station at 4:00pm through to Port Huron, Michigan near the Canadian border arriving at 11:38pm. Seniors, people with disabilities, families traveling with young children, military personnel and business class passengers are called first to board. The seniors are talking about their previous train trips and the weather. A winter storm is wreaking havoc on the East Coast. A middle-aged woman with long, yellow hair joins them. She slips her hands into the pockets of her jacket. Across its front in black and orange lettering are the words Harley Davidson. She has no visible characteristic for being in the priority boarding line.

On the Blue Water we are not given seat numbers. Passengers sit wherever they want. The Coach cars are old with worn blue upholstery and no foot rests. However, there is something special about this Midwest train. The Federal Railroad Administration designated a 97-mile stretch of its route as a high-speed rail corridor.

Half of the seats are facing one way and the others are facing in the opposite direction. It isn’t until we begin moving I realize I am facing backwards. The woman with the yellow hair wearing the Harley jacket is seated behind me.

“I’ve never ridden a passenger train facing backwards,” I say.

“It doesn’t matter. It will be dark in an hour or so,” she says. Her words are slowly drawn. The accent is a hybrid of different regions. I want to hear more of it.Continue reading

Introducing Who’s Taking the Train Blog

Amtrak Silver Meteor train arriving at the Orlando, Florida station.

Amtrak Silver Meteor train arriving at the Orlando, Florida station.

Who’s Taking the Train is about people who choose to travel by passenger train in America. My reporting about the people I meet on board a train will give a glimpse of why this mode of transportation is vital or just fun for so many. Some are newbies to train trips. Some are veteran train travelers. Others take the train infrequently. Travel by train may be their first choice, only choice, or last choice.

I hadn’t been on a passenger train myself for years. Once I boarded the train again, I became enamored. It’s always an adventure. You can read about my background and interest in train travel on the About page. The irony of going back to something you loved is its ability to move you forward.

The people I meet on trains are not celebrities. They read headlines but don’t make them. I think of them still. The young Amish woman traveling from Tijuana, Mexico to Pittsburgh with her elderly parents. Sherry, the tattooed woman traveling from Florida to New York. Jimmy in Washington DC going to Wyoming to change his life. And Linda heading to Flint, Michigan to help her family get through the water crisis there. In these first posts I change the names of the people I met to protect their privacy. At the time we talked I wasn’t sure what I would do with their stories, only that I wanted to hear them. These blog posts are shortened, edited versions of the original work.Continue reading