Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Questioning the train dream? Or just looking for the facts?

We thought we’d relate a few personal experiences that highlight the opportunities for misreading ridership when it comes to the benefits of train travel.  And worse, misleading the public with the figures to keep the subsidized losses coming.

Last year, friends of ours from New Jersey came up to join us on a several day trip to the Camden-Rockport area.  They took the train from Philadelphia to Boston, and from Boston to Portland, which required finding their way from South Station to North Station.  They reversed the process on the way back home.

Did they come to Maine because of the train?  Absolutely not.  We had booked the B&B in Camden months before they decided to use the train.  And they had driven here to visit us in the past. 

We even had dinner together one night at Scarlet Begonia’s.

The reality is they came to Maine on the train, not because of the train.  They were coming one way or another, and given their choices, they picked the train.

During our working days, we often traveled to Philadelphia and Washington D.C.  on business.  We rode Amtrak between Philadelphia and the Capitol something like 30 times, we’d guess.  And more often than not, with 2 or 3 business associates.  And at least once that we can remember, we picked up Senator Joe Biden at the Wilmington stop.

The overwhelming majority of passengers on the train with us were dressed in business attire and carrying brief cases and laptops; many had boarded the train in New York City.

We chose the train because it was convenient compared to air travel over such a short distance, at least most of the time.

Did we travel to Washington to do business because of the train?  Did any of the other business travelers do so?  Absolutely not.  We were headed to Washington one way or another because our jobs required us to do so.  We had choices, and we chose the train.

Although we came to the Capitol on the train, anyone who concluded that we came because of the train would be dead wrong.

Conclusion:  Be extremely skeptical of glib, glowing reports of what the train is doing for Brunswick and Freeport based on ridership figures.  The only way to know if visitors arriving here came because of the train, or simply on the train, is to interview each one.

To complete the picture, of course, you’d have to interview area residents heading out of town to ask if they are doing so on the train, or because of the train.

And there’s no ‘profit’ in that, if you get our drift.

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1 comment:

  1. This mirrors our experience at the Bed & Breakfast in Freeport. A few guests (only a handful, to-date) have arrived on the train. In asking them about this experience, all have come on the train, but none have come because of the train.

    Moreover, at least one couple decided to take the train from Freeport to Brunswick and back, in order to explore Brunswick. They found the AmTrack website ticket purchasing scheme to be unnecessarily complex - almost prohibitively so. They found the schedule intolerable. They departed for Brunswick near lunch time. Spent a couple of hours exploring, then waited several more hours for their return trip.

    They said they were very glad they had brought books to read, and assured us that they would return again in the future, but by car.