Nobody cares about the railroads anymore.
When Harry crooned that catchy tune 40 years ago, he accurately summed up the attitudes of most Americans, who were abandoning railroads in favor of air travel and auto travel on the expanding Interstate highway system at a dizzying pace. Without the emergence of Amtrak in 1971, passenger rail service may have disappeared altogether.
A couple of unrelated incidents got me thinking about trains recently.
The first was a newspaper story about possibly linking Des Moines, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois, with a high speed rail line. While that’s big news today, it wasn’t all that long ago that you could go just about anywhere from Des Moines by rail.
The second incident occurred at a social function where a friend noted that his grandparents emigrated from Italy around 1900, settling in Michigan. “I wonder if they went from New York to Michigan by train?” he asked.
Probably. My grandparents traveled from New York to Iowa by train after their arrival from Denmark in 1920. In the earlier part of the 20th century, most Americans took the train if they were traveling a considerable distance. Trains were still the backbone of America’s economic culture during World War II, funneling troops and goods into the war efforts from across the country to each coast.
The demise of passenger rail service was relatively swift after the war and many young people today have no idea what it was like to take a vacation by rail. You probably have train stories in your family history. Digging them out will be doubly significant if America experiences a significant passenger rail revival.
Writing prompt of the day: What’s your favorite memory of traveling by rail? If you don’t have one, ask somebody who does.
Flickr photo of Silver Meteor Observation Lounge in 1962 courtesy of hdport.