All Aboard

A few weeks ago, a Worthington woman a little older than I — OK, much older — stopped by the Daily Globe to see me. She was polite enough to call me a few hours before her visit to ask if I might be available to spend a few minutes with her. I told her “by all means,” even though I wasn’t sure to expect when she arrived.

Well, we had what I thought was a wonderful chat, and I kept returning to it in my mind off and on for the next few days. The subject: area passenger trains.

Many, many years ago — as many of Worthington’s elder citizens no doubt remember — trains played a major role in getting from Point A to Point B. I’ve heard stories both here as well as in Dickinson, N.D. — where I worked for another Forum Communications Co., The Dickinson Press, before coming here in 2001 — about hopping on the train to go to nearby communities. Nowadays, of course, people just get on the Interstate and travel in their vehicles.

My visitor, as you’ve likely surmised by now, longed for the return of passenger train service to our region, and wondered what could be done to renew this mode of transportation. Of course, money and government are key factors in the passenger train becoming a — for the most part — relic of the past.

According to the National Museum of American History, the number of railroad passengers began to decline after World War II, with the development of highways contributing in large part to the change. After 1960, airlines became to be an additional reason for shrinking train ridership.

As train passengers began to increasingly disappear, the cost of operating running them began to far outweigh the income generated. Ultimately, Congress — in 1971 — acted and effectively created Amtrak, taking over long-distance train service from nearly all of the rail carriers.

It’s clear to many residents across the country, though, that Amtrak, while offering passenger rail service, doesn’t exactly have stations around the corner from a huge percentage of people.

As we attempt to lessen our dependency on foreign oil — and look to such things as electric cars as a solution — I can’t help but wonder if utilizing the current tracks we have in place might be some part of the solution. Obviously, however, rehabilitation to tracks would need to be done, and costs for infrastructure improvements (to provide for electric trains, versus fuel-burning) would probably keep things prohibitive. But how hard would it be to simply add a couple of passenger cars at the end of one of those long freight trains that come through so many our communities? Maybe their could be some sort of tax incentive for railroad companies to provide this service.

Incidentally, a few short days after my visitor was here — in the Oct. 14 Daily Globe — Jane Turpin Moore had the following 159 news item in her “Looking Back” column on the Reminiscing page:

"Worthington’s Chicago & North Western railroad yards merged into the shadows of the passing parade increasingly this week as the last passenger trains, 203 and 204, continued their runs. The railroad announced Monday that passenger service would continue until Saturday, Oct. 24. The Interstate Commerce Commission authorized the railroad to end all passenger service between Minneapolis and Council Bluffs, Iowa, effective Oct. 11. The two passenger trains serving Worthington were being briefly continued to enable the Post Office and Railway Express Agency to complete other arrangements for transportation. In June, it was revealed the railroad was still boarding an average of six passengers daily at Worthington."

In some ways, Worthington — and some similar communities across the U.S. — haven’t been the same since.