U.S., Amtrak, VIA Rail Canada: Who are the Denizens of Modern Passenger Trains?

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on the Corridorrail.com website in the pre-pandemic world of 2018 and again on February 11, 2021. – Corridorrail.com Editor

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; May 9, 2022

Who are the denizens of a modern passenger train? Asking that question is about the same as asking for a breakdown of the denizens of a small city.

Passenger trains meet the mobility needs of a wide swath of the population, whether it’s on a long distance train traveling from the Midwest to the West Coast, New Yorkers heading to Central and South Florida for a winter vacation, or passengers riding on a state-sponsored corridor train on New England’s Downeaster service.

Both Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada have pet policies for dogs and cats, including service animals. Stock photo.

Passenger train critics say passenger manifests are populated by somebody’s grandmother going to visit her grandchildren, or others who can’t afford to travel any other way. The critics always cite those who are afraid (or, smart enough not) to fly.

Everyone else they believe travels the way they believe they should, either by driving a private vehicle or flying.

The critics are wrong.

A typical passenger train full of passengers has:

– Leisure travelers, often referred to as VFRs – visiting friends and relatives. There is no age category for this group of passengers.

– College students and others of the Millennial Generation, most of which have no prior prejudice about riding a train. To this group of riders, taking a train is a natural choice, based on price, convenience, and amenities to make them comfortable, such as Wi-Fi.

– Business travelers, many of which are found on state-sponsored corridor trains, but are also found on long distance trains, too, because of the valuable time found on a train where much can be accomplished by using a laptop computer and other portable electronics used in business.

– Retirees exploring the country. This category usually has disposable income, is willing to pay for amenities and have flexible travel schedules.

Here is what it gets interesting:

There is no single group or single reason passengers choose train travel, but all have one thing in common: a more relaxing trip than on other forms of land transportation. Stock photo.

– Uninformed critics believe passenger train riders generally do not have high levels of education and, therefore, are satisfied with just basic transportation. Critics are often greatly surprised to learn of the great number of passengers – particularly on long distance trains – which not only have college and university degrees, but also have higher levels of degrees, such as doctorates.

– Critics do not understand the basic appeal of passenger train travel, which includes choices of group accommodations in coaches or private accommodations in sleeping cars. Critics do not understand a passenger train is a small moving city, and, therefore needs many of the amenities of a small city such as a restaurant to eat in, a lounge area for recreation and to enjoy the company of other travelers while enjoying a quiet drink or snack, and a comfortable place to sleep.

Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. That includes those who believe there is little or no future for passenger trains and those who choose to ride the trains.

Mobility is about choices, whether by passenger train, private vehicle, bus, airplane, river barge, or ship. It’s impossible and intemperate to label societal groups as passengers, because passengers come for all walks of life and all economic groups. Spend some time in a train station and look over those about to entrain or who have just detrained. It’s a little bit of everyone, which means all areas of society are being served.

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