Passenger Trains Carry Families, Students, Leisure and Business Travelers
Traveling with children can be a strain on parental nerves, especially when driving on congested highways. In contrast to traveling by car, the train offers many comforts and conveniences for families with children. Comfortable, roomy seats with fold-down trays allow kids to play games, read, write or watch videos; plug-ins for laptops and radio headsets occupy their time; some intercity trains even have on-board lounge cars with food service and snacks. All these amenities and others can make the trip fun and less confining for children. While they’re having fun, the kids will be experiencing travel the way their grandparents experienced it – by rail!
California’s Capitol Corridor intercity rail service added a “Train Treks” school field trip program to its regular intercity passenger rail service, and it became an instant hit with teachers, who contact the railroad and make special arrangements at substantial discounts for their school field trips. A summer “Kids Ride Free” program has also proven to be popular, aided by “Ice Cream on Board” and other promotions to encourage families and youth groups to take the train, rather than drive, for vacations and outings. Easily accessible passenger train service between central and northern Virginia can do the same for our students. The train can accommodate student groups from both areas on field trips to learn about the history of our nation and the workings of government. And trains are a great way to bring geography lessons alive!
The University of Virginia enrolls many students from Northern Virginia, while the D.C. area is home to many UVA alums. Students go home for weekends and holidays, and alums travel to Charlottesville for UVA Homecoming and sports events. The train is an ideal way for students and alums to travel without the hassle of congested weekend traffic and parking problems.
For overnight visitors, Union Station on West Main Street is within walking distance to hotels and restaurants on the University Corner, West Main and Downtown, as well as to Scott Stadium. Well-planned, intermodal transit service could be easily established to shuttle arriving passengers to UVA’s new John Paul Jones Arena, or other points at the University, for special events.
Passenger Rail is Perfect for Seniors
Many older Americans grew up riding on trains, with names like the “20th Century Limited,” “Silver Meteor” and “Silver Comet,” – trains that brought America’s urban centers and rural communities closer together in a passenger rail network that stretched from coast to coast. Although most seniors have spent their adult lives getting around by car, they remember an era when trains were the only way to travel longer distances. Now, a significant number of older Americans are “stranded without options,” according to a 2004 report by the Surface Transportation Policy Project. More than one in five (21%) of adults over 65 no longer drive, for reasons that include declining health, eyesight, physical or mental abilities, concern over safety, no car or no access to a car, and personal preferences. Their safety concerns are realistic, as older drivers are more likely than younger drivers to be killed in car crashes relative to the miles they drive. These non-driving seniors either ride with someone else or depend upon public transportation to help them stay active and engaged, and to meet basic needs.
In the South Atlantic states, including Virginia and the District of Columbia, 57% of non-driving seniors stay home on any given day because of lack of transportation options. African–American, Latino, and Asian–-American elders are disproportionately affected by the lack of options because many more do not drive. More frequent, accessible and convenient train service between Charlottesville and Washington, D.C. would give seniors the mobility to remain active and to travel between cities for social, family or recreational activities. Otherwise, as the data indicate, they may simply stay home. The train also proves to be a favorite mode with elderly passengers because it allows them to move around while in transit (good for those with arthritis and circulation problems), the seats are wide and comfortable and encourage napping, and restroom facilities are always available.
Passenger Trains Support Business Travelers
Many long–time Charlottesville residents take advantage of economic opportunities in Northern Virginia at some point in their careers which require that they travel, either regularly or occasionally, to Washington for professional and business purposes. On the way, they encounter chokepoints along U.S. Route 29 and gridlock on I-66 that make the trip by car unsafe, stressful, and altogether unpleasant. For business travelers, trains offer an alternative to driving to work alone. The Center for Transportation Excellence reports that a regular rush-hour driver wastes an average of 99 gallons of gasoline a year due to traffic jams, at an average cost per person in lost time of $1,160.
While it is unlikely that commuters to D.C. will reduce their travel time by train, they will benefit from reduced stress and expense, by saving fuel and reducing chemical emissions, and by lessening the risk of traffic injuries and fatalities. Commuters can put their time on the train to productive use – using laptops, reading, responding to e-mail and using cell phones – that would otherwise be spent driving and sitting in traffic.
Passenger Rail Supports Tourism
The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, in its Regional Economic Development Plan, has recommended promoting tourism in order to grow our economy while preserving the rural landscape and minimizing the impact on our natural resources.
Washington, D.C. attracts over seven million tourists annually from all over the world, while Central Virginia attracts a half-million visitors annually to sites such as Monticello, the University of Virginia, Ash Lawn, Downtown Charlottesville and Court Square, Montpelier, Wintergreen, etc. Yet, in spite of their geographical proximity, there is no convenient transportation connection between these two tourist centers. Washington tourists who want to experience the natural beauty and historic sites of Central Virginia must rent a car and drive South on U.S. Route 29 in order to visit our region.
Imagine how many more tourists our region would attract if Charlottesville were an easy train ride away from Washington!
The Commission report recognizes that the region needs better transportation options, particularly rail and trolleys, if this goal is to be realized. You can read the 2002 Regional Economic Development Plan.
Direct rail service between Charlottesville and Washington, D.C. will increase the region’s attractiveness as a tourist destination and contribute to sustainable economic development that supports our quality of life and helps preserve our natural resources.