Aboard Amtrak, a chorus of plane-wary voices

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Amid the bustle of a cool morning at Amtrak's Bay Area terminal, Edna Bartlow is a conspicuous sight. Surrounded by scores of briefcase-toting businessmen and cross-country backpackers, the white-haired and wide-eyed Mrs. Bartlow stands meekly behind a mound of suitcases that could blot out the sun.

Technically, she isn't even supposed to be here. According to her flight ticket, she should have been back on her Virginia homestead two days ago. Instead, the attentive middle-age woman is standing in line, waiting for the train that will begin her 80-hour trek across the continent.

She could have rescheduled her 5-1/2-hour flight - canceled after last week's terrorist attacks. But after seeing the twin towers collapse on TV, her flying days are over.

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"I won't ever fly again," she says resolutely and without hesitation.

More than a week after the worst aviation disaster in history, many Americans are

remaining earthbound. For some, it's simply a question of necessity, as airlines struggle to return to their routine. For others, however, the images of Sept. 11 have left a much deeper mark. The desire to stay on the ground - no matter what the inconvenience - hints at how deeply Americans have been affected by the events of the past week.

Three-day slumber party

In the dining cars and aisles of the California Zephyr, the fears churned up by the past week's events are palpable. Many people are here solely because they have refused to step on a plane again. On the first leg of this three-day slumber party bound for Chicago, there is almost a fraternal quality to the fright over air travel.

In the belly of the dining car, sitting in the brown vinyl seats of the snack shop, an avuncular man with an uncombed wreath of white hair and a red flannel shirt stoops over his tin of tomato soup and eagerly proclaims his reasons for taking the train.

"I haven't been on a train for 46 years," he pronounces.

"What happened? Tuesday?" one woman answers, reciting the day of the terrorist attacks.

"Didn't want to fly," he concurs, looking up as central California whips by the window. "I'll admit it, I'm a coward."

"You're smart," the lady replies.

Later that evening, when many passengers are assembled in front of the train's TVs, watching the plane-crash scene in the film "Cast Away," a man calls out: "That's why we're all here!"

Indeed, train travel nationwide is up. Last Tuesday, the day of the attacks, Amtrak sold $7.5 million in tickets, beating its old record by $1.5 million. Since then, sales are up 40 percent compared with last year, with cross-country routes like this one doing particularly well.

"All our trains coming in and out of the West are at or near capacity," says Vernae Graham, a spokeswoman for Amtrak.

Full load on the California Zephyr

On this run of the California Zephyr, passengers come in a crescendo. A smattering of people fill the seats as the train pulls out of the Emeryville station, but as it slices inland through hills baked amber by the sun and then into the piney crags of the Sierra Nevada, most seats are occupied.

Paul Miller fills one of them, slumping forward heavily with his elbows on his knees. Dressed in a white T-shirt and a backward baseball cap, Mr. Miller makes an unlikely Ulysses, but - as with many other travelers - just getting home has been an odyssey for him.

He was supposed to fly from Denver to Philadelphia Saturday, but his flight was canceled. After waiting as long as he could to be moved to a new flight, he ran out of money and drove to Lake Tahoe so he could stay with friends for free. He refunded the canceled ticket to pay for his train fare.

As the gathering Nevada night casts a dim light on the observation deck, it's clear the cook from Bethlehem, Pa., hasn't shaved in a while. Now, confronted with the confines of a communal lavatory, it might be some time before personal hygiene again becomes a priority.

All the same, many are grateful just to be on board. Priscilla Marasovich was originally told the train was sold out for more than a week. After trying again and again, and waiting on the phone for at least 30 minutes each time, she found a slot.

Maybe someday she'll get back on a plane, says Mrs. Marasovich, as her 17-month-old daughter, Rachel, buzzes around her feet. But it was not going to be this week. After her flight from San Francisco to Chicago was canceled, her husband called to persuade her not to fly back. She had already decided.

"I'm not afraid to fly," she says. "But it's just too soon.... It's going to take a while."

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