Is This Any Way to Run a Railroad?

WOULD any city or town deliberately show a dirty, seamy, or rundown side of the community to travelers passing through, especially if that town or city were interested in attracting tourists or industry? Obviously not. A particular community would present its most attractive and orderly side under such circumstances.

Yet, just the opposite is true in too many instances. Over the past two years I have traveled more than 10,000 miles on Amtrak's rails. I am disturbed by the many ugly scenes I've passed by as an Amtrak passenger: automobile graveyards, garbage dumps, run-down buildings and depots, weeds and junk trees are sight pollution that to me is essentially un-American. This blight is not found in any particular part of our nation nor is it limited to larger cities - it is everywhere to some degree, although some communities have made an effort to beautify the rail approaches to their cities.

Amtrak, which transported 22 million passengers last year, emphasizes seeing the beauty of America by rail. It is one of their selling points. But what do Amtrak passengers think when they pass through cities and towns with sight pollution messes? All too often the railroad's approach is through the dirtiest, most run-down part of a community.

The basic reasons for this unsightly clutter go back many years to the time when all of the commerce of the city came in by rail. Food, coal, gravel, lumber, building and construction material all came in by rail. Grain elevators, factories, and other businesses that depended on movement of their product sprang up alongside the railroad. The railroad was the center of a town's business activity, coming and going.

The depression brought this growth to a standstill. World War II came along, and the country righted itself economically. The railroads enjoyed a short-lived rush of business, both in the movement of people and of merchandise. This spurt of business came to a near halt as trucks, buses, and cars became common means of transportation. Coal, grain, and lumber are the principal surviving transporters on the railroads today.

This loss of business was accelerated by the high tariffs of the railroads, due in part to labor costs and in many cases unfair rates. Trucks, buses, and family cars offered faster, more economical transportation. The older buildings along the railroads were aging. There was no chance of recovery as business fell off for the railroads. New factories sprang up along the emergent cross-country highways and interstates. Sections of towns connected to the railroad continued to fall in further disrepair.

It is time to start taking further pride in America by cleaning up the unsightly mess along railroad corridors. Perhaps some government aid coupled with a little local pride and donated labor could do a lot toward cleaning up the rails.

Once cleanup is under way, signs could be erected on both sides of the railroad approaches to towns, such as we see along our highways that read, ``Welcome, we are proud of our community.'' Missouri has an ``Adopt-a-highway'' volunteer cleanup project. Why not the same thing for rail corridors?

Amtrak's ridership increases every year. It is now the nation's sixth largest people carrier, surpassed only by four major airlines and Greyhound buses. Many people traveling via Amtrak do so for the relaxation the trip provides without the hassle of driving or the frantic rush to meet airline schedules. Many riders are perhaps looking over communities as they pass by with a thought to expanding business operations. It is time to take advantage of the shift of large corporations to the hinterlands with their slower paced life and eager rural work force.

Railway corridor improvement could help accelerate this movement. It's time to clean up these eyesores!

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