As I write this, I’m halfway through the annual three-day meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) in Washington, DC. NARP is a non-partisan and non-profit advocate for more and better and faster trains throughout the United States. Those of us attending these meetings as officers and members of the organization are volunteers and come to these meetings at our own expense.
Today is the day when we break up into small groups and visit congressional offices, encouraging continued support for rail projects in general and for Amtrak in particular.
During our “Day on the Hill”, we run into a wide variety of responses from our senators and representatives and from their staff members. Most are polite and seem appreciative of our efforts. Occasionally, however, one of our people runs into an idiot.
Last year, three of our members were speaking to a staff member in the office of a Republican congressman from Alabama. One of the NARPers noted that high-speed trains have become immensely successful throughout Europe and across much of Asia, and he said that the U.S. has fallen way behind many of the European countries when it comes to transportation infrastructure.
At that point, this staffer in his mid-20s raised his hand to interrupt a 60-year-old businessman and said, “If you are going to continue running down the United States of America, we have nothing further to discuss.”
These are the people, and this is the mentality, responsible for frustrating efforts to maintain and improve passenger rail in the U.S. Is it disappointing when we run into someone like that? Sure … because that arrogant little twit represents the thinking of his boss. But it also motivates us to be even more determined in our efforts.
On the other side of the coin, I can report with considerable pride that this year's recipient of NARP’s Golden Spike Award, presented annually to a public official as recognition for significant efforts in support of passenger rail, is Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii. The senator has supported continued and increased funding for rail and for Amtrak over many years despite the fact that there is virtually no chance that our state will ever benefit from Amtrak service. Ah, but you see, the senator – a personal hero of mine for many years – has supported rail because it’s the right thing to do for the country. What a concept!
Aloha and mahalo, Senator Dan!