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The modern era of public transportation

By Howard Hubler

I’m enjoying doing something generally done by the Northeast idle rich. I’m sitting aboard my very own Amtrak sleeper cabin after having had just finished a hearty meal in the dining car. I am writing my next business column. When I watch the morning talk shows, many times they’re with “print political pundit” guest’s talking about taking the train “in” from the New York or Connecticut corridor to D.C. and squeezing in a last-minute political column. Oh, to live like them if only for four hours is a thrill of a lifetime.

However, I am in route to Chicago on a journey that will cost about as much as a car trip, take about as much time and both will leave me downtown, the site of my hotel. The train leaves me one $10 Uber ride away with no $50 a night car park fees nor two tanks of gas. As far as I’m concerned on an outmoded form of transportation, I’m at peace not to make up any time. This throwback from another era is completely relaxing. The trains are quiet and built like Sherman tanks and never wear out. If I tune out the dirt, the needed rehabilitation of the train car, once the train is moving, this can be a pleasant experience. The service staff is amazingly competent and friendly. This would make the great end of a wonderful column.

Let me start by saying the train was three hours late! I departed from Amtrak in Indianapolis; to call the place filthy would be an affront to the housekeeping of good blast furnace workers everywhere. Believe it or not, the service desk is only open from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.! No, that is not a miss print. So what happens to the guy that wanders in during the day like me to get info about ticket costs, accommodations and the like? The ticket gate is closed, there are NO signs indicating hours of operation, NONE! You get online, you buy a ticket, and you just pray that when you show up in the morning something happens. Imagine going to the Indy airport, only to find the entire ticket wing closed!

When it’s finally time to go, everybody is hurrying up a flight of old metal stairs. Understand, the average train passenger tends to be older, also, there are a lot of families with young kids. You literally have to carry your luggage up two flights of stairs, no easy task for many of these families. No escalators are available at all! Yes, there is an available old elevator, but it is jam packed. The upstairs rail area has not been remodeled since World War I, again no joke. The train cars are probably 30 or 40 years old but they are so well built that they appear to be in perfect shape, yet they are just filthy.

The irony, the federal government wants people to ride the train. If you attempt to, it is like it slaps you across the face. You’re not hungry to go back for another slap. In closing, this multi-billion dollar investment that we made as a nation is lying in waste due to neglect. Nothing I saw needed anything major to make it better, just standard reconditioning that you would perform if you purchased an older asset; paint, pressure washing and upholstery alone would do miracles. The corrugated steel outside the building has construction dust on it from building the Hoosier Dome 20-plus years ago I am sure. If my train car were simply pressure washed on the outside and reupholstered on the inside, the entire array would be pleasant.

I have run out of space and all I can say is, this is the abused federal government dollar at work for you. To loyal readers of this column, you know that this the only consequence you can hope for with most any federal management program. This one is no different.

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