TSA53853.jpg _lowres

Advocate Staff Photo by SHERRI MILLER -- Travelers were greeted by TSA K-9 Team Lead, Joseph Phillips and his dog, Blue, during a "security surge" at the Amtrak train station in New Orleans on Monday, June 13, 2016. 

When our son was diagnosed with multiple, life-threatening food allergies as an infant, air travel became overwhelmingly difficult and unpredictable. We haven’t had these problems with Amtrak. 

Thanks to Amtrak’s long-distance trains, I take my son to see medical specialists in New York. We visited family in Wisconsin and Minnesota. We attended an uncle’s 80th birthday in Ohio and a friend’s wedding in a small town near Chicago. Amtrak has carried us across the desert southwest, up the California coast and through the Northwest, all with less worry about my son’s safety. 

Now, President Donald Trump’s proposed transportation budget would eliminate funding for long-distance Amtrak trains, ending train service in 23 states. U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy must acknowledge the economic and cultural impact on Louisiana and fight to save our trains. 

They are not vestiges of the past. At the end of 2016, Amtrak employed 226 people in Louisiana, had paid over $15 million in wages to Louisiana residents and had spent almost $1.5 million on goods and services. Louisiana stations saw more than 214,000 boardings and alightings. 

My love of American train travel blossomed before my son was born, as I traveled between New York and New Orleans with my future husband, a native New Orleanian. We rode for pleasure, to see the towns and cities along the route, and for camaraderie with fellow passengers. 

These days, as my train-obsessed sons, now 5 and 7 years old, study route maps and talk to porters, I look around the dining car and the observation lounge. I talk to my fellow passengers and learn why they choose Amtrak. Everyone has a story; everyone has a need. Amtrak is there for those with mobility issues, for families on limited budgets, for the New Orleans woman worn down by cancer treatments who couldn’t withstand bus or air travel to visit her family in Atlanta. 

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently testified to the Senate Appropriations Committee that long-distance routes are “a low return on investment.” I would argue that not everything can be assigned a dollar value. I would further remind her that no country in the world operates passenger rail without public support for capital costs, operating expenses, or both. 

My family is preparing to ride the rails 3,376 miles this summer. We’ll meet a new cousin, go camping in the Rocky Mountains and reconnect with grandparents. I’ll travel with greater ease and peace of mind thanks to Amtrak. Any dollars saved by taking long-distance service away from Louisiana wouldn’t be worth many residents’ ability to see our country and safely come home again.

Elizabeth Monaghan

Women's Donor Network

New Orleans