Little Rock Included In National Train Day
National Train Day was expanded this year to include Little Rock, with an event Saturday at the city's Union Station.
Families lined up on the platform to tour an Amtrak train that was on display.
Jerry Driscoll and his family from Beebe had never been onboard an Amtrak train, only riding short tourist lines in recent years, and decided to see what cross country rail travel could be like.
"My children are obsessed with trains, but we were speaking just this weekend, we came back from a trip driving, and talked about possibly next time taking an Amtrak train," Driscoll said.
Arkansas is served by the Texas Eagle, which links Chicago and San Antonio, and makes six stops in the state during the late night and early morning hours.
Bill Pollard, chair of the Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization, which promotes the route, says often there are more people wanting to ride than there is space available.
“Ridership in the last year is up about 12 percent. Since 2006, we’re up about 65 percent, so the train is sold out on many days during peak travel periods. That’s the good news. The bad news is we don’t have enough equipment to add more cars to add capacity. So that’s our current issue, to try and get a longer train," Pollard said.
Overall, Amtrak continues setting records for the number of passengers it serves, with more than 31 million people taking to the rails in 2012.
But there are critics in Congress who want to slash Amtrak's budget and eliminate money-losing, long distance trains like the Texas Eagle.
But Pollard argues government subsidies are important.
“Every other developed country on the face of the Earth sees passenger rail as a critically important part of their transportation system. This is not to replace cars, it’s not to replace airplanes, it’s to provide a choice, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Pollard said.
Little Rock was one of about 250 communities that held events with a theme of "Why Trains Matter," featuring local leaders explaining the importance of trains to their areas.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola also toured the train parked at the station. He has never traveled by Amtrak, but says he has been on high speed trains elsewhere in the world.
Speaking to a crowd inside the station, he said trains will be key in the coming years.
“I think there’s a great future for passenger and commuter rail systems in our United States," Stodola said. "In fact, we do future planning, 20 years, 30 years in advance, talking about light rail, talking about commuter rail, talking about the ability to get on a beautiful train like this travel to either one of the coasts."