Reviews | Should America Invest More in Amtrak?

For the publisher:

Re “Who needs Amtrak?” Not Wyoming ”, by Steven Rattner (Sunday Review, July 4):

Who Needs Amtrak? I do. I need it to avoid the hassle of flying and to get to my destination without jet lag and with a relatively small carbon footprint.

I saw the beautiful landscapes of our country at ground level, observed activities in small and large towns, ate meals while chatting with other passengers, and most importantly, slept in a real bed while being gently rocked by the movement of the train. What a treat!

From my home in Syracuse, I board the train around 9 p.m., go to bed shortly after, and arrive in Chicago the next morning, ready to experience the local museum scene before boarding another Amtrak train. I spend the next two days riding past mountains and rivers, always changing, always interesting, sometimes breathtaking. I arrive in Emeryville, CA, ready to visit my son, who lives in Oakland, 10 minutes away.

A few days later, I do the opposite. I need Amtrak. I can’t wait to be on my next trip.

Jane feld
Syracuse, New York State

For the publisher:

Steven Rattner is right to dispute the vision of trains reaching small and distant destinations. But he and Amtrak overlook the contribution high-speed trains could make to regions around cities. High-speed trains combined with other modes of transport could allow the newly accessible outlying centers to thrive and to solve housing problems more easily. Time spent, rather than distance traveled, is the crucial variable in urban development. High speed trains have their place; they just hit the wrong targets.

Budd N. Shenkin
Berkeley, California

For the publisher:

Well, maybe Wyoming doesn’t need Amtrak, but Steven Rattner is deeply mistaken about the value or attractiveness of intercity rail beyond the Boston-DC corridor.

Last October my wife and I took the Amtrak Crescent night train from Penn Station in New York to Atlanta. It cost us $ 830 for both of us.

The “bedroom” was cramped and dirty, and the mattresses were stained. The train swerved side to side at speeds barely exceeding 70 mph.

On the European bullet train, one can walk down an aisle easily holding two glasses at 200 mph. On the Crescent you would be out at 70. We would love to take a European style high speed train to Atlanta. No traffic to or from airports, little waiting to board, no delay at take-off.

We flew instead of the Crescent, and hundreds of dollars less for two first class seats.

America must do better.

Neal B. Hitzig
new York

For the publisher:

As my husband and I walked down from Amtrak’s Empire Builder to St. Paul, we were dismayed to read Steven Rattner’s bashing of Amtrak as the wrong solution for America. We do not agree at all!

On our five-day trip to Glacier National Park, we met and chatted with people we never meet in our very blue neighborhood of Minneapolis. We observed how people live in rural areas and we had dinner with people with very different ideas from ours. Train travel connects people in a way that air travel can never do. We should invest in available and affordable high speed trains.

If they get the chance to see it up close, Americans will be in awe of the majesty and variety of this great country. Train travel is where we can meet and share this love despite our differences.

Margaret Telfer McConaghay

For the publisher:

Re “Prisoners released due to Covid seek permanent reprieve” (press article, June 28):

Having spent 33 years in federal prison, I am well aware that the American justice system often keeps people behind bars long after they have demonstrated their willingness to successfully re-enter society. Without the compassionate release granted to me in January, I would still be in jail and serve my life without parole.

Covid-19 has offered the opportunity to reimagine this country’s overly punitive justice system. During the pandemic, prisons hastened the releases of thousands of people, and contrary to the predictions of harsh crime experts, few have committed new crimes.

The pandemic has confirmed the wealth of criminological research which shows that people typically age out of their twenties, including those who have committed violent offenses.

President Biden is expected to examine this evidence and grant leniency to those currently confined to their homes and to the elderly who pose little risk to public safety. He should look at people like me – who have reunited with their families, found jobs and have become active members of their communities since their release during the pandemic – and see that when given a second chance, most of the American justice system will not waste it.

William underwood
new York
The writer is a senior member of the Sentencing Project’s campaign to end life imprisonment.

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