Opinion | Should America Invest More in Amtrak?

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To the Editor:

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 arrive at my destination jet-lag-free and with comparatively minimal carbon footprint.

I have seen our country’s gorgeous scenery at ground level, observed doings in small towns and big cities, eaten meals while chatting with fellow passengers and, best of all, slept in a real bed while being gently rocked by the train’s movement. What a treat!

From my home in Syracuse, I board the train around 9 p.m., get in bed soon after and arrive in Chicago the next morning, ready to check out the local museum scene before boarding another Amtrak train. I spend the next two days rolling past mountains and rivers, ever-changing, ever-interesting, at times breathtaking. I arrive at Emeryville, Calif., ready to visit my son, who lives in Oakland, 10 minutes away.

Days later, I do the reverse. I do need Amtrak. I can’t wait until my next trip.

Jane Feld
Syracuse, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Steven Rattner is right to impugn the vision of trains hitting small and remote destinations. But both he and Amtrak neglect the contribution that high-speed trains could make to regions around cities. High-speed trains in combination with other transport modalities could allow newly accessible peripheral centers to flourish and render housing problems more easily solvable. Time spent, rather than distance traveled, is the crucial variable in urban development. High-speed trains have a place; they have just been aimed at the wrong targets.

Budd N. Shenkin
Berkeley, Calif.

To the Editor:

Well, maybe Wyoming doesn’t need Amtrak, but Steven Rattner is profoundly mistaken regarding the value or appeal of intercity rail beyond the Boston-D.C. corridor.

Last October, my wife and I took Amtrak’s overnight Crescent train from Penn Station in New York to Atlanta. It cost $830 for the two of us.

The “room” was cramped and grimy, and the mattresses were stained. The train lurched from side to side at speeds that were not much above 70 m.p.h. It was a pathetic example of what has become of American intercity rail travel.

On Europe’s high-speed rail, one can walk down an aisle easily holding two drinks at 200 m.p.h. On the Crescent, you would be out the door at 70. We would gladly take Euro-style high-speed rail to Atlanta. No traffic to or from the airports, minimal waits to board, no takeoff delays.

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

America must do better.

Neal B. Hitzig
New York

To the Editor:

As my husband and I stepped off Amtrak’s Empire Builder in St. Paul, we were dismayed to read Steven Rattner’s disparagement of Amtrak as the wrong solution for America. We heartily disagree!

On our five-day trip to Glacier National Park, we met and talked with people we never encounter in our very blue neighborhood in Minneapolis. We observed how people live in rural areas and we dined with people with very different ideas than ours. Train travel connects people in ways that air travel never can. We should be investing in high-speed rail that is available and affordable.

Given the opportunity to see it up close, Americans will be awed by the majesty and variety of this great country. Train travel is where we can meet and share that love in spite of our differences.

Margaret Telfer McConaghay

Covid Offers an Opportunity for Clemency

To the Editor:

Re “Prisoners Given Release Because of Covid Seek a Permanent Reprieve” (news article, June 28):

As someone who spent 33 years in federal prison, I know well that the American justice system often keeps people behind bars long after they have demonstrated readiness to successfully re-enter society. Without the compassionate release I was granted in January, I would still be in prison serving my life without parole sentence.

Covid-19 has offered an opportunity to reimagine this country’s overly punitive justice system. During the pandemic, prisons have expedited releases for thousands of people, and in contrast to predictions by tough-on-crime pundits, few have committed new crimes.

The pandemic has affirmed the wealth of criminological research that shows people typically age out of crime beginning in their 20s, including those who have committed violent offenses.

President Biden should look at this evidence and grant clemency to those currently in home confinement, and to older people who present little risk to public safety. He should look at people like me — who have reunited with family, found a job and become active members of their communities since being released during the pandemic — and see that when given a second chance, most in the American justice system will not squander it.

William Underwood
New York
The writer is a senior fellow at The Sentencing Project’s Campaign to End Life Imprisonment.

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