Inside Amtrak’s Dying Long-Distance Trains | WSJ

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Inside Amtrak’s Dying Long-Distance Trains | WSJ
Posted by Victrola1 on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 2:25 PM

Wall Street Journal

 
"Published on Jul 16, 2019
 
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Amtrak’s proposals for altering or eliminating some of its long-distance train routes, in favor of more frequent service where the population is growing, is facing opposition among those who fear rural America would suffer. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-jP4vh3z_A

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 3:10 PM

Victrola1

Wall Street Journal

 
"Published on Jul 16, 2019
 
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Amtrak’s proposals for altering or eliminating some of its long-distance train routes, in favor of more frequent service where the population is growing, is facing opposition among those who fear rural America would suffer. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-jP4vh3z_A

 

The mission should be to serve the most people possible given limited resources.  If rural towns that are a ghost of what they were want LD train service,  let them actually pay for the above wheel costs. 

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Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 10:54 PM

The American people, if not the previous poster, do not expecdt the elderly and handicaipped to pay for the facilities they require in public accomodation places and venues.

Long-distance trains serve a number of purposes, and the American economy would suffer if they were removed.  But the primary purpose is to serve the specific elderly and handicapped who cannot fly.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, July 18, 2019 7:26 AM

daveklepper
the primary purpose is to serve the specific elderly and handicapped who cannot fly.

In which Amtrak-related legislation or organizational mission statement has it ever said anything remotely like that?

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Posted by JPS1 on Thursday, July 18, 2019 10:27 AM

daveklepper
 But the primary purpose is to serve the specific elderly and handicapped who cannot fly. 

Your view puts the people in most Texas cities between a rock and a hard place.  
 
The elderly and handicapped in Abilene, Amarillo, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Harlingen, Laredo, Lubbock, McAllen, Midland, and Odessa, all of which have sizeable populations, are just out of luck.  No Amtrak services!
 
Except for the most severely handicapped, who cannot travel without the aid of a support person, most handicapped people in Texas can fly or take the bus.  I have been on Southwest when as many as ten of the passengers needed a wheelchair to get to the gate. 
 
If the long-distance trains were discontinued today, very few people in Texas would even know that they had disappeared.  Because very few people use them. 
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Posted by Backshop on Thursday, July 18, 2019 10:46 AM

daveklepper

 

  But the primary purpose is to serve the specific elderly and handicapped who cannot fly.

 

Nope, not before and not now.  How about the great majority of people who don't live on Amtrak routes and never will?

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Posted by daveklepper on Thursday, July 18, 2019 12:02 PM

Amtrak's mission statement, to provide transportation, does Not specify all its potential markets.  It does not specifiy for able-bodied only, for long-distance, or tourists, for corridor only, or any such limitation.  It is my Opinion that its long-distance trains are most useful for the elderly and handicapped who cannot fly.  Amtrak historically has addressed this market with the handicapped room on the ground floor of the Superliner sleepers.  But the owners of a hotel at the gateway to a national park regulalry served by Amtrak would be of the opinion that its long-distancd trains are primarily to serve tourists.  And a military expert, and believe this may be happening, who advises Trump not to veto, may have the opinion that Amtrak's long-distance trains should be kept around to serve in emergencies.

Obviously corridor trains have greater ridership.  But the facr that most of this ridership is repeat ridership, often even commuter ridership, means that the reduced patronage of the long-distance trains actually involves a greater number of People, of US Citizens paying taxes.  If the Grandpa and Grandmother are deprived of their yearly trip to see their children and grandchildren, why should they wish to subidize the corridor commuter?

If you deprive the small town of the benefit they get from the subsidy (I don't use the train, bur I want it to stay in case i need it!), why should they agree to subsidize the big city.

And a two-hour car or bus trip to connect with a comfortable long-distance train is not the same as a more-than-a-day bus or car trip for an handicapped and/or elderly person who cannot flyl.

Charlie, please look up the definition of "ideologue," or "ideolog."  Do you wish to be one?

Do you reallyl wish to deprive many people from the privilege of visitng the entire continental USA?

When Grandma and Grandpa cannnot make their trip, the children miss solmething tooi.

 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, July 18, 2019 1:00 PM

I am a pragmatist and prefer evidence,  hopefully hard empirical data.  

You made a claim and you were wrong.  Now you claim more more people ride LD trains than corridor trains.  Let's see your evidence. 

I believe in democracy in which government strives to  serve the most people with the least waste,  i.e. the greatest good for the greatest number.   

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Posted by Miningman on Thursday, July 18, 2019 1:55 PM

Didn't figure you to be a "let them eat cake" guy Charlie.

I'm with Dave 

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Posted by Backshop on Thursday, July 18, 2019 2:13 PM

Dave, you still haven't addressed the majority of people in the US (old, young, handicapped, ablebodied) that Amtrak doesn't serve.

Also, the military doesn't care about passenger trains.  Freight trains are very useful, but passenger ones are useless.  Ever hear of CRAF?  The military flies troops everywhere.  Trains and ships are just for heavy equipment.  How many years has it been since you've been in the States?  Things change...

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, July 18, 2019 2:33 PM

Miningman

Didn't figure you to be a "let them eat cake" guy Charlie.

I'm with Dave 

 

That's nasty and erroneous name-calling. Dave is wanting some elitist approach to serving the small minority of the elderly, handicapped etc. who happen to live near an Amtrak LD route. He has no data to support his contentions. I think Amtrak should serve the greatest number of people in ways where rail passenger service makes sense. LD trains are an impractical means of transportation for any distance over 500-800 miles and thus used by very few people.  A lot of their ridership in sleeping cars are well-off seniors taking heavily-subsidized land cruises.  Sounds pretty elitist to me.

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, July 18, 2019 3:29 PM

In spending OPM - Amtrak needs to continue the present LD 'network'.  Where it views that 'corridor opportunities' will support higher frequency service between designated end points that are intemediate to the LD service - negotiate with the serving carriers to provide the service.  There are those that actually use the LD trains from Origin to Destination as well as intermediate locations to intermediate locations and also intermediate locations to final destinations.

Balkanizing service to only intermediate O-D pairs is in fact killing the overall product.

Of course the death of Amtrak is what many want so they can 'save' 10 mills on their federal tax liabilities.

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Posted by 7j43k on Thursday, July 18, 2019 4:00 PM

IF you want to serve the various "special" people in little bitty towns along the railroad, why not have a railbus or an RDC make the entire run, instead of a big old passenger train?  Then said people can get on and off in their little town.  And get on and off in a big city so they can catch the plane or bus for the long distance part (if needed/desired).  

Then:  no food service.  no sleepers.  no lounge.  no services personnel.  Two employees:  engineer and conductor/baggageman.  Essentially a Greyhound bus on rails.  THAT can't be that expensive.  Maybe we'll call it the Zephyrette.

And it would make every stop where there was a flag station (flagstop).

Thus a cost effective method to serve those along the railroad who need rail transportation.

 

 

Ed

 

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, July 18, 2019 4:56 PM

7j43k
IF you want to serve the various "special" people in little bitty towns along the railroad, why not have a railbus or an RDC make the entire run, instead of a big old passenger train?  Then said people can get on and off in their little town.  And get on and off in a big city so they can catch the plane or bus for the long distance part (if needed/desired).  

Then:  no food service.  no sleepers.  no lounge.  no services personnel.  Two employees:  engineer and conductor/baggageman.  Essentially a Greyhound bus on rails.  THAT can't be that expensive.  Maybe we'll call it the Zephyrette.

And it would make every stop where there was a flag station (flagstop).

Thus a cost effective method to serve those along the railroad who need rail transportation. 

Ed

Ahh Yes!  Sundial Scheduling!

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Posted by JOHN PRIVARA on Thursday, July 18, 2019 5:25 PM

Dave's argument is ridiculous, but I give him credit for originality at least. It's not worth commenting on THAT "concept" anymore than someone wanting the government to run a scheduled Ocean-Liner services for the old people. Good try, but, really, grasping a straws...

Amtrak needs to get out of LD cruise train business, which it has shown (and the railroads in the 1950's DID show) is worthless to the majority of the population. What the majority of the population needs is: good public TRANSPORTATION, widely available, regardless of what mode it is.

Rural areas should have good bus systems. The congested urban areas should have good train and plane services. The buses should feed that train system, the trains should connect to the airports. The entire system - together - should be as fast a possible, and as convenient as possible for a MAJORITY of the population (you know, like how most of the 1st world countries are doing it NOW).

As an old-fart myself, the LAST thing I'd want is a RANDOM SMATTERING of old-farts in the country relying on a 1920's passenger-train if they get sick. It's an insane argument.  The LD trains should have been eliminated decades ago. If a company wants to run a sight-seeing tourist train, let them do so.

Ideally, Amtrak would be providing the INFRASTRUCTURE to support a modern passenger rail and bus system. INFRASTRUCTURE, not operations. Then franchise out the routes to whoever wants to run the trains and buses; because after 50+ years now it's pretty obvious that Amtrak is incapable of providing good service. But, as an INFRASTRUCTURE provider, they should be capable of spending loot with the same uninhibited enthusiasm that the airport and highway people do now.

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, July 18, 2019 5:44 PM

JOHN PRIVARA
Rural areas should have good bus systems. The congested urban areas should have good train and plane services. The buses should feed that train system, the trains should connect to the airports. The entire system - together - should be as fast a possible, and as convenient as possible for a MAJORITY of the population (you know, like how most of the 1st world countries are doing it NOW).

Bus systems are deserting rural areas for the same reasons you want Amtrak to eliminate service in rural areas.

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Posted by 7j43k on Thursday, July 18, 2019 5:51 PM

BaltACD

 

Sundial Scheduling!

 

 

Please define.

 

Ed

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Posted by Deggesty on Thursday, July 18, 2019 6:57 PM

Sundial time? Balt may be referring to how train schedules were published before the adoption of standard time.

For instance, it was possible to travel, in one day, from Bristol, Virginia, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, with a change from one road to another in Knoxville. However, if you simply looked at the published schedules, you would say, "Impossible!" for the schedules showed the train from Bristol arriving in Knoxville after the train for Chattanooga departed. But--the ET&V operated on Bristol time, and the ET&G operated on Knoxville time, which is a few minutes later than Bristol time.

Indeed, in the 1850's it was possible to travel from Norfolk, Virginia, to Memphis, Tennessee, changing from one road to another in several places--as I recall, the changes were in Petersburg, Roanoke, and Bristol in VIrginia, and in Knoxville and Chattanooga in Tennessee. The greatest difference on local times on any one road was between Chattanooga and Memphis; as I recall the Memphis and Charleston operated on the same sun dial all the way. (I do not have my copy of the 1851 or so Guide that shows these schedules here--it is in a box at my daughter's house, and I will not ask her to look for it, for she does enough for me already.)

Johnny

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Posted by JOHN PRIVARA on Thursday, July 18, 2019 8:38 PM

Re: Bus systems are deserting rural areas for the same reasons you want Amtrak to eliminate service in rural areas.

Exactly. But, it's a #HECK# of a lot cheaper to run subsidized "throughway buses" on rural routes, than 1920's passenger trains waiting in sidings for 5 mile long freights running at 30 mph on single track lines with alignments from the 1880's.

Run the trains where they can serve the MAJORITY of the population in a way that is USEFUL to modern people (meaning: people in the 21st Century, NOT the early-20th century). And, run the buses where having trains isn't viable.

Amtrak should be running passenger trains for the 21st century, NOT the 19th century. They aren't competing the stage-coaches anymore.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Thursday, July 18, 2019 9:08 PM

charlie hebdo
LD trains are an impractical means of transportation for any distance over 500-800 miles and thus used by very few people.  A lot of their ridership in sleeping cars are well-off seniors taking heavily-subsidized land cruises.  Sounds pretty elitist to me.

LD trains haul 40% of Amtrak's passenger-miles.  It meets the practical needs of those people.  Where is your data to say that there are any more well-to-do land-cruisers, than people riding the train because it is physically the easiest for them?

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Posted by MidlandMike on Thursday, July 18, 2019 9:23 PM

7j43k
IF you want to serve the various "special" people in little bitty towns along the railroad, why not have a railbus or an RDC make the entire run... Maybe we'll call it the Zephyrette.

WP ran an RDC the length of their mainline, and actually called it the Zephyrette.  They couldn't even fill the RDC combo.  At the same time the CZ was well patronized.  The Zephyrette did not last long.

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Posted by daveklepper on Friday, July 19, 2019 12:42 AM

Charlie, you know perfectly well that I am NOT saying more people, more citizens, use LD trains than corridior trains.  But on one train vs another train, defintiely, yes.  i am in no position to obtain the specific statistics, even if Amtrak would provide it.  But any long distance train obviously have almost zero repeat ridership one day to the very next day, where as most corridor trains possibly half the ridership is repeat one day to the next day.  Sure, I don't have statistics, but personal observation from anyone riding the trains fan come up with the same answer.

From what most of us undrstand, with Amtrak created under the Nixon administation, most believe it was creted specifically to put the long distdance trains painlessly out of business.  So you have the real mission in mind that the Nixon Administration intended.   Hats of to you for that.  But the stated legal mission statement is to oprovide a National System.  Remove the LDTs and you no longer have a Nationlal System.

I think people who actually ride the trains and contribute to this forum will back me up on my statements concerning ridership.

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Posted by daveklepper on Friday, July 19, 2019 12:51 AM

Again, if you tell the rural areas, if you want the minimum service you now have, you have to pay for it, they will be justified in responding, then if you want the maxium corridor service you now have, you have to pay for it, including such hings as catenary replacement, repairs of tunnels, expasion of capacity, and new euipment.

The passenger loads on the existing long distance trains happen to be greater than one bus, or one diesel railcar, or even two togher, can handle.

The average 1920s train did not have air-condiitoning or reclining-seat coaches. Come off it.  Long distance trains today are far more comfortable.

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Posted by CMStPnP on Friday, July 19, 2019 1:28 AM

Backshop
Also, the military doesn't care about passenger trains.

I would disagree with that statement.   It depends on the rail transportation system and country.   The military used a lot of mixed passenger trains in Europe during the 1980's where they couple the passenger cars to the flatcars carrying the equipment.  Similar to the Auto-Train concept the troops move with the equipment.    They do not do this as much anymore in Europe because the realignment of the bases put most of the training areas within a much shorter driving distance.    They could not do this in the United States of course because the distances are greater and lets face it both the train dispatching and rail speed limits are fairly poor.   Within the United States though the Army at least is still using Amtrak to move troops, you may not realize it and it might not be on a large scale but to and from Basic Training posts they use Amtrak.   My Nephew went through initial training in 2007 and more than one of his cohorts had travel orders via Amtrak.

Backshop
The military flies troops everywhere. 

   Depends on the mission.   Much of the earthquake relief military mission to Haiti was done by ships with both the Army and Marines traveling on the Navy ships not by plane.    Additionally the British used the cruise ships of the Cunard Line to move troops to the Falklands.    They do rely on flying a lot but most of the time they fly for speed of deployment because it is an emergency to get there.   Both Airborne Divisions have a wheels up time limit to deploy because they are both members of the "Rapid" Deployment force.   I have seen both the 101st and 82nd Airborne Convoy across a few states though vs flying.    Again it depends on the mission.     The first troops deployed to Poland from Germany convoyed there, they were not flown.    Sometimes flying is also done for tactical reasons to avoid contact with enemy troops.    Initial invasion of Iraq the 101st Airborne Air Assaulted in via the entire Division being moved by helicopter over and past dug in Iraqi troop positions to put the 101st well behind enemy lines......the goal which was accomplished was to freak out and panic the Iraqis by attacking from both their front and rear.    In a lot of cases once the Iraqis knew the Americans were well behind their lines they either surrendered or started to withdrawl....Americans will fight on after their logistical lines are cut and they are surrounded (such as at Bastongne) but other countries.........not so much.

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Posted by Backshop on Friday, July 19, 2019 6:22 AM

I was speaking strictly about the military not caring about American passenger trains.  It was in reply to Dave's stating "And a military expert, and believe this may be happening, who advises Trump not to veto, may have the opinion that Amtrak's long-distance trains should be kept around to serve in emergencies".  They may ship individuals to Basic that way, but it's not a national resource needed in case of emergency.  

I'm well aware of Marines riding on ships in ARGs, they are members of an MEU.

 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, July 19, 2019 8:11 AM

Amtrak now?  Europe now,  not 30+ years ago. 

Even when I went for basic at Ft.  Leonard Wood 50 years ago,  it was by plane and bus from Chicago.  And the number of inductees was much higher back then. 

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, July 19, 2019 9:04 AM

charlie hebdo
Amtrak now?  Europe now, not 30+ years ago. 

I think he was supporting your general opinion, but...

Seems highly logical to me that there might be some 'conspiracy' to help subsidize Amtrak by routing some percentage of military orders on Amtrak trains, particularly those on routes more heavily subsidized through 'lack of riders'.  It doesn't matter that this is one hand of the Government putting money into another; if it's money to the good side of Amtrak's secret ledgers, or perceived reason to retain otherwise-questionable passenger coverage, I'd be all for it, and perhaps so should we all.

Much of this thread, however, continues to dance around the elephant in the room that is the 2015 mandate requiring "profitable operation" by 2020.  I don't see any wiggle room there for perceived benefits to elderly and disabled, even though there are clear avenues for funds to be provided Amtrak to improve and perhaps start toward optimizing them.  Perhaps some of you can comment on how to substantiate the economic 'stakeholder benefits' of the LD trains as a whole, as opposed to neo-Balkanization into politically-willing corridors. 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, July 19, 2019 9:50 AM

Overmod

 

 
charlie hebdo
Amtrak now?  Europe now, not 30+ years ago. 

 

I think he was supporting your general opinion, but...

Seems highly logical to me that there might be some 'conspiracy' to help subsidize Amtrak by routing some percentage of military orders on Amtrak trains, particularly those on routes more heavily subsidized through 'lack of riders'.  It doesn't matter that this is one hand of the Government putting money into another; if it's money to the good side of Amtrak's secret ledgers, or perceived reason to retain otherwise-questionable passenger coverage, I'd be all for it, and perhaps so should we all.

Much of this thread, however, continues to dance around the elephant in the room that is the 2015 mandate requiring "profitable operation" by 2020.  I don't see any wiggle room there for perceived benefits to elderly and disabled, even though there are clear avenues for funds to be provided Amtrak to improve and perhaps start toward optimizing them.  Perhaps some of you can comment on how to substantiate the economic 'stakeholder benefits' of the LD trains as a whole, as opposed to neo-Balkanization into politically-willing corridors. 

 

Supporting or differing doesn't matter.   

It seems to me Amtrak doesn't serve basic training camps or large military facilities very well today,  so counting on a military subsidy seems a forlorn  hope. 

The 2020 deadline is likely taken less seriously than the debt ceiling.  That said,  Amtrak will likely be able to show Congress a neutral balance sheet if LD services are drastically curtailed or modified. 

Then those services for the elderly handicapped folks and undeserved areas could be a separate subsidy  line item apart from rational services, if Congress saw it  as socially needed. 

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Posted by JPS1 on Friday, July 19, 2019 10:04 AM

daveklepper
....if you tell the rural areas, if you want the minimum service you now have, you have to pay for it, they will be justified in responding, then if you want the maxium corridor service you now have, you have to pay for it, including such hings as catenary replacement, repairs of tunnels, expasion of capacity, and new euipment.

The passenger loads on the existing long distance trains happen to be greater than one bus, or one diesel railcar, or even two togher, can handle. 

In FY18 the NEC had an operating profit of $526 million.  But it was more than wiped out by the long-distance train operating losses of $541 million.
 
Assuming the NEC wears 80 percent of Amtrak’s depreciation, interest, and miscellaneous operating expenses, which may be high, it would have had a fully allocated operating loss of $123 million in FY18 if all of its operating profit covered depreciation, etc. expenses.  Assuming the remaining depreciation, etc. expenses flow to the state supported and long-distance train operations equally, the fully allocated operating losses for the long-distance trains would have been $622 million.
 
If Amtrak were able to isolate the operating results of the NEC, the operating profit over time would go a long way toward covering the cost of upgrading and maintaining the NEC infrastructure. 
 
A bus cannot carry as many passengers as a train.  Assuming the same demand for commercial ground transportation, however, a bus company could schedule more than one bus a day, and it could provide more convenient service to those that need it.  In fact, this is what happens in Alpine, TX.
 
Alpine is served by the consistently late running Sunset Limited three times a week.  It has twice a day bus service to the Midland International Airport and Presidio.   If the Sunset Limited were discontinued, a bus operator could provide service from Alpine to El Paso or Del Rio on a more frequent and convenient schedule than the three times a week train.  And this probably would be true for most locations served by a once a day, long-distance train. 
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Posted by daveklepper on Friday, July 19, 2019 10:26 AM

1.  An emergency that grounds commercial airlines, may such never occur again, may also ground other aircraft.

2.  An analogy, not quite as long as the apartment hunt one:

Every Sat morning when in NYCity  around 7am I helped distribute bags
of food to poor people, some probably homeless.  Many came every week.
   But there were occasionally new faces and some who came only
occasionally.

The food and bagging had been prepared by other volunteers and was
kept overnight in a refrigorator.  Uusally. there was more than
enough, with each person on line receiving only one bag.  There was
also a pile of used clothes, and anyone on the line could take one
item.  Not everyone who took food also took clothing.  Most did not.
Extra bags left when all on the line were given food was returned to
the frig to be used during the week by the donating community.

One day. we counted, and there were just enough bags for the number of
people.  But one case on line said he needed more than one because of
a calamity that had occurrred to him.  The response was a question:
"Do you want the last person on line to go without?  Because today the
line is longer than usual, and we have just enough for everyone."  He
said:  "But the last person on line only comes once-and-a-while, and I
 cine every week.  And I waited longer than him."  He was told:  "It
is a greater sin for us to turn him away without getting anything than
not giving you all you want and may need."

3.  If you want rural America to support massive Amtrak investment in
expansion, catch-up-of differed maintenance, Sandy repairs, you have
to show some consideration of what rural America wants from Amtrak.
And their elected representatives say they want the long-distance
trains to continue.

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