"All aboard," shouted the train conductor in that sing-song cadence we all recognize. Moments later, the train made a slight jerk. It began to move. We rolled away from the station and gradually picked up speed. The squeaking and screeching of the train pulling out soon gave way to the unmistakable rhythmic sound of the wheels striking the steel rails as metal hit metal. I was on my way. I was a little nervous of the unknowns ahead, but mostly I was excited about the adventure as I had never been west of the Mississippi River. I did not know it then, but boarding that train was going to set the course and direction of my life. It was the summer of 1963 and I was headed to Idaho for the first time.
Having grown up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I was thrilled to go west and see mountains, real mountains. As the train made its way from the Midwest across the Great Plains, I saw America. I saw the rough, rugged beauty of the west and wondered about all those who had sacrificed so much to explore and build lives in a new frontier.
Soon, though, I suffered my first disappointment. Getting off the train briefly in Mountain Home I expected to see the mountains, but I did not see them. Although Mountain Home may have been a bit of a misnomer, which I later learned was a result of moving the town from the mountains to the railroad, my disappointment ended quickly. I reboarded the train and we made our way into Boise. There were those mountains I longed to see.
During the years I was earning my bachelor's degree in forestry at the University of Idaho and then my law degree, I made that train trip a number of times, going to my parents' home in Milwaukee and returning. I never got tired of it.
One winter, I drove my '51 Chevy, a locomotive in its own right, to Shoshone to catch the train to Wisconsin for Christmas as I planned to get in a few days of skiing at Sun Valley when I got back. I left the car in the train depot parking lot. On the return trip, the train stopped in Shoshone at 1:30 a.m. I gathered my things and headed for my car. On the way, I saw a family of four who thought the train would take them into Sun Valley. Since it would not, I offered them a ride. First, I had to dig that Chevy out of the snow. Then, it would not start. The family was losing hope that I could really help. Through the kindness of a deputy sheriff, we jump-started the car and, finally, we were on our way.
Trains were a big part of my life in those days. I rode the rails to Idaho, and like so many others, saw its beauty and chose to make Idaho my home. I am thankful for the opportunities I had to experience train travel. It is troubling that it is not a more appreciated mode of transportation, especially in these days when fuel costs are so high.
Trains were essential in the settling of the west. Today, trains are a critical component of our free market economy. The shear tons of freight moved about in this country every day is phenomenal. Almost unnoticed, everything-coal, agricultural products, automobiles, manufactured goods and heavy equipment-moves about locally and across the continent on trains.
In consideration of America's energy needs, train transportation must be regarded as a viable component toward energy security and independence as well as strengthening our economy.
For 20 years, the Amtrak Pioneer Route ran from Salt Lake City to Seattle, making a number of stops in Idaho. In 1997, Amtrak discontinued the route in as a cost-savings measure. Sen. Mike Crapo sponsored legislation in October to look at the feasibility of reestablishing the Pioneer Route. The amendment, attached to a rail funding bill, passed. The study will be conducted in the upcoming summer. I support a fiscally responsible reinstatement of this rail route and look forward to the findings of the study.
Rail for passengers and freight is the way of the future; not a track to the past.