Fall in love with trains at event today

Commentary: A forgotten engine for the economy

Get on a Train Day happens from 2 to 4 p.m. today with the ALCO-Brooks Engine 444 at the Chautauqua County Fairgrounds. Admission and parking are free.

Trains are a fun way to travel. They are also the best way to travel in bad weather. They can run when roads and airports are closed. They will not be blown over like a semi on a high wind day. They will not be grounded like an airplane. They will not be stopped by freezing rain.

Every year for the past 10 years we have had a record number of days when semis are banned from the Thruway, when the roads and airports are closed.

If every year sets a new record for bad weather, it would be foolish not to prepare for that trend to continue. Preparation for traveling in bad weather includes improving our rail system. Trains are resilient. They operate in all weather. They don’t get stuck in traffic. They are efficient. One train can pull 100 box cars on far less fuel than 100 trucks. When more people or freight need to be moved, the train can add cars or run more frequently without taking up more room. With all the advantages trains have, it makes sense to invest in them.

In Europe, the trains are clean, well-run and on time. What they are not is profitable. Maintaining roads is not profitable either. We maintain roads with public money because people and goods need to move around to keep the economy growing. We need to spend the same money on trains as we do on roads and airports. We need goods and people to keep moving, even in bad weather. If the current weather trends continue, we are going to be hurting in ten years.

Our government is saying “the trains are not profitable. We spend too much money on them. We have to cut them to balance the budget.” To that I say: “Facebook paid zero taxes last year. Get the corporations to pay the same tax rate as an ordinary business, like Joe’s Garage, and the budget will balance itself.”

There is bipartisan support for investment in trains. What we currently have budgeted is not enough to give the system the upgrades it needs. We the people need to lobby our representatives for increased funding for rail passenger service.

Today is an opportunity to make your voice heard. “Get on a train day” at the Chautauqua County Fairgrounds is a time to tour the ALCO-Brooks Engine 444 exhibit and have some free ice cream. It is also an opportunity to get involved. There will be information about trains and petitions to get a train station in Dunkirk. Admission and parking are free.

Marie Tomlinson is a Fredonia resident.