Although Americans have been shipping goods and traveling on trains since the 19th-century, this method of transportation has not lost its appeal or practicality, according to historian Karl Zimmerman.
“Freight traffic of certain kinds is booming, and passenger trains remain the best way to see the country,” stated Zimmerman, in an interview with Weather.com.
In 2012, more than 31.2 million passengers chose Amtrak, the largest rail service in the United States, as a method of transportation. This number broke records as the largest number of riders in the company’s history.
The rail network, which maintains more than 21,300 miles of track, also offers specific heritage lines, which offers tourists unique ways to access scenic and historic locations that are not always accessible by roads.
While planes can boast a sweeping aerial view of landscapes and offer a speedier means of shuttling around the globe than their land-locked competitor, trains can offer travelers a more intimate lens means of viewing the countryside. They also offer more freedom, as passengers may board and embark at any station.
It is this freedom, even in the face of competition from automobiles, that has solidified trains as a fashionable option for travelers. Zimmerman, a former tour guide and lecturer for The Society of International Railway Travelers and The Smithsonian Associates, also points to the role of rail in American history as rationale for its enduring popularity.
“In the early decades of the 20th century, the passenger train was clearly the way to go,” Zimmermann stated. “Though automobile travel did grow during that period, roadways were often primitive, some still dirt or gravel. Air travel was in its infancy. Most of the American populace lived in a town or city served by one or more railroads — or near one that was — and they used those railroads.”