COMMENTARY | Though my father’s grandfather was a railroad engineer, I myself have never been on a passenger train. I’ve been on planes, driven automobiles, and ridden in small boats, on subways, on buses, and on assorted small train-like trams. Never, however, have I enjoyed the cozy romance of a cross-country train ride with my sweetheart, experienced the luxury of a spacious lounge car, or been soothed by the rhythm of the rails. As a writer, however, I might now get the chance to enjoy a free round-trip journey on the rails, courtesy of Amtrak, reports The New Yorker.
Amtrak, a publicly-subsidized passenger railroad company, has routes all across the United States linking major cities. It has begun offering free round-trips to writers as a sort of “writer-in-residence” program meant to simultaneously generate creativity among writers and provide good PR for the company. Who, after all, would not be inspired by a classic rail journey? In our tech-obsessed world, who would not benefit from a sedate, long-distance journey?
You’re not racing, cramped, through the skies in an airliner, to arrive at your destination in a few hours. You’re not cramped in a car for long hours, or even days, while being subjected to the slings and arrows of packed-car roadtrips. You can enjoy the journey, stretch your legs, watch the scenery, even while you enjoy a meal. How many creative types would not feel inspired, refreshed, or creative after that rather unique experience? In our modern world the train has fallen by the wayside and become a retro oddity.
Due to its status as a publicly-subsidized company, Amtrak should be open for an expansion of its budding “writers-in-residence” program, as should public educators like high schools, colleges, universities, and the Department of Education. Free long-distance train rides for writers, artists, historians, and students of those crafts could be cost-effective ways to increase education, literature, and creativity. It might re-popularize rail travel among the public, especially if “writer-in-residence” material was available for free download on all Amtrak routes, and inspire many budding writers, artists, and historians to pursue their craft.
And what about travel for college students, or high school students during summer breaks, with offers of reduced fare for participation in literature or literacy projects? Students who write blog posts, explore literature or the arts, or work on studying their respective subject material could receive discounts or free travel. From art history to nuclear physics majors, which college students would not benefit from the ability to travel in a reduced-cost library car or study car?
With all the funding we throw at education, why not give this a chance? “Writers-in-residence” and “students-in-residence” programs, if their material becomes available for train-goers to experience and learn from, could be quite successful and more cost-effective than numerous other programs. As a teacher, I would personally love to see a “teacher-in-residence” program for teachers, especially English and social studies teachers, to ride the rails and come up with great material for their classes.
Those of us who are social studies or English teacher and writers? Goodness! How productive we could be!