When a small idea ballooned into cross-country travel, this college student got to take a summer backpacking trip—a Summer By Rail, to be specific—while furthering an association’s mission.
How far can a girl and her bike get without a car? National Association of Railroad Passengers Intern Elena Studier will tell you it’s at least 10,000 miles.
As a completion to her year-long internship with NARP, Studier traveled 10,000 miles across the U.S. by train on a 45-day Amtrak pass, visiting with mayors and transportation officials from 18 cities in 15 states. She wrote about her travels on the blog Summer By Rail, and even took over NARP’s Twitter feed.
That is NARP’s mission to advocate for passenger rail and to demonstrate the potential it has in so many different areas.
“We really wanted to highlight that students don’t necessarily need to go to Europe to go backpacking for their college summer,” NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews said. “They could actually explore their very own country, and they can do it using the rails. They don’t need a car. And it’s convenient, and you can reach a lot of places you can’t reach any other way.”
Studier traveled with her bike named “Stevie” both to ride the bike lanes in the cities she visited and pilot Amtrak’s bike-check service being introduced in the fall, which allows passengers to dock their bikes in racks onboard. Her journey sought to bring attention to the transit infrastructure available to travelers.
“That is NARP’s mission to advocate for passenger rail and to demonstrate the potential it has in so many different areas, and I’m trying to further that in any way I possibly can,” Studier said.
Mathews explained that the project sheds light on what he calls “Connected America,” the “secondary layer of transportation and infrastructure and mobility.” Trains in particular affordably connect cities that aren’t accessible by other modes of transportation and are also safer and available to people who can’t drive.
“We’re trying to eliminate the concept of fly over country, this idea that everything underneath the airplane ‘well we don’t care about those folks,’” Mathews said. “Those huge parts of the United States are isolated from the rest of the economy, and we think the intercity passenger rail along with transit systems and interval connections—like bikes and bus rapid transit and light rail and all those kind of things—we think all that stitched together can make it so that more communities can actually take part in the larger economy.”
Though NARP focuses on train travel, the key is to recognize that it’s the connection of trains, public transit, and bikes that can create affordable, connected travel options. “It’s not just about trains, it’s about building a network that really allows people to get from anywhere to anywhere affordably and safely,” Mathews said.
Sending a student has helped bring attention to the project, giving NARP and Studier a better platform to discuss the importance of trains and transportation infrastructure and to reach a new, younger audience. Discussing transit through her summer trip has her “approaching material that people in my age consort wouldn’t traditionally be attracted to and presenting it in a really approachable format,” Studier said.
A student at George Washington University studying international affairs and human geography, Studier departed Washington, DC, for her trip on May 14 and returned June 20 on her last rail segment of 22 from Raleigh, North Carolina.