Rail Passengers Association Takes Message on a Field Trip, (Mostly) By Train

Field representatives for the association are traveling in the Deep South this month in an effort to advocate for expanded Amtrak service in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Taking an advocacy message on the road is often a great way to show a willingness to speak up on an important issue to your members.

But when your organization is the Rail Passengers Association (RPA), you’re not really going on a roadshow—but taking a field trip, by Amtrak. Or, trying to, at least.

Recently, field organizers for RPA started on a tour of southeastern states at a time when the association is advocating for more rail service in the region. RPA’s field coordinator, Joe Aiello, and grassroots organizer, Madi Butler, are making a trip from Memphis to New Orleans, with a goal of promoting the economic benefits of passenger rail along the Gulf Coast, which has been limited in recent years.

RPA is using the trip, taking place through January 24, a way to both advocate for more train travel and to even attract new members.

Some of the places the duo are traveling to include cities that don’t have train service at all—such as Mobile, Alabama, and Biloxi, Mississippi. (They’re taking buses to those places instead.)

The tour comes at a time when Amtrak is attempting to revive service to those cities, with an upcoming key vote in front of the Mobile City Council likely to have a major effect on the revival of a Gulf Coast line. To help support the cause, the tour is also highlighting routes in the region that have seen economic benefits from passenger train service, meeting with city leaders along the way.

“The City of New Orleans and Crescent routes have boosted economic opportunity for towns that have made their stations a featured destination,” Aiello told Transportation Today. “Restoration of the Gulf Coast service is a crucial step in the advancement of passenger rail and the towns that support it.”

One of the field organizers is an old pro at taking trips of this nature: Last summer, Butler, a trained chef, took a tour of the country by rail to advocate for better food service on trains. Butler, who served as an intern for RPA at the time, kept a blog of her adventures.

“By meeting with local officials, press, and Rail Passengers members en route we can use our platform to highlight the improvements these communities deserve as well as set plans to support advocates at all levels,” Butler said in a news release.

The Gulf Coast is not the only place where advocates are encouraging the expansion of passenger rail: Efforts are also ramping up in Montana to restore passenger rail coverage in the southern part of that state.

(mixmotive/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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