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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 05:12 GMT 06:12 UK
Americans take comfort in trains
US railway station
For many Americans, rail travel seems the safer option
Joseph Winter

As many Americans feel wary of flying after the 11 September attacks, more and more are taking the train.

Long-distance travel in the United States used to mean either the plane or the car, while the railway was seen as slightly old-fashioned and European.

I have to fly to San Francisco next month and I'm not happy

But Amtrak, the company which operates US passenger trains, says that it is busier than it has ever been before.

Spokeswoman Karen Dunn told BBC News Online that on the east coast route between major cities such as Washington DC, New York and Boston, passenger figures had increased by 5% overall and by 36% on the Acela Express, which has fewer stops and is mostly used by business travellers.

On a very full train from Boston to New York, passengers said they had switched from the plane, not only out of fear but also because of the inconvenience of the newly-introduced measures designed to make air travel safer.

The flight itself takes just one hour but now passengers have to arrive at the airport two hours before departure and then there is the time taken to get to out-of-town airports at either end.

Previously, passengers routinely arrived an hour or even less before take-off for domestic flights.

So in comparison, the four-and-a-half hour normal train journey and especially the three-and-a-half hour Acela Express no longer seems an eternity.

Fear factor

One businessman who regularly travels between New York and Boston said that he was taking the train "as an experiment".

Amtrak train
Amtrak has taken additional safety measures

He was not particularly worried about flying but he wanted to compare the door-to-door journeys to see which was faster.

He was also concerned that air travel might become either less safe or involve even more security checks and delays in the future and so he wanted to find his way round the train.

For some, the spectre of hijackings is very real.

Stacy Diver spends a lot of time away from her New York base selling financial software.

"Until 11 September, I always took the plane," she said as we rattled through the stunning display of New England's autumn leaves turning from green to every point on the spectrum between gold and maroon.

"This is the first time I've gone by train and I feel much more comfortable. I don't think anything would happen on a train."

But like airports across the world, Amtrak has also taken extra security precautions.

Passengers now need photographic identity papers in order to buy inter-city tickets and their names are printed on the tickets.

Police officers are highly visible at major stations and scrutinise passengers as they board the train, although there are no soldiers, as at many airports now.

'Nothing has changed'

Train buffs like Lou Weitzman feel partially vindicated by recent events.

After years struggling to convince fellow Americans of the joys of the railway, some are finally now following his lead.

US airport
Air travel is suffering a downturn as many people remain too scared to fly

"I have to fly to San Francisco next month and I'm not happy," he said.

Mr Weitzman felt that nothing has changed in airport security except "now the passengers and the pilots would overpower any hijackers rather than be used as a guided missile".

He feels that the soldiers on patrol at airports are just a show of force to make people feel better but which do not really make flying any safer.

But John Sullivan, who left the World Trade Center just 30 minutes before it was hit by the first hijacked plane on 11 September and is still recovering from the shock of hearing the news, does not feel safe on trains either.

He said that he took a detour to avoid New York's busy Pennsylvania Station, which he thought could be a potential target.

Instead, he changed trains at the quieter New Rochelle on the outskirts of the city to get back to his home in upstate New York.

However, this had not allayed his fears as he said that he was not asked to show any identification at the more rural station, despite the supposedly tighter security throughout the US rail network.

So how long will this shift in American travelling habits last?

"Next time I'll definitely take the train again," said Stacy Diver. "Maybe I'll fly again next year."

See also:

24 Oct 01 | Business
Massive loss for American Airlines
08 Oct 01 | Business
Trade Center tenants may stay away
03 Oct 01 | Business
US airlines cut fares to spur travel
23 Sep 01 | Business
Airlines receive $15bn aid boost
20 Sep 01 | Business
Airlines slash thousands of jobs
19 Sep 01 | Business
US aviation crisis deepens
17 Sep 01 | Americas
No ordinary commute
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