I confess to a bias in support of trains since my father was an electrical engineer for General Electric. He rode the rails with GE’s state-of-the-art engine (which he helped design) and appeared in the final scene of the movie Union Pacific at a time when movies played in Bijous in communities across the country. Those days are gone, but what can Amtrak contribute to the history community in New York?
Amtrak is underutilized contributor to cultural heritage tourism. I have ridden the Amtrak rails from Albany to Niagara Falls, from New York City to Plattsburgh and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that Amtrak train service in New York is not designed to promote tourism in New York.
Even with the added stop at Fort Ticonderoga, the train service is at a second tier level and not conducive to organizing tours in the Hudson, Champlain or Mohawk Valleys or western New York. While we have no obligation to become a first tier country in our train service, that removes an important tool in the effort to promote tourism and delivers a poor message to people from countries with first tier train service. We know how the Erie Canal and the Interstate changed travel, a state-of-the art train service for the 21st century can do the same. The Western NY proposal to its Regional Economic Development Committee raises that very issue.
Gateway to New York
The first problem is the station at the gateway to New York. It is do or die time for a decision about the nation’s busiest transit hub. As the New York Times recently noted, Penn Station should be a showcase gateway for the city. Even the New York City mayoral candidates have discussed the train station (when they are not distracted by other issues). Shouldn’t the arrival of tourists be a positive experience instead of one you have to endure? The issue obviously goes beyond the station to the train service itself.
As it turns out, Amtrak does have a promotion for train travel in New York. The 8th annual New York By Rail Day convention was held on May 16 in the Amtrak rotunda at New York’s Penn Station. It was a free consumer travel show featuring more than 30 travel and tourist destinations, hotels, attractions, historic railroads and outdoor adventures from throughout New York State and Vermont. An anniversary cake and light luncheon were served in the rotunda as part of the program. The following email was sent out although I am not sure to whom about the event:
Hi, I hope that all is well. I thought that this event might interest you. An excellent way to catch up on NY Travel trends, learn about ILNY’s new Path Through History, connect with Canal New York, & 30+ other Exhibitors, gather some interesting travel stories and contacts. We can comp your travel to and from the Show on Amtrak and provide a nice lunch. (We will also be offering a FAM Tour to several of the Path Through History sites at your leisure tbd) Pls ck out below & let us know if you can and would like to attend.
Attendees to the conference received a free New York By Rail Magazine now in its 10th year. The magazine was created in 2004 with the objective of stimulating train travel on Amtrak to visit the 26 destinations serviced by Amtrak throughout New York State plus those in Canada and Vermont. The annual publication is 175,000 copies of the magazine.
Also touted as part of the program was the re-launched website for the exclusive destination and travel services for New York State Amtrak travel at www.newyorkbyrail.com.
Attending organizations included:
* Columbia County Tourism
* Dutchess County Tourism
* Greene County Tourism
* Lake George Area
* Long Island CVB
* Niagara Tourism & Conv. Corp
* Oneida County Tourism
* Rensselaer County Tourism
* Saratoga County Tourism
* Syracuse CVB
* Ulster County Tourism
* Visit Rochester
* Westchester County Tourism
* Canal New York
* Catskill Mountain RR
* Delaware & Ulster RR
* Erie Canal Experience
* Gore Mountain Region
* Lakes To Locks Passage
* Liberty Helicopters
* MTA Long Island RR
* Rhinebeck Area Chamber of Commerce
* The Rhinecliff
* Tramz Hotels
* The Chamber of Southern Saratoga
Many areas in the state were represented especially in the Hudson, Champlain, and Mohawk Valleys and western NY where Amtrak runs.
What does this all mean?
1. By the time of the program next year each of the Amtrak stops in New York will create a Path through History in their community for tourists disembarking at their train stop. The path will identify what will happen once the tourist leaves the train station including lodging, visiting historic and cultural sites, meals, and local transport. Some places already may have done this rather than just say here are a lot of things to do, here are some brochures, you are on your own.
2. For consecutive station stops, these paths will be grouped to create weekend and week-long excursions in to the Hudson, Champlain, and Mohawk Valleys and western NY.
3. These paths will be connected to the local bus depots so tourist operators can promote a train/bus package.
Historic sites should contact the tourism or visitor bureau for their region listed above and inform them of their desire to be part of the Amtrak Path through History for their train stop for next summer. If your county tourism department did not attend, ask why not?
Does this seem like an unreasonable challenge for the Path through History project? Will anything like it happen?
If you do try, please share your experience with the New York History community so others can benefit from your efforts.