Domestic Migrations, Train Travel in the United States 2012-2022

From their inception and race across North America to the promotion of Manifest Destiny and contribution to the Civil Rights Movement, trains and train travel have shaped what it means to be American. While the US freight industry operates more than 139,679 miles of track, today Amtrak is only a skeleton of the passenger service that once connected the county. In today’s world of mobile devices and ‘on-demand’ everything, many in the United States view public transportation as an impersonal, perhaps even a dehumanizing experience. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. This paper examines passengers’ perspectives on interstate Amtrak travel through a comparative analysis and summary of passenger-written interviews. Over the course of ten years (2012-2022), the author traveled annually to meet fellow Americans, record stories about their lives, and take pictures. Consisting of approximately 135 days, 44,300 miles, and over 1,050 hours on trains, the ethnographic research included 11 trips and systematically covered every route within the Amtrak passenger rail system. The research collected more than 6,000 original photographs and 2,000 handwritten pages. This article shares original photographs and direct quotes from passengers along with principal investigator conclusions drawn from the research. An analysis of passenger writings reveals a shared search for connection, a desire for something to happen, or situations passengers wish to rectify. Also included are select experiences of the principal investigator while gathering research, and relevant conclusions on the contemporary role and effectiveness of Amtrak within interstate travel.