Keep the local trains rolling

The young college student, steps onto the railcar, looking one last time at the guy she’s been dating and heads off to the big city. The train pulls slowly out of the station carrying the student to a new career.

What is this, the final shot of a 1940s romance? Think again.

This scenario, and other, less-dramatic, partings plays out week in and week out at train stations from Greensburg to Huntingdon as college kids take Amtrak back home for spring break, off to New York for an internship or just for a day trip down the line.

The recent proposal to suspend passenger train service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg unless Pennsylvania takes over funding of about $6 million from the federal government is the most ill-advised proposition since someone approached James Franco to host the Oscars.

While admittedly the ridership between Pittsburgh and the capital is lower than the state’s eastern corridor, the train service provided by Amtrak is a critical part of the transportation equation for Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities.

The stations slated for reduced service all serve colleges and universities crucial to producing the beautiful minds necessary to the success of Pennsylvania and the United States.

Of Greensburg (Seton Hill University), Latrobe (St. Vincent College), Johnstown (University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown), Altoona (Penn State Altoona), and Huntingdon (Juniata College), only Lewistown has no nearby college or university.

In addition, the train means freedom for countless international students studying abroad in Pennsylvania. Although few domestic students think about it, an exchange student from England or China can’t just jump in Mom’s old Buick and drive home. In fact, college international offices often organize train or bus trips for international students who would otherwise be stuck in dorm rooms on deserted campuses during breaks.

Sure, college-related traffic on trains is not going to suddenly make Amtrak profitable, but keeping these routes viable will profit Pennsylvania tenfold beyond the $6 million in funding if even a third of the graduates produced by these institutions remain in the state to start careers or businesses.

Huntingdon has hosted passenger trains on the state’s main rail line for more than a century. In this new century train travel is only likely to increase, particularly among young people.

Don’t believe me? Ask parents you know whether their kids are clamoring to get driver’s licenses. According a report by the Frontier Group, “Transportation and the New Generation,” a car-crazy culture among young people will going forward be about as rare as a mint condition Chevy Vega.

The report cites a few reasons why this generation forsakes the Accord for the Acela or the Mazda for the Megabus. Such as:

— The cost of cars, insurance and gas make it difficult for new workers to afford their own automobiles.

— Young professionals are flocking back to urban areas, where trains, buses and walking shoes rule.

— Environmentally conscious graduates seek out greener methods of moving around.

— Technology is king for this generation. Why drive anywhere when you can be connected by Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? Besides, any time spent driving is time not spent texting and posting.

Let’s see.

The greatest producers of young professionals – our colleges – could be denied the use of a mode of transportation that takes them to big cities, lets them spew out less pollution, allows them to divert money from car notes and insurance to their student loans and text, post and play Words With Friends. Why are we reducing their access to trains?

Let’s keep the trains rolling through central Pennsylvania to serve the public and higher education.

To deny such historic railroad towns and distinguished colleges and universities rail service is a decision that proves legislators that fail to act have their brains in the caboose.

Michelle Bartol is dean of admissions at Juniata College in Huntingdon.