There has been much talk of passenger rail and mass transit for Knoxville in the past few years, but, like most great ideas for this town, it has stagnated and nothing is being done to make it happen. While I fantasize about taking a monorail from downtown to Fountain City or West Knoxville, I also have a tamer fantasy of boarding an Amtrak train downtown.
The idea is not radical. It seems Knoxvillians in the early- and mid-20th century had many options for passenger train travel. (I'll leave that secret history to Jack Neely—Jack, can you please share some romantic train travel stories?) From my crude Internet research, I found that passengers were able to take a line from Knoxville to Nashville, and from Knoxville to Sevierville. Then the interstates came, and trains faded into nostalgic and quaint things of the past.
Now, 20 cents a gallon and the belief that the Earth's oil reserves will never run dry are the quaint things of the past, and trains are making a case as the best way to go. More energy-efficient than cars or planes—and more luxurious than both—trains have the ability to meet the needs of the people. My boyfriend and I took an Amtrak last summer from Atlanta to Houston, and, though we made the decision based on our concerns about global warming, we will make the decision to go that way again based on our enjoyment of the ride and the relative lack of stress compared to driving or flying. Quite simply, it's fun to sit back, have a drink, and let someone else do the driving while the countryside goes past outside the window.
I used to think that calling for more mass transit was a call to metropolitanize our region, which I don't want to do. Then I moved to a house in Knoxville with a front porch that looks out at the interstate, and as I rocked in the porch swing I realized there wasn't a moment in time that the cars didn't go by. Day and night, cars and trucks are traveling through Knoxville on our major interstates. Great parts of our city were destroyed in the 1950s and '60s to make it so (Jack?). Now I realize that mass transit is needed and could even improve our horrible air quality, if fully utilized. On our trip last summer, I saw the tiny train stations throughout the South that provide access to travel to so many who aren't able to drive or fly.
If you look at the U.S. Amtrak routes, you'll see it makes a wide berth around the state of Tennessee. I'm looking to change that. I've created a petition to Gov. Bill Haslam, Amtrak, and Mayor Rogero asking for passenger train service in Knoxville. Please go to change.org and search for "Knoxville Amtrak" to find and sign the petition. More importantly, let's keep the dialogue about mass transit open and energized. One day, I do want to ride a monorail in this town. But sooner, I want to be able to travel throughout the country by boarding an Amtrak here. The tracks have been laid. There's no reason we shouldn't use them now.