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January 25, 2002

The Santa Fe Railroad station was a busy hub of activity years ago when coal-fired locomotives hauling passenger trains chugged through Perry each day of the week. This photo evidently made in the 1920s, shows the handsome brick depot as a train arrived from the north. New passengers waited to board and cards were lined up to haul away parcels after the train departed. The depot now belongs to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line and is now used for office space and storage. (Photo from the Beers family collection.)

One of these columns the other day told about the old Santa Fe depot on east Delaware street and the Olympic flame that passed through here on a Union Pacific train bound for its final destination, Salt Lake City, Utah. There it will serve during February as a beacon to Olympic athletes from all over the world. Laura and I were among those who gathered at the station to watch the train make its way through here en route to Oklahoma City. That may be as close as we ever will be to an Olympic event.

My feelings were mixed as we left the train station. Seeing the train and its flame-bearing cauldron was undeniably a thrill, but it also was a reminder that now there is no regular passenger train service through Perry. Several years ago we had daily north-south trains on the Santa Fe line and east-west trains on the Frisco Railroad. You could buy a ticket to almost anywhere at a window in one of the two Perry train depots.

Amtrak has made Oklahoma one of the very few states without a passenger train, excluding rare occasions and those on the Oklahoma City-Fort Worth line. Our situation is now under review. Some legislators and civic workers are applying pressure wherever they can in an effort to bring back passenger trains. For now all we can do is watch the Burlington Northern Santa Fe freighters pass through our town, sometimes with shrieking whistles blowing for what seems like an eternity while slow-moving, unbelievably long freight cars tie up vehicle traffic for long spells at crossings. This often makes motorists unhappy. In some cases Iíve overheard a few colorful obscenities and vulgarities that first came to my attention when our platoon was called out to clean the latrines in basic training. But thatís another story.

The passenger trains we used to see here each day seemed friendlier for some reason. Perhaps that was because the engineers always responded to waving children and adults with quick toots on the diesel locomotives, or because the conductors and passengers usually smiled and nodded to onlookers who watched from their cars or stood on the station platform. Each arrival was a cause for celebration.

The old days are not likely to return, and I donít believe they should. But wouldnít it be nice to ride a train for business or pleasure once again? Our children are growing up without ever having that experience. Címon, Amtrak. Give us passenger service.