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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

All Aboard: Pets on Trains is Just the Ticket

Cassie was moving from New York City to Spring Lake, North Carolina, and she was devastated by the idea of giving up her five-year-old cat, Boots, who had been her beloved companion since he was a kitten. She was traveling to her new home by Amtrak, which still doesn’t allow pets, and Cassie couldn’t afford to fly Boots separately on an airplane.

Cassieedited
Matt Wildman/for The HSUS
Cassie and Boots

Fortunately, The Humane Society of the United States arranged a flight for Boots to Raleigh-Durham, and a volunteer rented a car to drive the cat 75 miles to Cassie’s new home. But many families, especially in regions of the country where train travel is the most affordable or most convenient option, are not as lucky.

You can take your dog or cat on an airplane, and stay with your pet in many hotels. But why can’t a companion animal travel with your family on a passenger train?

There’s a move in Congress to change that, and U.S. Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., are working to get pets on board.

Yesterday they reintroduced the Pets on Trains Act, H.R. 674, which would require Amtrak, the national rail operator, to implement a pet policy to allow passengers to travel with domesticated cats and dogs on certain trains.

They pushed the issue in the last session of Congress, with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., sponsoring a companion bill. Under the legislation, Amtrak would be required to develop a policy for people to travel with their pets, and to designate, where feasible, at least one car of each passenger train in which a ticketed passenger may transport a dog or cat.

There would be reasonable requirements for pet owners who want to take advantage of this policy, such as keeping the pet in a kennel or carrier, traveling less than 750 miles, and paying a fee that covers the cost of administering the policy.

The bill gives Amtrak the flexibility to develop the details of the policy to best fit the service and their customers. And it could be a profit generator for the train operator, as Americans are spending more every year on their pets and may want to take their best friend along on vacation or business travel.

Last year, in response to the awareness created by the bill, Amtrak launched a pilot program in Illinois to test the idea of allowing pets on passenger trains. As Rep. Denham said, “This legislation builds on the success of that pilot program and would help families nationwide save money and time in traveling with their pets while bringing in much-needed revenue for Amtrak.”

Rep. Denham is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, and Rep. Cohen is a member of that subcommittee, which oversees Amtrak’s operations. Congress should take up and pass this common-sense legislation, which won’t cost the federal government or Amtrak any additional funds, but will help millions of American pet owners and strengthen the human-animal bond.

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