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Thursday, October 08, 2015

All Aboard Fido and Whiskers! Amtrak Announces Expansion of Pets Aboard Program

Amtrak announced today that it is expanding its Pets Aboard program and passengers will now be able to travel with small pets on select trains along the east coast and northeast corridor. The pilot program was originally launched in Illinois, and now will expand to routes from Boston to Lynchburg, Newport News and Norfolk, Va., and between Boston and Brunswick, Maine.

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iStock photo

Members of Congress have been working to get pets on board, with U.S. Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., introducing the Pets on Trains Act, H.R. 674 and S. 1087. We are grateful to these lawmakers for making the argument that the national rail operator must implement a pet policy, and to Amtrak for taking action to expand the successful program. Their legislation certainly got the attention of Amtrak, and prompted this move to allow for pet transport in the heavily trafficked northeast corridor, which serves 11 million customers annually (about, a third of all Amtrak passengers).

Between New York and Washington, D.C., Amtrak carries three times as many people as the airlines do. Amtrak will designate one car on passenger trains for pets and there will be reasonable requirements for pet owners who take advantage of the policy, such as keeping the pet in a kennel or carrier on trips shorter than seven hours and paying a fee that covers the costs.

If expanded nationwide, this won’t cost the federal government or Amtrak any additional funds, but will help American pet owners and honor and keep intact the human-animal bond. 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.

Most importantly, it will have a practical impact on the lives of many pets and their families, like Cassie and Boots. Cassie was moving from New York City to Spring Lake, North Carolina, and 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 didn’t allow pets, and Cassie couldn’t afford to fly Boots separately on an airplane.

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.

When you can take your dog or cat on an airplane, and stay with your pet in many hotels, it makes little sense that you couldn’t have a companion animal travel with your family on a passenger train. The tide is turning on this issue, thanks to Congress and Amtrak getting the new policy out of the station.

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