Madison Butler is having a lot of fun this summer touring the country by train.
“It’s super cool to ride around and meet new people,” said Butler, who arrived in Greenwood via Amtrak on Thursday night.
The 27-year-old Kentucky native, who lives in Austin, Texas, has been riding since late June as part of her paid internship with the Rail Passengers Association, a nonprofit that seeks to create “A Connected America” through the expansion and enhancement of train service.
The internship program, dubbed “Summer by Rail,” sends a correspondent on a monthlong cross-country excursion via train to report passengers’ and train conductors’ thoughts about transportation, to meet local government officials and to sample the local culture of each town visited.
“Summer by Rail” began in the summer of 2016, and each year has incorporated a different focus. This year’s focus is culinary flavors found in different communities, which suits Butler’s background perfectly.
Also known as “Chef Madi,” Butler is a graduate of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Aside from culinary flavors, she said she’s also interested in reducing food waste, increasing food accessibility and using biodegradable packaging for food.
Butler is staying at The Alluvian until departing Sunday night. Her experience in Greenwood has consisted of a tour of the headquarters and production facility of Viking Range (one of the program’s sponsors); dining at Mai Little China, Fan and Johnny’s, and Giardina’s; taking a class at the Viking Cooking School; speaking with Mayor Carolyn McAdams; and shopping along Howard Street.
Greenwood is “one of the little towns in Mississippi that highlight its history and artists,” Butler said. “I like the architecture. I like the layout — a lot of old buildings that have been maintained.”
“I think it’s pretty obvious how having the Amtrak station encourages tourism here,” Butler said.
McAdams and other city officials have been lobbying CN railroad, which owns the Greenwood station, to make it more attractive.
According to Amtrak, the Greenwood station had 14,471 boardings and alightings during the 2017 fiscal year, the state’s second highest number of boardings and alightings among Mississippi’s 10 Amtrak stations, according to a fact sheet from Amtrak. Only Jackson’s station had more.
Additionally, revenues generated at the Greenwood station that year are estimated to be almost $1.25 million.
Butler believes train transportation is benefical for the country and can be strengthened in several ways.
Butler said it is important to maintain long-distance routes that provide rural accessibility. Long-distance train routes that connect major metropolitan cities often go through smaller towns. The City of New Orleans, which runs through Greenwood, connects Chicago and New Orleans but also provides passengers with transportation to points along the route, including Jackson and Memphis.
She said freight networks should be held accountable for safety and timeliness.
Though Amtrak operates on a national railroad network that consists of more that 21,400 miles of routes, 72% of the railways are owned by other railroad companies.
Butler also said trains should ensure that they’re compliant with the American with Disabilities Act and that fares are affordable.
She said that if Amtrak trains are more timely, affordable and accessible for people with disabilities, more people will take the train.
Her trip began June 29, when she stayed in Portland, Maine, before embarking on her cross- country travel.
Spending an average of two or three nights in each city, Butler traveled south through the country, reaching New Orleans. From there she traveled north until she arrived in Greenwood.
Following her stay in Greenwood, Butler will head for Memphis. From there, her trip will continue into the Midwest, going all the way to Milwaukee and then westward through the country, concluding in San Francisco.
She said she does experience some travel fatigue. Healthy eating can be difficult on this kind of trip, since most food offered on board is highly processed. She tries to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as she can access.
Still, she’s enjoyed her travels so far, having enjoyed the train stations in Washington and Denver and is looking forward to her visit to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Butler implores others to travel by train and see the country.
“Just give it a try,” she said.
Also, she said, it has a positive effect on rural communities: “The more we connect rural communities by passenger rail, the more enrichered our communities are.”
To keep up with Madi’s trip, read her blog on www.SummerbyRail.com.
•Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or email@example.com.