Why Can’t My Kids Take Amtrak by Themselves Anymore?

Snapshots of life at home.
Feb. 21 2012 1:24 PM

All Aboard (Not)

Why has Amtrak stopped letting children take the train on their own?

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Fearing that my kids may never leave home alone again, I checked on whether they can still fly as unaccompanied minors. And yes, happily, this still seems to be a possibility, for the right price, for children ages 5 and up, though often only if they are flying nonstop. I am glad to hear that the airlines have not become as childphobic as Amtrak, but the train is a lot more convenient and less expensive, at least if you live on the Eastern Seaboard. My children will not be flying from New Haven to Boston to visit my husband’s parents this week. And anyway, I wonder if it’s only a matter of time before the flights end, too. After all, surely there is some liability issue someone somewhere could raise, some possibility that something, somewhere in transit, could go wrong.

Because increasingly, it seems to me, that’s what our society’s attitude toward kids boils down to: Stay away, they might break. This is particularly unfortunate because the far more present danger, child psychologists like Wendy Mogel argue, is that children will never learn to make their own way, to solve their own problems, to rely on themselves and their own good sense. But all of that goes by the wayside once risk-averse adults start imagining what might happen if kids are allowed to venture anywhere at all on their own. If, for just a few hours, they’re outside the control of their parents or teachers.

They are such a drag, stupid officious policy changes like this one. They make children’s worlds that much more cramped and constricted, and they make parents’ lives that much harder. (If you see my husband stuck in traffic on I-84, give him a wave; he’ll need some cheer on his hours-long round-trips.) It’s all supposed to be for the good of the kids, but it’s not really for them at all.

And so I have a plea to make, on behalf of Eli and Simon: Dear Amtrak, please let us back on the train! We’ll learn to love your railroad as we look out the window and watch New England roll by. You’ll help us grow up, just a little bit. And we’ll be good, like all those other kids who have gotten where they were going without incident. We promise.