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MAKING TRACKS <br> FEARFUL OF AIRLINES, TRAVELERS ARE GOING AMTRAK

Reuben and Edith Solonsky never expected to be standing on an Amtrak platform in Depew on their way home to Eugene, Ore., after visiting their son in Bethesda, Md.

On the morning of Sept. 11, they were ready to board a plane at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia when the nation's air travel system was shut down.

Now their trip home will take several days, instead of a few hours.

Edith Solonsky said she didn't feel safe flying, and spent two days on the phone making arrangements to get home on the ground. "I don't think I'll be flying for a while," she said.

Lots of travelers are turning to Amtrak these days to avoid flying or because airlines have scaled back their service. Nationally, Amtrak reported its passenger counts have risen 40 percent in the past seven or eight days.

The Solonskys' travel plan reflects the lengths to which some passengers will go to avoid getting on a plane. Their son drove them from Maryland to Buffalo on Tuesday. The couple boarded the train from Depew to Toronto on Wednesday, and planned to switch to a train there that will take them to Vancouver, British Columbia. Then they'll ride a bus to Seattle and hop another train to Eugene, arriving home early next week.

The Solonskys even had a friend mail their passports to them, in case they had problems crossing into Canada.

David and Shanti McCarey of Glasgow, Scotland, opted to take Amtrak for a different reason: to avoid potential traffic tie-ups at the U.S.-Canada border.

The McCareys' family members were supposed to drive them to Toronto to catch a plane. Instead of burdening them with what could be long border waits in each direction, the McCareys chose a train trip to get there.

The McCareys said they weren't concerned about flying. From Toronto, they'll fly to New York City, then home to Scotland.

"Our families are more worried, but I'm not particularly worried," Shanti McCarey said.

Local Amtrak officials referred questions about passenger counts to the company's corporate offices, and representatives there didn't have local figures available. Karen Dunn, an Amtrak spokeswoman, said Amtrak has increased its seat capacity by 2,000 seats per day on its service that travels from Boston to New York City to Washington, D.C.

Thousands of Americans also opted to travel by bus in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Greyhound, the nation's largest bus line, reported ridership at levels that it usually sees only at holidays. But by last Sunday, the counts were down to the daily average of 70,000, the company said.

The spike in rail passenger traffic has meant long hours for lots of Amtrak employees, she said. "They haven't complained one ounce."

Amtrak's ticket reservation lines have been flooded with calls, prompting Amtrak to urge passengers to buy their tickets through travel agents or automated ticket machines at rail stations.

Many travelers have traditionally preferred air travel over trains partly because planes get them to their destination faster. But with longer check-in times now required at airports, and with some travelers worried about air safety, the railroad is welcoming many first-time riders.

Anecdotally, Dunn said she's heard some of those passengers enjoyed the experience and have said they might stick with the railroad for a while.

Dunn said it was difficult to predict how long the surge in railroad traffic might last. "We're going to play it by ear and see what the market demands," she said.

Back in Depew, Tina Preiata of Australia was hopping the train to Niagara Falls with a companion. They hadn't sworn off traveling by air.

"We're not scared of flying. We fly everywhere," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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