Florida Safety Patrol Trips by Rail Fading Away

Since 1948, members of the school safety patrol in Palm Beach County, Florida, have been riding the train from the Sunshine State to Washington in the spring on sightseeing trip that is a reward for the work the safety patrollers put in during the school year.

Some safety patrollers still ride the train, but increasingly they are flying to Washington or taking a bus.

School officials say the student like riding the train, but their parents prefer flying because it allows for more sightseeing time in Washington and doesn’t require as much travel time.

“The kids love the train, it’s a rolling slumber party,” said Jim Pegg, a school district administrator and the president of the Palm Beach County Safety Patrol Association.

It once required four trains to move the safety patrollers to Washington, but now it requires just two.

The number of students riding the rails has fallen from 4,800 to just over 1,000.

“It’s mostly because the adults don’t want to ride the train for two whole days,” Pegg said. The train leaves Thursday at noon and arrives Friday morning. The return trip is invariably longer, arriving in West Palm Beach about 5:30 p.m.

The Washington trips were initially organized the American Automobile Association as a reward for sixth-graders and their school service.

School officials segregate the children by gender with one car filled with boys and another car filled with girls.

They turn their seats into makeshift tents, play games, listen to music and give notes to teacher to pass to the girls or boys in the other car.

Three years ago, Principal Laura Green asked the parents if they preferred for their children to ride the train or fly to Washington. The cost of riding Amtrak versus flying was comparable.

“It was time spent in the city that swung the vote,” Green said. “On the train, you’re gone five days, but you’re in D.C. three.

If the student flew, they would arrive by 10 a.m. Tuesday and leave late in the day on Friday.

“The extra day gives us time to go to an extra Smithsonian,” Green said.

Another advantage of flying was the ability to pick dates that better fit the school schedule. “Nothing against the train, but there’s a set pattern to their itinerary. I can maneuver the trip through what I want to see. For the past two years, we’ve taken the children to the Pentagon and that’s a great trip. And you couldn’t do it on the train.”

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