WASHINGTON -- In a historic victory for the taxpaying pet owners of America, Amtrak announced on Monday that it would begin a pilot program allowing riders to bring their furry friends on board.
The program, launched in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Transportation, will begin next week and last for six months. For the price of $25, passengers traveling between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois, will be able to bring Fido or Princess along for the ride.
But there are restrictions that will leave many still reliant on boarders, or that colleague they embarrassingly bug every now and then to watch their pets for them. For starters, only dogs and cats that weigh up to 20 pounds will be let on board. Owners will be required to put them in carriers and place them at their feet and under their seats. Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak, said there are no specific baggage cars that could hold crates to accommodate larger pets. So if your dog or cat is too heavy, you're out of luck.
Secondly, passengers are only allowed to board with their pets at three stations. This is done to ensure that they're actually paying properly and not bringing on restricted animals, but it also limits the number of passengers who will find pet travel feasible or worthwhile.
Finally, the only pets allowed so far are cats and dogs. If you're a rabbit person -- they must exist, but who knows -- you're out of luck.
Still, the pilot program is a victory for animal lovers, including several members of Congress. Last year, lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced the Pets on Trains Act, calling for Amtrak to produce a plan to allow "domesticated cats or dogs on certain trains." The bill currently has 33 cosponsors, 18 Republicans and 15 Democrats. One of the original cosponsors, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), worked with Amtrak to help develop the Illinois pilot program.
"It came together that this would be a good place to try this and the Illinois DOT was a good partner," Magliari said, adding that officials haven't predicted how many people would end up taking advantage.
In order to accommodate those people with pet allergies or a deathly fear of dogs, he said, Amtrak will designate one or several cars of each train pet-free.