Illustration of Edward Robert McClelland
Illustration: Greg Clarke

Over the years, if you’ve traveled in or out of the city’s biggest rail terminal, you’ve no doubt noticed a disproportionate number of Amish people in the waiting rooms. Recently, I came across four Amish teenagers at the food court.

“Why do so many Amish take the train?” I asked one of them. He was changing trains on a journey from Ohio to Nebraska.

“We don’t drive, unless it’s an emergency,” he said. “If someone else is driving, it’s OK.”

Donald Kraybill, a professor emeritus at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania and the author of several books on Amish culture, offers a more nuanced answer: “Amish people have used public transportation — rail, boat, trolley — since the late 19th century. They objected to automobiles when they came out in the early 20th century because they involved individual ownership. And most rejected air travel because it was so modern and so fast.”

Another reason so many Amish pass through the West Loop station: Their communities are concentrated in the Northeast and the Midwest, the heartland of Amtrak service. Thus, Amtrak has become their railway, and Chicago is its hub.

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