WASHINGTON — Organizers of a railroad publicity tour dubbed the “Rx Express” are claiming Amtrak has made them The Little Engine That Couldn’t Talk to the Press.
The whistle-stop tour began Monday in Miami, with two private cars attached to a regular train. Members of the group got out at stops to talk to local press about their desire to get cheaper prescription drugs, a charged issue in the presidential campaign.
Group organizer Jerry Flanagan claimed that once they reached upstate New York, Amtrak officials began barring press from speaking to them on the platform, and wouldn’t let them off the train when they stopped in Rochester.
“They have locked the door that connects us and they’re not letting us off. We’re literally prisoners on board the train,” said Flanagan.
He said his group resorted to tossing leaflets out of windows at reporters.
Amtrak, a government-funded company, denied the charges.
“He is completely, flat-out lying,” responded spokeswoman Marcie Golgoski.
Golgoski said they have not denied the group any rights allowed to other passengers, just tried to enforce their own security rules and keep the trains running on time.
“He has been breaking every policy that Amtrak set forth,” she said.
The group of about 20 elderly people are traveling to Toronto to buy drugs at cheaper Canadian prices. The government does not allow reimportation of such drugs from Canada, arguing there are safety concerns.
Some Democrats and northern lawmakers argue the Bush administration should remove the bar on ordering drugs from north of the border. To answer concerns about rising prices, the administration has offered a new drug discount card for purchases in the United States.
Currently, many U.S. citizens who live near Canada cross the border regularly to fill three-month prescriptions.
The Rx Express was organized by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a nonpartisan lobbying group.
A similar trip was staged on the West Coast in August, when about two dozen Americans chartered a two-car train for a four-day trip from San Diego to Vancouver.