Equipped with kitchens, dining areas, living spaces with couches, and sleeping chambers, Norfolk Southern Railway’s luxurious cars don’t compare to the rugged trains Patrick Dowd rode across India in as a Fulbright Scholar. But Dowd intends them to serve the same purpose as his train rides—to take young people on outer and inner journeys.
Dowd’s Millennial Trains Project transports young people across the country by train to build support for crowd-funded innovations of their own devising. Friday night at Union Station, the project hosted a reception celebrating its partnership with Norfolk Southern Railway and its upcoming journey from Los Angeles to Miami. The crowd of approximately 80 guests included previous MTP participants and their mentors, family, and friends, as well as supporters Daniella Foster from the State Department and Elizabeth Broun from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. While enjoying hors d’oeuvres and an open bar, guests explored four train cars: the Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Marco Polo.
In order to earn places on the train, participants have to raise at least $5,000 for their projects through crowdsourcing on the Internet. Over ten days, the train stops in certain cities, where participants go to a start-up hubs to discuss their projects, which can range in topic from music to energy. During the journey, participants meet with various mentors who help encourage and bring form to their ideas.
“This model works very well here in the United States,” says Dowd, a Georgetown graduate who founded MTP in 2012. “Everyone came out seeing these journeys as a timely and valuable forum for dialogue between diverse people who are interested in building up our country through their passions.”
Dowd led a similar train journey, called the Jagriti Yatra in India in 2010 and 2011. After returning home, he worked as an investment banking analyst, but, as the Occupy Wall Street protests grew, he decided to use his inspiration from India to create a similar journey in America to positively channel the dissatisfaction of millennials. The first MTP journey went from San Francisco to DC.
“Seeing our country in a raw and almost magically manicured way, I thought about the impact our age demographics has on our now, and I wanted to be more a part of it,” said Alison Carney, an MTP participant who is now a recording artist and songwriter.
Before Carney joined the project, she was on the verge of changing her career path, but she says the journey made her see how she can bring light to the impact of music on America’s communities.
“You come away from it with a real visceral feeling of accomplishing something on a big scale,” says Dowd.