I suppose I am a bit partial to using lyrics in my blog, but they often seem so appropriate. These particular words come from Arlo Guthrie’s “The City of New Orleans” lamenting the death of that train running between
Those sentimental words belie the urgency that many felt at the time as passenger services across the country began to falter. The time, I'm afraid, has come again. Mr. Bush is once again prepared to destroy a part of
Today, the Senate passed bill S.294 with bipartisan support. This bill would reauthorize Amtrak, giving it the funding it needs to continue to serve 46 states. This bill would also continue high speed rail initiatives in many areas and would provide needed Homeland Security funding. The bill now goes to the House for passage, and after that, to the President's desk.
Mr. Bush seems determined to ensure that rail service is dropped in 24 states. He and many conservatives are determined to trim all of Amtrak's long distance (national network) services. Economics, they say, dictate that
Amtrak has conflicting goals. Typically, when a government agency has conflicting goals, it ends up neglecting one and doing poorly at the other. Amtrak is a perfect case study in this phenomenon. Amtrak was set up with two main goals. The first, most obvious, goal is that Amtrak is to operate a national rail system. Therefore Amtrak has an obligation to serve places where density is not conducive to high train ridership. The second goal is that Amtrak should become profitable. This is the goal that Amtrak has neglected. It is not possible for Amtrak to serve all of the
First, let’s address the neglected goal. The reason that Amtrak cannot be expected to make a profit is the same reason that the railroads asked for the creation of a national passenger system in the first place. Federal subsidies to other modes, most notably air travel and highways, made railroads unable to compete on a level playing field. I am not criticizing things like the Interstate Highway Act, however. Subsidies to highways and air travel caused major positive changes in this country. However, the federal government does not demand that Interstates pay for themselves. The reason is that Interstates pay back this country in ways other than in pure dollars. Railroads do the same thing, and it is essential that passenger service continues to be a viable mode.
A national system will not always be full or profitable, just as an Interstate highway in
This year, President Bush should not veto Amtrak; instead he should offer a vision of an