Monday, October 17, 2011

Amtrak’s Amazing Ten-Year Record … In Spite of Weather and the GOP.

Ten years ago, in 2001, Amtrak, America’s national rail passenger system, carried a total of just over 21 million passengers.

Almost every year since then, Republicans in the White House and in Congress have done their best to reduce Amtrak’s annual subsidy, several times to the point that, had their budgets passed, it would likely have caused the railroad to shut down. Even in “good times”, Amtrak has had to get along on what has essentially been bare-bones funding.

As a result, ordering of new equipment had to be postponed, new routes couldn't be added, the existing rail cars and locomotives are getting older and wearing out, and of course there are more breakdowns and delays.

This past Spring and Summer, because of unprecedented flooding and other weather-related problems, Amtrak was forced to cancel literally hundreds of trains running through and across the mid-west.

Heading west out of Denver, Amtrak's California Zephyr follows the Colorado River for well over 100 miles through the Rocky Mountains en route to Glenwood Springs and, ultimately, the Bay Area in California.

And yet, as of September 30th, Amtrak has reported an all-time ridership record: 30.2 million passengers for the previous twelve months.

Just imagine what could be done if our national passenger rail system had been given an adequate amount of funding over these same ten years: more trains running with more and newer equipment over some new and expanded routes.

Even so, the message is crystal clear: Americans want trains.

But House Republicans are still doing their best to gut Amtrak -- even kill it altogether -- with their current budget proposal. Their underwear is in knots because Amtrak averages about $1.5 billion a year in federal subsidies.

Here’s a little tidbit to put that into perspective for you: a billion-and-a-half dollars is almost exactly the amount of foreign aid we send every year … just to Egypt!

Seems to me House Republicans ought to understand that keeping the transportation mode of choice for 30.2 million Americans is worth at least as much as that.

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