With more people riding Amtrak trains than ever before, and with Amtrak repeatedly setting new revenue records, why are some members of Congress still trying to gut, if not actually kill, our national passenger rail system?
In the House, Florida Republican John Mica chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The Republican draft of the current transportation bill (H.R. 7) has just been released and it reduces the federal operating grant for Amtrak to the point it’s hard to imagine cutbacks in service wouldn’t be the inevitable result. (For years, Mica has sneeringly referred to Amtrak as “America’s soviet-style railroad”, which tells you where his head is at.)
Furthermore, the political party that constantly demands less interference from government has included a provision in this bill that would mandate privatizing all food service on Amtrak trains. Go figure!
Presidential aspirant Mitt Romney, also a Republican, says he’ll do away with Amtrak’s federal subsidy entirely if he’s elected. A number of the more popular routes would probably survive, including the high-speed trains running between Washington and Boston. But other trains, in particular the long-distance trains? Well, they would almost certainly be history. And with them would go any semblence of a national passenger rail system. (I wonder if Romney knows that they’re starting to build a high-speed rail line in Uzbekistan!)
How can politicians seriously propose these ideas when all across the country the people they are supposed to represent are demanding that existing routes be extended and new routes added. Anyway, opponents of H.R. 7 have popped up immediately, even including, I’m delighted to say, a couple of Republican governors.
What I find most frustrating is that these anti-Amtrak attacks are mostly a matter of ideology. It’s certainly not a serious effort at cost cutting because the roughly $1.4 billion operating grant Amtrak has been getting from the feds annually is but a tiny fraction of one percent of the federal budget.