Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why Is Amtrak Always on the Chopping Block?

OK … here’s a question for you:

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.

Putting it into perspective, the U.S. sends a bit more than that amount every year in foreign aid just to Egypt! Really, now … can’t we manage to do at least as much for the 30-plus million Americans who choose to ride an Amtrak train every year?


Keelytm said...

I completely agree with you! Not only are train rides good for the environment, they are fun! I think Amtrak offers an invaluable service and I hope Congress stops trying to shut them down. They are economically viable, environmentally friendly, and they help relieve the stress of traveling to work for a lot of people.

Anonymous said...

Currently my wife and I are amtrak employees. We have worked on-board for over 20 years, on one of Amtrak's long distance trains. Its very easy to say shut down the trains, however in reality there are alot of people who have dedicated their lives to make the trains a happy and safe environment to travel. No trains, no job, now what?

Jim Loomis said...

Exactly right!