I’ve written here on quite a few occasions about conservative politicians who get their shorts all in a knot because Amtrak receives an annual subsidy from the federal government. My response to those objections is pretty simple: ALL public transportation is subsidized, from the airlines on down to bike lanes and sidewalks.
That always produces objections from people who refuse to believe that airlines get federal subsidies. Of course they do! The federal government, through the FAA, provides the air traffic control system. County and municipal governments all across the country build and maintain airports. And the federal government subsidizes air routes linking smaller communities all across the Midwest and West with direct payments to the airlines operating those routes.
Similarly, a very modest annual subsidy helps to keep Amtrak’s long-distance trains operating.
Amtrak’s Empire Builder, for example, runs daily in each direction between Chicago and both Portland and Seattle. Contrary to persistent misrepresentation from the far right, most of the passengers on that train are not wealthy retirees traveling the entire route. A majority of travelers would typically include a family traveling from Whitefish, Montana, to Fargo, North Dakota, to visit relatives. Or a young college student attending the University of Washington in Seattle going home to Spokane for Spring break. Or an elderly couple taking the train from their home near Wisconsin Dells to Red Wing, Minnesota, for treatment at the nearby Mayo Clinic. In many of these cases, the train is their only viable travel option.
Of course, the loudest voices clamoring for an end to Amtrak subsidies come from members of the Tea Party. And yet, if federal subsidies are keeping air service operating to towns in their district, they’re right there loudly demanding that those subsidies be continued.
Let us hope that many of these folks get their comeuppance in November.