Wednesday, February 02, 2005

 

Bush Budget to Scrap Subsidy for Amtrak.

That's what Reuters is saying.

WASHINGTON (Reuters)- The Bush administration will for the first time propose eliminating operating subsidies for passenger train operator Amtrak as part of a push to cut budget deficits, people close to the budget process said on Tuesday.

President Bush's fiscal 2006 budget, which he will send to Congress on Monday, will allocate no subsidy for Amtrak to run its trains. But it will offer $360 million for maintenance on the flagship Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston -- which Amtrak owns -- and for commuter services.

...


Last year, the Bush administration proposed $900 million in subsidies, but Congress increased that to $1.2 billion after the railroad said the administration's proposal would force it to shut down.

If true, this is wonderful news.

I know how little the money is in the grand scheme of things-- hey, I work in budgets of billions, not millions-- but every dollar counts. And in the case of Amtrak, there simply is no excuse for government funding. Especially when the service has never made a dime. But don't take my word for it:

Amtrak has never made money in its 34-year history.
Thank you, Reuters.

The Northeast Corridor includes the only train routes that have even a chance of making any money. Well then, guess what? They'll probably make money privatized.

In return for propping up the Northeastern routes, many members of Congress used Amtrak as their own personal spoils system, ensuring that their podunk districts get rail service even though they didn't need it.

Now, some will argue that Amtrak is necessary, a key component of our national transportation infrastructure. They'll argue that for the predominantly rural areas served by Amtrak, subsidized rail is their only hope.

Hogwash, I say. This is the 21st Century. People have cars. There are private bus companies. And ultimately, flying is significantly cheaper-- not to mention more efficient by orders of magnitude-- than all but the most traveled of train routes.

Hmmm. . . three hours flying, or three days taking a train?

Sure, the train route might be scenic-- although not if you travel through New Jersey-- but is it really the government's job to subsidize a pleasant trip? Especially when Amtrak loses money every year?

The era of the long-haul passenger train is past in America. Even the new high-speed trains. As much as I love the convenience of the Acela train to Manhattan, outside of the Northeast it can't possibly compete financially.

You know, I'd like to take a horse and carriage from Chicago to Washington. It would be romantic, like a cattle drive or something. Should Uncle Sam pay for that?

Or, better yet-- I want to sail a tall ship from Annapolis round Tierra Del Fuego to reach San Francisco. Trust me, my Chinamen porters will carry back nuggets of gold the likes of which will astound my fellow Easterners.

In the end, ask yourself which would you rather have: airline travel regulated by the government, or airline travel we have today? Phone service regulated by the government, or phone service we have today?

Passenger rail will survive-- even flourish-- where this is a financial incentive to provide it. Where there isn't that incentive, then why should the government provide a service that competes directly with other forms of cheaper and more efficient commercial transportation? Using *our* tax dollars?

If President Bush does push this proposal, and pushes it hard, does anyone think America's most famous advocate of Amtrak privatization will forget his partisanship and support the President in his initiative?

Do trains fly?


If that train were privately-owned, Ben would be dead right now.

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This posting was made on my personal computer.

Comments:
I just read some of the comments from this webpage, and I can't believe the blindness of some of the statements. Rail travel is an essential part any large nation such as the United States. It is amazing to someone like myself who is an advocate of rail travel, paricularly Amtrak, of the almost "bonehead" lack of knowledge many Americans have of train travel today. I have spoken with people in my field of work (Aerospace) who in some cases thought that steam engines still pull major trains. Some even look at me in disbelief that I as a fellow engineer could have any interest in rail travel at all. Others look at me with an almost "deer in the headlight" look when I describe Amtrak to them, as if it's some sort of cute little excursion ride you take for a "feel good" trip back in time.

The problem with our rail system as with most things, is that it's made to be political. The determination of whether or not America should/should not have a national rail transportation system, is a "no-brainer"! The answer is yes! But as I just mentioned, the decision is being made to be a political one, and therefore it is not and has not been taken seriously by our government regardless of political party lines.

I have been a rail buff since I was a child. I grew-up loving diesel power locomotives. But I can understand as man continues to grow and create this fantasy that speed is everything, that we as a human race unfortunately must keep-up. In public transportation, people are looking for fast, economical means of getting from point A to B. Amtrak's high speed "Acela" train has more than proven, in it's short essistance, what truly the traveler is looking for. It is fast, modern, clean, all while maintaining what no other form of transportatin can offer (except maybe a cruise liner), comfort. But anyone with a little sense would realize, that Amtrak since the inception of now president David Gunn, has began to show profit gains, not only with the Acela, but with much of it's other routes including long distance trains too. So this rediculous debate on whether a national rail systems is viable in this country is dumb at best. The problem is, as with any major passenger carrier, is the maintaining of the equipment! In Amtraks case, this would mean the locomotives, coaches and in some cases, the rail lines.

I have over the last 3 years spent thoudands of dollars taking Amtrak trips around the country for my vacations. I have seen times when major rail stations have been almost, if not more busier than that of airline terminals. Even to a large degree, the small out of the way stops, have there been many passengers awaiting trains to arrive. There have been times when I have called Amtrak 3 months in advance to try to get reservations and nearly missed out because most everything (first class) and coach seating was sold-out; and I am not just talking about at peak times of the year.

To those of you who would make the feeble attempt to trash the name of Amtrak, I have to remind you that the airlines are not, and haven't over the last several years been "rolling in the dough". As you all know, major airlines have been closing their doors like liquidation sales at an alarming rate. It is sad that only Jet Blue, Southwest, and maybe American airlines are the most profitable at this point in time. This my friends, is the same way Amtrak came about in 1971 when all of our once proud independant railroads with their fine passenger service functioned before they had to "give-up the ghost" to our government. The airline industry is very much following that same path.

So lets get real about Amtrak. This is not an issue about a few enthusiest who want to live their lives in the past by promoting passenger rail travel. Many, many people on a daily basis from all walks of life, take Amtrak trains all over our country, and these trains are not running anywhere near empty.

To reiterate, if our government is truly serious about providing a major viable overall rail passenger service for our country, then they will begin by not making it a political matter. That will take the "cowpie factor" out of the equation, and serious progress to true reform of Amtrak can begin which our country deserves.

There are certainly other major issues that need to be address in our country, as President Bush reminded us all of in his last State of the Union speech. However, the means and the money are there to support Amtrak and its reform if politicians get serious, Republicans and Democrats alike.
 
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