Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Baltimore Amtrak editorial exactly on target

The yearly ritual is proceeding on schedule. Congress is nickel-and diming Amtrak to near extinction. Please understand, that is exactly what critics want. Airline and highway interests despise anything that might be seen as competition.

The Baltimore Sun editorial is right. Congress does not propose nearly enough money for Amtrak, and the president’s position is a horrible joke.-


The White House and Congress may complain about the system’s inefficiencies (and in many cases, rightly so), but Amtrak’s worst problem is aging and deteriorating infrastructure. Years of subsistence funding have only made matters worse. What kind of national highway system would the country have if the roads were similarly neglected? We’d be driving them at about 25 miles per hour on heavy-duty shock absorbers.

Alexander Kummant, Amtrak’s president, recently observed that an overhaul of the Washington-to-Boston line would cost at least $7 billion. Even with that investment, Acela trains would make the trip at an average speed of 97 miles per hour. That pales in comparison to high-speed trains in Europe and Japan that regularly travel twice as fast and demonstrates the depth of this nation’s neglect of rail.

A more rational approach would be for Congress to approve legislation sponsored by Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg authorizing more than $10 billion for Amtrak over the next five years. That’s not enough to launch any significant high-speed rail project, but it would help put Amtrak on an even keel.

At minimum, a prudent, long-term financial commitment by Congress should be a starting point for plotting the future of passenger rail service. Trains are too energy-efficient and environmentally friendly to be ignored, and local governments can’t underwrite them alone. Amtrak ridership is growing, and local commuter rail systems hold greater potential still – if Washington is willing to make the investment.


Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics

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July 2007