Seems to be a trend we’re seeing a lot these days, doesn’t it? The Burlington Free Press reports that the state needs to cut $21 million in transportation spending, and the state’s $5 million Amtrak subsidy is looking pretty appealing to those bearing the red pens. Fortunately, neither of the state’s two lines, the Vermonter to DC and the Ethan Allen Express to New York, would be facing total elimination. Of course this is despite a 17% increase in Vermont Amtrak ridership from last October. The VT Agency of Transportation says it might even be able to make some of these cuts without legislative approval:
Several scenarios of cutbacks are being considered, Zicconi said, including eliminating one of the two lines or shortening The Vermonter’s route. The shortened route would eliminate service from St. Albans to White River Junction, cutting out stops in Essex Junction, Waterbury, Montpelier and Randolph in the process.
The Douglas administration has the authority to make some service cutbacks without legislative approval, Zicconi said. “There are other things that need to be done with legislative approval,” he said.
Zicconi did not immediately know the extent of the governor’s authority to curtail Amtrak service.
I’m obviously a supporter of Amtrak subsidies, and indeed generous subsidies for public transportation in general. But unlike a sheerly market oriented approach, subsidies don’t necessarily increase funding as use of the service increases. When this hard economy is creating governmental budget shortfalls all over the country at the same time America is increasingly turning back to the rails, we start to see this ugly paradox in action.
Hopefully some astute Vermont lawmakers will step in to make sure the state can stay competitive when it comes to rail transportation…. especially considering that neighboring states are looking at expanding their own services.