Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Correcting George Will on Amtrak

TFA considers Mr. Will to be an intellectual and he has a history, despite his lamentable conservative leanings, of consistent outbursts of reasonableness and compassion. That is how we know that his slight misstatement in the recent column “Have we got a deal for you?” was exactly that – a slight inadvertent error.

Because of the high regard in which George Will is held around these parts, TFA cheerfully sets the record straight with no hard feelings.

Making the case (and a rather convincing one, at that) against the government intervention for General Motors, Will lapsed into long outdated arguments. He said, “But one reason Amtrak runs on red ink is that legislators treat it as their toy train set, preventing it from cutting egregiously unprofitable routes.”

We think he’s talking about the Sunset, another favorite target of right wing wackos, a category into which we do not include George Will (at this time). It has been discussed to death here, and in other more intellectually honest and generous venues, that a train that runs only three days a week will have less than half the inventory of seats for sale and the same overhead as other trains.

Besides, this stuff about how some trains are worse performers is just plain strategy to “divide and conquer>” All of the long distance trains suffer from a lack of equipment. the routes are all undeserved and the trains often do not make good connections. Most of this is the result of a deliberate Republican preference to big money highway, trucking and airline special interests.

Now, let us bring forward, bound in shackles with an orange jump suit, United States Senator Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) It is Byrd’s political muscle that held Amtrak captive until a train called “The Cardinal” was created to provide passenger train service to his state. It was bald face politics, pure and simple.

Today, this train serves Cincinnati, what should be one of America’s most important rail hubs, three times a week in the dead of night. It is a reasonably good train and seems to generate some revenue. One wonders how this region might have been served had decisions been made on the basis of transportation studies.

Don’t get me wrong. West Virginia has real transportation needs and Amtrak should play an important role there.

But, gosh darn it George, that was back in the 80s. That was when Reagan Budget Director David Stockman was peddling his egregious lies about “empty Amtrak trains.”

Bob Packwood pushed for the Portland section of the Empire Builder, and you know what? The transportation study showed it was a good idea and it has worked like a charm. Sticking up for your folks is not always the wrong thing.

Republican Senator John McCain has, by contrast, exercises an almost irrational hatred for Amtrak.

Mr. Will, as a fair minded man, ought to be aware that Amtrak has been the Republican party’s favorite whipping boy for more than 30 years. If anybody has played hardball politics with Amtrak, Republicans win 10-1. Republican presidents refuse to make appointments to the Amtrak board and, when they do put somebody in, it is generally with the purpose of shutting down everything outside the northeast corridor.

Congress has piddled around in Amtrak dining car service to the point where, it it were not such a disastrous insult to passengers, it would be a joke. Not too long ago, one congressman actually accused Amtrak of causing pollution and denied ever hearing that the National Railroad Passenger Corporation was in dire need of equipment. I think Congressman Boozman recognises his error, so I am very pleased to cut him some slack and suggest that west and northwest Arkansas might benefit greatly from expanded rail passenger service.

Mr. Will, we’re willing to let things pass this time, but don’t let it happen again.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

One Response

  1. Chris Robbins says:

    George Will should talk to otherwise conservatives in places like Cut Bank, MT, Minot, ND, Hastings, NE, and Newton, KS. Or talk to central Oklahomans about the Heartland Flyer. People from all sides of the ideological spectrum (outside the Ron Paul lunatic fringe, that is) see the necessity for passenger rail, especially in the coming decades.

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June 2009


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