Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Republicans seek destruction of Amtrak

Led by Republicans seeking to dismantle and sell off profitable Amtrak routes to private corporations, the U. S. House Appropriations subcommittee voted to literally decimate Amtrak’s budget by approving only 227 million in federal subsidies for the national rail system. As Amtrak had asked for 2.2 billion, the budget approved was a mere 10% of an already bare-bones request.

Conservative Republicans - especially those from southern states who jealously guard billions in federal expenditures when it comes to southern military bases – have historically opposed railways servicing the industrial, urban north. To put this in perspective: Amtrak was reluctantly approved for 227 million dollars to serve 30 million passengers each year; and yet, Congress approved improvements for a three-mile stretch to Interstate 93 in Boston (the “Big Dig”) to the tune of 22 billion dollars – all for a road that carries 73 million passengers per year.

A three-mile section of interstate: 22 Billion, for 73 million passengers ($301. per passenger)

A national rail system: 227 million for 30 million passengers ($7.56 per passenger)

The idea that the federal government should not subsidize Amtrak flies in the face of the reality that the federal government regularly, routinely, and to an obscene degree, subsidizes the construction, maintenance, and operation of roadways in this country.

Meanwhile, the House plan would eliminate 150 trains and strand 1/3 of Amtrak’s current customers.

As approved, the House proposal would eliminate runs between Portland, Maine and Boston; Philadelphia and Harrisburg (thus breaking the link between Pittsburg and Philadelphia); Detroit and Chicago; Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and Salem Oregon; San Francisco and the Sacramento Valley; Los Angeles and San Diego; Albany and Montreal; and all service in Vermont. In Virginia, work on the Norfolk service – scheduled to go online in two years – would cease. In fact, while trains would pass through Virginia, the Lynchburg-DC link would end, and not a single train would originate anywhere in the state. Rail linking St. Louis with Kansas City would stop. Commuter towns west of Chicago would lose all service.

In spite of the potential of an increased number of viable routes between major population centers, Rail service in the United States falls behind every industrialized nation in the world: Britain, the European continent, Japan, and even China put the U.S. to shame. We complain about our loss of manufacturing…and yet, when given the opportunity to expand our industrial base and improve transportation… House Republicans attempt to destroy the opportunity.

Rail provides clean, efficient transport for commuters. It reduces traffic congestion and pollution, providing a safer commute for motorists; shorter response times for fire, EMTs, and other first responders; and healthier air for all with concurrent lower costs for those with respiratory ailments and overall pollution abatement.

To cut funding for Amtrak for the flimsy reason that it’s an unprofitable venture is laughable in light of the amount of funding spent on roads, which are universally unprofitable.

A online petition to support Amtrak is available at

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