(written by Rick, posted by Dan)
35 years ago today, Amtrak assumed operation of America's passenger
trains nationwide, with no clear mandate from Congress. Many believe
that the unspoken mandate was to provide political cover for the
elimination of all intercity passenger trains. If that is true, it
isn't surprising that America lost 60 percent of its passenger trains
on May 1, 1971.
The fuel crisis of 1973 made it difficult to kill the American
passenger train altogether, but that hasn't stopped people from trying
every year since. Despite the annual attacks, Amtrak has successfully
maintained a core network that will be increasingly important to our
economy in the years ahead.
With China and India driving up the demand for oil, we have entered a
much more severe and longer lasting fuel crisis. We can no longer
afford the annual Amtrak funding circus.
While America has dithered over pennies for Amtrak, our worldwide
competitors have invested billions of dollars in highly productive,
fuel-efficient railroad networks. Soon, in both Europe and China,
high-speed trains will link cities as far apart as Chicago and the East
Coast. As fuel costs go up, they will simply take more trips by train.
We will be stuck at home, unable to afford the trip.
And to make it worse, the highway trust fund is expected to be bankrupt
in three short years. Simply maintaining the existing highway network
will require a substantial tax increase. There will not be enough left
over to grow the system.
We must begin an aggressive program to expand the passenger train
network nationwide and we must do it soon. Railroads carry more people
at higher speeds for a fraction of the investment needed for highways.
Shortened travel times, more productive travel and reduced fuel
consumption come as part of the package.
By investing the cost of just two tanks of gas in faster trains today,
we can build a stronger economy and prepare for even higher gas prices
in the future.
The first step is to stop bickering about Amtrak and get to the hard
work ahead: Working with freight railroads to upgrade their tracks for
faster and more frequent trains, both passenger and freight. It is the
only affordable option.