Members of Congress responsible for our nation’s transportation systems, including our national passenger rail system, are once again considering the reauthorization of Amtrak. The choice is clear: give Amtrak the resources it needs, or choose the routine ritual of starving it and wondering why we don’t have faster trains and more service.
As a backdrop, we are in an era where backward thinking by a few is holding up vital investments in our economy like a modern Amtrak network that can shorten travel times and offer Americans safe service that reflects 21st century technology. Since when has the rest of the world out-innovated us? Why can China and Europe plan for a 300 mph train while we chug along at double-digit speeds in most places? Answer: because austerity-at-any-cost extremists in Congress have wielded too much power in Washington.
For those who will lead the rewrite of Amtrak law, let’s be clear: no country on the face of the earth has created an efficient national passenger rail system without large-scale public funding and extensive government oversight. It can’t be done. And even those who claim private companies do it better overseas, conveniently ignore that those “private” entities are using publicly funded infrastructure. Facts are stubborn here.
Amtrak is operating with infrastructure that was built in the middle of the last century and in some cases the late 19th century. It has been set up to fail by some who want to starve it first and then declare it a failed government program.
Given that Americans of all political stripes support Amtrak, there’s no reason for the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) to fall victim to the kind of extremist congressional antics we have seen in the last couple years. Let’s remember that in 2008, PRIIA received broad bipartisan support and was signed into law by that liberal President Bush.
Here are the essential elements of a plan:
For those in Congress who get squeamish at the thought of a major financial investment by the federal government, consider this: polls have shown that people support public funding for Amtrak, whether they are liberal or conservative, big city or rural. The people want it, and they know it won’t be free.
In other words, if you fund it…people will ride it.
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