Bush plan would harm U.S. passenger rail system!
The Bush Administration unveiled in late July a long-awaited plan for reforming Amtrak. The "plan" however does nothing but destroy Amtrak through shifting passenger rail costs to states. With many states in budget crisis, few would come forward to fund intercity passenger rail service. While signaling an end to federal government support of passenger rail, the administration has not said it would follow a similar course with competitor transportation modes such as highways and aviation, projects that the federal government has long taken the lead in funding.
Sample letter you can write to your elected officials urging them to reject flawed Bush Amtrak "plan"
Statement on Bush plan from Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition corridor group.
The following is Amtrak Reform Council member James Coston's reaction to the
Amtrak Reform Council member says Bush Administration flunked Transportation 101 (the myth of passenger train profitability).
The most conspicuous feature of the administration's "plan" is that it
has no numbers showing the amount of money the administration proposes
to commit to support passenger-train service or infrastructure
development. Nor is there any clue where the money would come from or
the kind of funding mechanism that would be used.
The absence of these "details" suggests a lack of seriousness in the
administration's intent. It's not as if the U.S. lacks models or
historical precedent for funding transportation improvements. Federal
funding of highways goes back to 1916, when matching funds in a 50/50
ratio were dispensed to state highway departments. The federal money
came out of the General Fund. There was no federal tax on fuel or
federal highway trust fund. With the Interstate program of 1956 the
federal/state ratio became 80/20 and the federal share was raised from a
fuel tax placed in the newly created Highway Trust Fund. President
Harry Truman's Federal Airport Aid Program of 1946 had a 50/50 ratio,
with the difference that local communities rather than states received
the federal funds and matched them. The federal share came from the
General Fund. There was no federal tax on airline tickets until the
start of the Airport and Airways Trust Fund in 1971. The federal/local
matching ratio for airport development now is 90/10. Inland Waterways
started up in 1919 as a pure federal program financed out of the General
Fund. A tax on towboat fuel was instituted in the early 90s.
Any of these models could have been used by the administration to
develop a passenger-rail funding plan. But the administration's silence
regarding the scale and structure of the federal government's role is
highlighted by an overemphasis on the role of states and so-called
"interstate compacts," as if states alone could fund and operate
intercity rail services without substantial federal funding. This
omission is ominously suggestive of the period from 1953 to 1961, when
the Eisenhower administration tried to conduct an "orderly withdrawal of
the federal government from the Airport Aid program." The local
communities and the airlines protested futilely that they did not have
the resources to construct a uniform national network of air traffic
control or to construct commercial airports at their own expense, but
the Eisenhower administration did not even start to "get it" until late
1958--after a major air-traffic control meltdown in the
East in1954 grounded 45,000 passengers and three fatal mid-air
collisions from 1956 to 1958 killed more than 150 people. I hope we do
not have to witness more mobility meltdowns and more tragedies before
the administration acknowledges that America needs a modern network of
passenger trains and a modern infrastructure to move them.
Regarding the "successful service models" the administration claims have
been used in California, Washington/Oregon and North Carolina, these are
one-of-a-kind projects that are not likely to be repeated due to
exhaustion of state funding. Like certain fine wines, these state
funding concepts do not "travel well." The managers of the California
passenger-train network say they need 60 more coaches NOW but cannot buy
them because the state is broke and any restoration of its finances is
years down the road. The 1990 bond issue that raised money for rail
improvements in California could not be passed today--indeed, it failed
when backers tried it a second time in 1992. The Washington/Oregon
program is in danger because the Oregon legislature cannot come up with
its share of next year's funding. The bi-state program may soon become a
Washington-only affair. North Carolina cobbled together one train of
its own from some of the few remaining 1950s passenger cars still
available and still capable of upgrade--hardly a recipe that other states
can replicate. And North Carolina owns its own railroad--a line built
by the state in the 1860s and leased for 999 years to the Norfolk
Southern. That gives North Carolina a unique lever not accessible to
states that must run their trains over privately owned freight track.
Finally, those "multi-state compacts" the administration talks
about--can it point to one that exists? In 1995 Illinois and Wisconsin
argued interminably over how much each should contribute to the Hiawatha
trains between Chicago and Milwaukee. Which state benefits
more--Illinois, which has most of the track, or Wisconsin, which
furnishes most of the passengers? Try to assemble three states into a
compact and you have a formula for futility.
California does a great job of running its own intrastate trains, but
they've been trying to extend service to Las Vegas for years and get
nowhere because the Nevada legislature isn't on the same page yet.
Result: The second-busiest city pair in the nation, L.A.-Las Vegas, has
no passenger-train service whatever, while the Los Angeles and Las Vegas
airports and Interstate 15 are overwhelmed with tired and irritated
travelers who have no choice but to fly or drive.
There IS an answer. There IS a successful interstate compact. It's
called the federal government. The federal government has
constitutional responsibility to promote interstate commerce, and except
for railroad passenger service, it discharges that responsibility pretty
well. It's been building highways across state lines for 87 years,
running airways across state lines since 1926, building interstate
lock-and-dam networks since 1923 and even operated its own
barge-and-towboat company, Federal Barge Lines, from 1919 to 1953.
Yet today, when America desperately needs interstate passenger train
corridors, the administration says, "leave it to the states--they know
What is so unique about railroads--with their heavy capital-investment
costs and their obligation to serve corridors that stretch through
several states--that makes them so ideal for state and community
funding? And how are the states and cities with their limited funding
ability and limited ability to coordinate their activities, supposed to
fund these rail corridors at a level that will make them competitive
with highways and airways that not only received federal funding--but
have an 87-year head start?
The administration's plan for Amtrak is not serious. It's an abdication
of federal responsibility in the face of a growing challenge to
interstate mobility that threatens the nation's economic growth. It
lacks vision, and it reflects an unwillingness to lead.
Released on July 28th
NOTE FROM MOKSRail:
PLEASE CONTINUE TO WRITE YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS!
Passenger rail supporters should write their congressional and Senate representatives and tell them that dismantling this nations passenger rail system- at a time when all transportation modes are being strained due to increases in travel and increasing congestion- would be a terrible mistake.
Amtrak, despite its many faults and past management mistakes, is carrying more passengers than it has ever carried. 23 million Americans took Amtrak trips in 2001
America has a passenger rail system comparable to Third World nations. Amtrak should be expanded and reformed, not downsized. Thats all Amtrak has been for the past years downsized. Every time an administration or Congress came along that wasnt favorable to Amtrak, management was forced to cut service due to not receiving proper funding. This is a dilemma that the nations air travel system, which has received increasing amounts of taxpayer subsidy, has never had to face.
Amtrak already provides short-distance passenger rail service to the nations leading corridors. Most of these corridor trains are funded by states which should properly fund such localized and glorified commuter trains. On the other hand, it is the federal governments role to provide infrastructure funding for national, intercity passenger trains, as the federal government does with Interstate highway construction and airports and the FAAs expensive air traffic control system.
This country has long had an imbalanced transportation funding system. Amtrak has been attacked for receiving $25 billion in subsidies since its 1971 founding. Critics overlook the fact that highways annually receive $30 billion in federal assistance. In the year 2001 alone, the airline industry, which received $15 billion in addition to its yearly $15 billion appropriation, received more taxpayer money than our nation's rail passenger system has received in 30 years.
Write Your Elected Officials
Please tell your elected officials how you have taken Amtrak trips for pleasure and business. Please state how passenger train travel unlike the cattle-car airline service is a comfortable and relaxing alternative to the increasingly crowded Interstate highway system and delay-plagued air travel system. Please urge our leaders to fix not destroy- Americas passenger rail system. Please work to provide funding for a system that better serves the need of the traveling public.
Addresses of Kansas and Missouri congressional representatives and the president and secretary of transportation can be found here. Word- text version
FOR UPDATED LEGISLATIVE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT
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