FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Starving AMTRAK

by RALPH NADER

With the rapid expansion of federal spending responding to the perceived national security requirements after 9/11, passenger railroad supporters looked forward to a tripleheader.

First passenger railroad service would have to be upgraded and expanded to facilitate mass population evacuations from cities during attack emergencies.

Second, by embarking on a “national defense” passenger rail program, there would be less consumption of gasoline and less gridlock on congested highways.

Third, the energy efficiency of transporting people by intercity rail and commuter rail would diminish some of the buildup of greenhouse gases.

Right after 9/11, the airlines descended on Washington, D.C. and got a package of loans, guarantees and other federal assistance amounting to $15 billion.

AMTRAK got just about nothing. But then for this vast nation with large pockets of consistently clogged highways, AMTRAK has been getting very little federal aid since its creation in 1971 as a public service corporation. President Bush wants to cut what little (just over $1 billion a year) AMTRAK receives.

Consider this: according to the Government Accountability Office, AMTRAK has received a total of $30 billion during the last thirty six years in federal aid for its intercity train service over the entire country. A few weeks ago, the Federal Reserve bailed out Bear Stearns, a large, reckless investment banking firm on Wall Street for just under $30 billion.

Japan and Western European countries have modern, fast rail services, with modern equipment and solid rail beds coursing throughout their territories with governmental assistance. They are a public service, not meant to make a profit, anymore than public libraries or public schools, although the rail passengers do pay for their tickets.

In our country, AMTRAK has been starved by the federal government which lavishes taxpayer money on the airlines in a variety of ways.

As a result, AMTRAK has aging equipment, has to use the freight railroad beds and has very little money for rolling stock and track capacity, especially at critical “chokepoints” where delays occur with freight trains.

With soaring gasoline and airfare prices, more Americans are taking mass transit and AMTRAK to get to their destinations. AMTRAK is on the way to a record year, transporting over 27 million passengers in 2008, with ridership up over 12 percent from last year.

AMTRAK and its equipment suppliers, constrained by money, have been shrinking. Routes have been abandoned. Manufacturers of rail cars and locomotives have also diminished. So, expansion to meet the growing demand will be difficult and take some time. This passenger railroad carries less than 5 percent of the domestic passengers carried by the airlines.

Losing about $1 billion a year, AMTRAK’s financial needs are trivial compared to large for-profit corporations who feed from the public trough in Washington, D.C. Some Congressional help is finally on the way.

The House and the Senate have passed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act with veto-proof margins to over-ride a threatened veto by George W. Bush.

Assuming no major changes in the House-Senate conference on the bill, AMTRAK will receive annual appropriations closer to $2 billion a year, compared to the current level of $1.2 billion. This includes money for capital investment, for reducing debt and expanding operating budgets for more passengers. There is also a matching-grant program for the states to expand service, similar to the program long in place for highway construction.

The large freight railroads are pressing Congress for public money and tax credits to upgrade railroad beds and pay for track expansion, which could redound to the benefit of passenger rail service as well.

The American people have to ask themselves how robust and convenient a modern passenger rail system they want. As good as the one in Canada? As good as the systems in France and Germany?

Given the way the federal government wastes money, there are many ways to justify a first-class, high-speed passenger rail system that will save more than it costs—especially in a security emergency, a national disaster like Katrina and the delays, fuel and pollution avoided.

All in all, a worthy topic for public debate during this political year.

RALPH NADER is running for president as an independent.

 

 

 

 

 

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
Robert Hunziker
America’s Tale of Two Cities, Redux
David Jaffe
The Republican Party and the ‘Lunatic Right’
John Davis
No Tomorrow or Fashion-Forward
Patrick Cockburn
Treating Mental Health Patients as Criminals
Jack Dresser
An Accelerating Palestine Rights Movement Faces Uncertain Direction
George Wuerthner
Diet for a Warming Planet
Lawrence Wittner
Why Is There So Little Popular Protest Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?
Colin Todhunter
From Earth Day to the Monsanto Tribunal, Capitalism on Trial
Paul Bentley
Teacher’s Out in Front
Franklin Lamb
A Post-Christian Middle East With or Without ISIS?
Kevin Martin
We Just Paid our Taxes — are They Making the U.S. and the World Safer?
Erik Mears
Education Reformers Lowered Teachers’ Salaries, While Promising to Raise Them
Binoy Kampmark
Fleeing the Ratpac: James Packer, Gambling and Hollywood
Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
Paul Street
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?
Andrew Levine
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Paul Atwood
Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?
Robert Hunziker
Trump and Global Warming Destroy Rivers
Vijay Prashad
Turkey, After the Referendum
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, the DOJ and Julian Assange
CJ Hopkins
The President Formerly Known as Hitler
Steve Reyna
Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way
Lucy Steigerwald
Stop Suggesting Mandatory National Service as a Fix for America’s Problems
Robert Fisk
It is Not Just Assad Who is “Responsible” for the Rise of ISIS
John Laforge
“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal
Norman Solomon
The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia
Andrew Stewart
Can We Finally Get Over Bernie Sanders?
Susan Babbitt
Don’t Raise Liberalism From the Dead (If It is Dead, Which It’s Not)
Uri Avnery
Palestine’s Nelson Mandela
Fred Nagel
It’s “Deep State” Time Again
John Feffer
The Hunger President
Stephen Cooper
Nothing is Fair About Alabama’s “Fair Justice Act”
Jack Swallow
Why Science Should Be Political
Chuck Collins
Congrats, Graduates! Here’s Your Diploma and Debt
Aidan O'Brien
While God Blesses America, Prometheus Protects Syria, Russia and North Korea 
Patrick Hiller
Get Real About Preventing War
David Rosen
Fiction, Fake News and Trump’s Sexual Politics
Evan Jones
Macron of France: Chauncey Gardiner for President!
David Macaray
Adventures in Labor Contract Language
Ron Jacobs
The Music Never Stopped
Kim Scipes
Black Subjugation in America
Sean Stinson
MOAB: More Obama and Bush
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail