Category: Times Leader Unpublished
Submitted to Times Leader 6/24/2012
Mostly kudos to Times Leader's Mark Guydish for his piece titled, "Romney should talk to the real people who use Amtrak." My only negative is that it was a bit more political than it needed to be. Republicans do not like to spend money on social projects and Democrats like to spend money on anything that gives them credit for being the good guys, though the spending may be fiscally irresponsible. Romney's reaction to rail is reflexive and he may never have ever had the need to take a train. That does not rule him out as a good presidential choice. However, he and the GOP need a wake-up call on what is best for America in this instance.
For its own reasons, the GOP has been against subsidized passenger rail for many, many years. George Bush planned to cut out the subsidies and put Amtrak out of business. Yet, there is not enough money in the treasury to build all of the highways necessary for the Northeast Corridor alone to make up the slack. Republicans like to nail Amtrak for the $30 billion in subsidies spent on Amtrak over its first 30 years, but in that same period the federal government spent $1.89 Trillion on air and highway infrastructure, according to the New York Times and Washington Post.
I just finished writing a book titled "Take the Train to Myrtle Beach." It is in the process of being printed right now. This past weekend, I got back from an Amtrak train ride to Myrtle Beach. It was a great experience. It could have been better if the subsidies were enough to help Amtrak keep improving the system. I spent three weeks a few years back on a Eurail pass and found out how far behind the US is in passenger rail transportation. The Europeans invest well over $100 billion per year in their transportation infrastructure. The fact is that no passenger rail service in the world is without subsidies. Instead of decreasing subsidies, the US government needs to make Amtrak into a first class system and a world leader in passenger rail.
While the US seems to want to offshore anything of value, the Europeans find great value in rail transportation. Now that China is the world leader in everything, it is worth noting that the Chinese have allocated $292 Billion for their cross country high speed rail systems to be completed by 2020. The Russians have recently picked up on the idea and have allocated $390 billion for improvements in their system by 2030. Meanwhile, in the US, our short-sighted Congress is quibbling about a $1 Billion or so subsidy for Amtrak. Small people always get small results.
Just one more set of facts. If the US were to build a high speed rail line between Washington DC and San Francisco, using the European high speed miles per hour (150 mph) spec, we could take a train cross country in 16 hrs. v 80 hrs. today. If we used the French definition (173 mph) and built the track and the rolling stock to that spec, it would be just 14 hours by train to go coast to coast. Wow! Trains are great and roomy with no TSA hassle or full body scans, and no fill-ups every 300 miles. The view is great; the sleepers are great; the experience is one of a kind. It is time to stop quibbling, put up the money, and join the rest of the world.