An interesting editorial ran in the pages of the Oklahoman titled “Loss of Amtrak would be blow to state”. In the September 22 issue, the notably conservative paper expressed concern over the U.S. House’s proposed fiscal year 2012 budget, which included a provision that would prohibit federal operating funds being used for state supported services like the Heartland Flyer.
What’s surprising is how frankly—and humbly—the Oklahoman admitted that their transportation worldview was just plain wrong:
THE Oklahoman supports the state subsidy for Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer route.
There, we’ve said it. A newspaper that celebrates free markets and questions government subsidies is inconsistent in supporting the Amtrak subsidy. Fair enough. But as satirist Jonathan Swift wrote, “There is nothing constant in this world but inconsistency.”
Now the Okalahoman’s editorial board is hardly offering unqualified praise. They look on with some trepidation at the cost of subsidizing transportation. But they recognize that all forms of transportation are subsidized, and Amtrak’s value to the public is rising:
Yet Amtrak’s ridership has grown by 37 percent in the past decade. Its 40-year subsidy was actually $36 billion, compared with the $40 billion that Washington spent on highways last year alone. The Obama administration wants to increase rail spending, not eliminate it. And, yes, we’d like to see the Heartland Flyer extended to meet an east-west line in Kansas.
You get the impression that this “libertarians dislike Amtrak, libertarians get Amtrak service, libertarians develop a begrudging appreciation for Amtrak” formula is ripe for repetition. That’s one of the many reasons why it’s so important to expand intercity passenger rail’s footprint in the U.S. Because while there have been better final sentences than “We can live without Amtrak, but its loss would be a blow to the quality of life in Oklahoma,” there is no sweeter tune than that sung by the rehabilitated.