“Amtrak continues to be, for the taxpayers, an extremely expensive railroad. The public has to subsidize every ticket nearly $50. It is long past time for the federal government to get out of way and allow private ventures to provide passenger service to the northeast corridor. The same holds true with regard to high-speed and intercity rail across the country.”
So states the 2012 platform of the Republican Party (under “Infrastructure: Building the Future”). It’s difficult to gauge how to address this attack on passenger rail; party platforms have increasingly become disengaged from the actual policy choices made by party members as the platforms have become entangled in orchestration of conventions that are increasingly targeted towards 24-hour news cycles. And in fact, you don’t have to look hard to find GOP Members standing up for sensible investment in passenger rail.
But there are broader implications to the notion that passenger trains (or many of them) could keep running if federal funding was cut off, and these implications need to be addressed—and rest assured, NARP has communicated its platform recommendations to the leaders of the platform committee. To put it simply: this is not a credible assertion.
The country has been through this before. On Feb. 21, 1985, Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole told a Senate subcommittee, “I do believe that creative methods will be devised. I’m optimistic that the Northeast Corridor especially will survive” without federal funding. But on April 23, she testified to a House subcommittee that the possibility of a private takeover “was one of the things we wanted to look at early on and I think, in the time that has intervened, we have had a chance, really, to focus on that. I don’t think realistically that is likely to happen.”
The $50 per passenger statement masks great complexity.
If you divide Amtrak’s $1.461 billion federal grant last
year by its 30.17 million riders, the result is $48.43 per Amtrak passenger.
But this ignores the significant role that Amtrak plays as host to commuter
railroads where it owns infrastructure, including the Northeast Corridor and
The Republican platform also opposes using Highway Trust Fund money for “other purposes,” which can be read as an attack on the ability of states in certain cases to use Highway Trust Funds for transit, bicycle, pedestrian, and historic facilities. This seems foolish in light of the growing interest of young people in alternatives to driving, and a trend among states towards restricting “when, how and with whom teenagers can get behind the wheel” (NY Times front page story, Aug. 14). Due to this convergence of forces, the average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles per capita in 2001, to 7,900 miles per capita in 2009—a drop of 23 percent.
This trend towards increased reliance on public transit is bookended by the growing ranks of senior citizens interested in car-free living. A 2009 Transportation For America study estimates that by the year 2015, more than 15.5 million Americans 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation is poor or non-existent; Congress needs to address this surging demand for alternatives to automobiles, not take shots at the agencies working to meet the transportation needs of the public.