Rail Passengers Praise Weyrich as Rail and Transit Advocate

December 18, 2008
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Paul M. Weyrich, though most widely known as a major force in the conservative movement, also was a vigorous advocate both for rail transit and intercity passenger trains.  This was reflected in his work on Capitol Hill, and his service on the Amtrak Board of Directors, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission (NSTPRSC), and as publisher of The New Electric Railway Journal.

NARP President Ross Capon today observed, “Advocates of rail passenger service have lost a very powerful voice in the passing of Paul Weyrich.  He demonstrated that passenger train service is a critical part of a balanced transportation system and is consistent with conservative values.”

Illustrating Weyrich’s effectiveness, NSTPRSC Commissioner Tom Skancke of Nevada said at a December 6, 2007, news conference at Washington Union Station, “Over the past 18 months, Paul and Frank [Wisconsin DOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi] have done a marvelous job of educating me and the rest of the commissioners about passenger rail and transit.  I’m now an advocate and think rail is the future of transportation in the U.S.  It has to be” (quoted in our February, 2008, newsletter).

At the Commission’s January 15, 2008, news conference at the National Press Club, Weyrich himself said, “I am a conservative Republican…I generally don’t favor raising other taxes [but] I don’t see any alternative [to increasing the gasoline tax now]” (our March, 2008, newsletter).

Weyrich, a long-time member of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, addressed the organization’s board at its October, 2000, meeting in Pittsfield, Mass. He talked of his role (as aide to Sen. Gordon Allott, R-CO) in making sure that the legislation creating what became Amtrak reached President Nixon in San Clemente ahead of staff that was going to recommend against signing. Weyrich emphasized providing “choices” as a conservative value—and as something that trains and transit do.

Indeed, “The Need for Choice in Transportation” was the title of his Sept. 24, 2008, column, which cited the Commission’s support for highway tolling and stated in part, “If America is to invest in the level of mass transit needed to give taxpayers a real choice to drive or take transit, revenues must increase significantly at the state and local levels. Some have claimed that the Commission is too pro-rail. That charge is false. We are for giving citizens a choice.  If they elect to drive they ought to pay more of the actual cost of that decision.  If they choose transit we would need to face this fact.  Half of America has no real transit facilities available. Those which do offer an alternative are often unattractive, do not keep a reliable schedule and in some cases do not go where people want to go.”

As consultant to the American Public Transportation Association, he co-authored with William S. Lind several valuable advocacy papers. Among the many listed when one searches “Weyrich” at the APTA website are: Winning Transit Referenda: Some Conservative Advice (April 2005), Bring Back the Streetcars! A Conservative Vision of Tomorrow’s Urban Transportation (A Study Prepared by the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation, June 2002)

After attending the Washington Union Station 100th anniversary observance on October 5, 2008, Weyrich wrote, in part: “I don’t always agree with Prince Charles but when it comes to architecture he is spot on. He has made it clear that he believes classical architecture is a tribute to God Almighty. I could not agree more.”