Response published by the Mobile Press-Register, July 23, 2007

More passenger rail service needed
Mobile Press-Register
July 23, 2007

Regarding the July 17 editorial, “Democrats seek more funds for boondoggle,” Americans want more passenger rail service. In 2006, a Harris poll indicated that 79 percent want to see an increasing proportion of traffic going by inter-city commuter rail.

Perhaps this is why the Republican-controlled Congress defied the Bush administration’s efforts to shut down Amtrak.

Amtrak has seen record ridership in recent years. Ridership is up 5 percent through nine months of fiscal 2007 (October-June) compared with a year earlier. Travel on the Crescent, measured in passenger-miles, rose as well.

Passenger rail needs to serve more of America, so we have crafted a vision of passenger rail growth and expansion
(http://www.narprail.org/vision) in which Alabama would be a major beneficiary.

ROSS B. CAPON
Executive Director
National Association of Railroad Passengers
Washington


© 2007 Press-Register

Editorial: Democrats seek more funds for boondoggle Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Mobile Press-Register

IN THE 2006 congressional election, the Democrats successfully exploited the Republicans’ hypocrisy on federal spending, hitting the GOP again and again for preaching fiscal discipline while running up the budget deficit.

The Republicans certainly had it coming: They passed spending bills loaded with thousands of pork barrel projects, substantially increased discretionary spending on domestic programs, and added more than $500 billion to the tab for Medicare by approving a prescription drug benefit.

But if voters thought the Democratic Party—the party of big government—would show any more restraint when it gained controlled on Capitol Hill, they can now rid themselves of that delusion.

Consider proposals currently under consideration in the House and Senate to increase funding for that classic federal boondoggle, Amtrak.

To fiscal conservatives, the survival of Amtrak under a Republican Congress was symbolic of the larger failure of Republican leaders to rein in spending.

In its 37 years of existence, Amtrak has never broken even. The original sponsors of the rail service envisioned it receiving federal subsidies for a few years before it established itself and began turning a profit. Instead, the losses—and the subsidies—kept piling up, making it a fat target for critics of wasteful federal spending.

The Republicans failed to stop the gravy train while they were in charge. Some GOP leaders, including Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, strongly backed more subsidies for Amtrak.

Now that the Democrats are in charge, the outlook for wasteful spending on lightly used rail service has never looked better.

Both the House and Senate budget committees have approved significant increases in Amtrak’s federal subsidy. The House bill would increase Amtrak’s fiscal year 2008 budget from $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion; the Senate measure contains a slightly more modest $70 million increase in the subsidy.

Amtrak’s supporters argue that Americans need mass transit as an alternative to highway and air travel. The trouble with that argument is that Americans literally don’t buy it; or at least they don’t choose to travel in large numbers on Amtrak.

On average, more than 50 percent of the seats on Amtrak trains go unoccupied. Ridership did increase by 5.4 percent in the first six months of 2007, but that’s not nearly enough for Amtrak to overcome its financial woes.

President Bush has a far more realistic view of Amtrak’s worth to the taxpayers. He wants to cut its subsidy to $800 million.

That would be a good first step toward phasing out taxpayer bailouts for Amtrak. If the Democrats really do want to be good stewards of public money, they should join the president in eliminating mass transit funding that supports services the public doesn’t use.

© 2007 Press-Register