Letter to the 2012 Republican National Platform Committee

Sent August 20 to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (VA), Sen. John Hoeven (ND) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (TN), the leaders of the platform committee.

To the Republican Platform Committee:

We urge positive mention of passenger rail service in the 2012 Republican platform.  Relevant quotations from the 2000 and 2008 Republican platforms are at the bottom of this message.  We urge a revival of something close to the 2000 wording, shown in red near the bottom of this message, and offer the following justification.

Transportation is a foundation on which economic activity has been and will be built in the U.S.  We need to invest in an expanded, flexible and cost-effective transportation system. Rail in general and passenger rail in particular makes sense as part of that flexible and cost effective transportation system.  This is especially important because the U.S. population is expected to grow by 100 million by 2050, airlines are leaving many short-distance markets, and we will not be able to maintain the mobility that supports a robust economy without offering people in many markets, particularly small communities and rural areas, the choice to travel by rail.

Amtrak has shown significant improvements, with record ridership and revenues and reduced need for operating assistance.  It has shown that it can be part of the solution and should be part of a Republican transportation agenda.

Amtrak carried 30.2 million people last year, and expects FY 2012 will be the ninth year of record ridership out of the past ten years. Last year, Amtrak covered 86% of operating costs with non-federal dollars, including commercial revenues.  As you know, all forms of transportation enjoy some form of federal support. 

Passenger trains enjoy broad, bipartisan support in the U.S.  Among current Republican governors, for example, Michigan’s Rick Snyder presides over one of the nation’s strongest state intercity passenger rail programs.  Also, Gov. Scott Walker continues to support improvements in the state-supported Chicago-Milwaukee Amtrak service even though he killed his predecessor’s plans to extend that service to Madison.

During recent House consideration of the FY 2013 transportation/housing appropriations bill, some critical anti-Amtrak amendments were withdrawn and the House actually approved more funding for Amtrak than is in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s bill.

The business community, including many local chambers of commerce, provides strong support for passenger trains, including along Amtrak’s long-distance routes. Examples abound of revitalized passenger train stations spurring the revival of adjacent Main Street business corridors, leading to economic growth and job creation, and of trains serving as vital links to centers of employment.

Our Association is a founding member of the OneRail Coalition, in which the private railroads play a major role, because we recognize the broad range of issues that freight and passenger interests have in common. 

Although the “High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Program” has been criticized because of the paucity of “true high speed rail,” the nation badly needed a program of federal aid to states that want to invest their own money in intercity passenger rail.  The words “and Intercity Passenger” were added to the program’s name to reflect the importance of improving conventional rail.  This is one part of the Recovery Act that is continuing to provide jobs, since the young program took time to launch, and it took time to reach satisfactory agreements with the private railroads whose property in many cases is benefitting from the investments such as improved travel times. 

Republican Platforms From 2000 and 2008

In 2000, the Republican platform stated, in part, “Our national railroad network is a crucial component of our public transportation system.  Railroads helped build our country, and our national passenger railroad network remains a precious resource that can play a key role in transportation and economic growth.  Republicans support a healthy intercity passenger rail system, and where economically viable, the development of a national high-speed passenger railroad system as an instrument of economic development, and enhanced mobility.  We also support a multi-modal approach to our transportation needs.”

Discussion of transportation in 2008 did not mention rail but did include this: “We urgently need to preserve the highway, transit, and air facilities built over the last century so they can serve generations to come. At the same time, we are committed to minimizing transportation’s impact on climate change, our local environments, and the nation’s energy use. Careful reforms of environmental reviews and the permitting process should speed projects to completion.”  [Click here for the full document.]