AMTRAK HURT BY A FEDERAL BIAS AGAINST RAILROADS

A coach attendant on the Silver Meteor assisting passengers at Winter Haven, Fla. Photo by Chuck Gomez for Amtrak, from the Amtrak Corporate Collection.

By M.E. Singer

Recently, transportation articles have blamed partisan gridlock in Washington as the cause for the continuing stagnation of our inter-city passenger rail. On the contrary, federal funding decisions continue to exemplify one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement: an institutional bias against the railroads, and in particular, against Amtrak.

By contrast, for decades a systemic pattern has existed to publicly fund the infrastructure favoring the airlines. The facts include:

* In 1956, after a mid-air collision over the Grand Canyon between TWA and United passenger planes, President Eisenhower did not hesitate to require Congress to create and pay for the Air Traffic Control System.

* After another collision over New York City in 1960, President Kennedy asked for and got additional funding for the FAA and ATCS.

• This year alone, the FAA has provided $6 million to the T. F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, and $23 million to Dalla/Fort Worth Internation Airport, Texas.

• American taxpayers continue to support the Essential Air Service program with almost $300 million per year. Just one example: an average of seven passengers a day board commercial flights at the airport in Decatur, Illinois, yet that airport receives almost $2.7 million per year from the EAS program. In other words, every passenger boarding a commercial flight at Decatur is subsidized by more than $1,000.

* However, in 2008, after 25 people died and more than 100 were injured in a head-on wreck between a commuter train and a Union Pacific freight near Los Angeles, Congress passed a law requiring both passenger and freight railroads to implement a Positive Train Control system at a cost of many billions of dollars. Not one federal dollar was provided to help the railroads pay for this unfunded mandate, not even to Amtrak, which is owned by the government.

Clearly, there is a long-standing bias at the federal level against railroads, both freight and passenger. So far, this Congress has continued in that vein. With a renewed and increasing interest in passenger rail around the country, the federal bias against railroads gives new meaning to what President Reagan used to say: "Status Quo is Latin for the mess we're in!" 



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