Amtrak and Transit: Big Winners in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – The two days of meetings here of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) have concluded and, as always, it was time well spent. NARP is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates more and better trains for the U.S. and I serve on the governing body, the elected Council of Representatives.

Also as always during these meetings, we had a chance to see some of the local rail transportation facilities in our host city. Several things struck me as impressive … even amazing.

We toured Amtrak’s state-of-the-art repair and maintenance facility here – brand-new and built with stimulus funds. Both short- and long-haul trains are inspected, cleaned, and necessary repairs done by crews working two shifts.

Two things struck me during our tour. First, becoming aware for the first time that in all the years before this facility opened, Amtrak workers had to do their work out in the open … in blazing sun (it was 102 degrees Thursday afternoon during our tour) and in the rain. And, second, realizing once again just how complex a passenger rail operation is … from inspecting every wheel on every car to fixing a jammed bedroom door to washing all the windows to restocking the right number of steaks and canned sodas and clean sheets … and on and on. It’s truly an amazing process.

We also heard about the huge strides public transportation has taken throughout Los Angeles county over the past 20 years. Back in the late 80s, the citizens of LA voted to tax themselves another half-percent, with the proceeds dedicated to public transportation, and today there is light rail, heavy rail, coordinated bus operations covering hundreds of miles of track with millions of people are using the system every week. And this, remember, is the Home of the Car Culture in the U.S.

Still there are strident voices opposing rail projects everywhere. Those naysayers need to be made to answer two simple questions: First, if transit is a proven a success in Los Angeles, why do you think it will fail here? And how do you plan to move people in and out of the city when your population increases by 20-25 percent over the next 30 years?