A Few Snippets About Passenger Rail and Subsidizing the Airlines
I have always nurtured the hope that it would be just a question of time before the media, responsible elected officials, and thoughtful tax-paying folks begin the transition from unsure to sure on the subject of passenger rail.
A high-speed rail line connecting Ohio’s state capital, Columbus, with Chicago is being discussed and with renewed interest since a new study says the proposed route would provide thousands of jobs and would be a financial success. Furthermore, it’s not just public officials at either end of that route who are climbing aboard the rail bandwagon; civic leaders in cities and towns along the proposed route have become aware of the economic benefits to their communities.
One of the reasons cities and towns are taking a fresh, new look at rail is because of the success of new service introduced in other communities … Norfolk, Virginia, for example. Norfolk hadn’t had a rail connection to Washington, DC, for more than 40 years. But six months ago, Norfolk was added to Amtrak’s Northeast Regional schedule with the 220-mile trip taking just under five hours. And the response? More than 70,000 passengers have traveled between Norfolk and Washington in the six months the new service has been offered.
In Pennsylvania, the State Department of Transportation has agreed to pick up the $3.8 million tab to keep Amtrak service runningbetween Pittsburgh and the state capital in Harrisburg. There was some doubt about that happening ever since the ill-advised move by Congress to shift the financial burden of operating some of the regional trains to the various states. When it appeared the state might not come up with the funding and that the Pittsburgh-Harrisburg train would cease operation, there was a great public outcry and the Pennsylvania DOT came up with the money. Of course there was an outcry! People want trains!
And, finally, one more reminder for those folks who fuss and fume about government subsidies for passenger rail. The community of Waimea on the Island of Hawaii is asking the feds to subsidize air service from their little airport to either Honolulu or Maui. Proposed one-way air fares range from $59 to $89. If approved, the subsidy would be as much as an additional $350 per trip for every passenger. This kind of Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy is common all across the country, but that fact is conveniently ignored by those in Congress who constantly belly-ache about the piddling subsidy Amtrak gets … and which House Republicans are now trying to reduce by something like 30 percent. Don’t try to find any logic anywhere in there. It’s a case of ideology attempting to trump practical reality.