Putting Amtrak’s Subsidy into Perspective.

Some of the best writing — and certainly some of the most difficult – can be found in 30-second radio and TV spots, especially those advocating positions on public policy issues. Explaining complicated ideas in a handful of words? Take it from me, it’s hard. 

And it’s one of the challenges faced by those of us involved in the advocacy work of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP). On a daily basis, we’re communicating with people who don’t know very much about train travel, let alone the larger transportation issues. We have to present our case in just a few words and with impact so they “get it” right away.

That’s especially true when we’re dealing with the subsidy issue. People keep hearing from the anti-government ideologues that Amtrak is a black hole a money pit into which the federal government is pouring mega-billions of dollars. 

Of course, all public transportation is subsidized in one way or another and, yes, Amtrak does get an annual subsidy of about $1.5 billion. But these days, that’s almost chump change – certainly not the huge amount that Amtrak’s detractors would have us believe. So the challenge is to find the most effective way to deal with the issue and to put it into perspective for the general public.

Well, first, people ought to know that Amtrak’s $1.5 billion subsidy is actually a tiny four hundredths of one percent(.0004%) of the federal budget.

Next, we need to tell them that every year the U.S. government gives a total of $38 billion in foreign aid to other countries around the world.

And here’s what folks can really get their heads around: 

Every year, the U.S. Congress gives 25 times more money to foreign countries than it gives to Amtrak in support of America’s passenger rail system.

And if that ain’t enough to piss off a preacher, it damn well ought to be!