Amtrak Dodges Another Bullet.
For years, Amtrak has been under constant pressure from Congress to cut costs. It all comes from Republicans opposed to Amtrak receiving any federal subsidies. From time to time, legislation has been proposed to eliminate Amtrak’s annual subsidy, now amounting to around $1.1 billion a year. There’s general agreement that sooner or later the loss of those funds would mean the end of Amtrak’s national network, which now carries about 14 million passengers a year.
The most common misunderstanding among members of Congress and their staffs has to do with who rides those long-distance trains. So let me suggest an admittedly over-simplified description of the passengers on one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains:
1. Most of the people traveling in coach are there because it’s the only affordable public transportation available to them . . . and it’s the the federal subsidies that help keep the fares affordable.
2. Sleeping car passengers choose to travel by train and we choose to ride in comfort. We pay top dollar for our transportation and we are not beneficiaries of the federal subsidies!
Nevertheless, you still hear grumblings in the halls of Congress that the long distance trains are full of wealthy retirees seeing the country on vacation and why the hell should the American taxpayers subsidize those people?
Whatever his alleged rationale, just a few days ago, Representative Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama, presented an amendment that would end any subsidizing of Amtrak by the federal government which, of course, would eventually mean the end of the national network of long-distance trains.
The Brooks amendment was defeated with 293 nay votes. But 128 members of the House of Representatives—all Republicans—voted aye and, in so doing, voted against the best interests of the people who sent them to Congress in the first place. So what else is new?