How Come Everyone Else Gets It?

My cousin, Steve, works for several of the better tour companies — G2 Adventures, China Travel and Tour, and Orbis Institute — escorting groups to all sorts of exotic areas of the world. I had an email from him a few days ago in which he describes some of the fabulous train trips he took during his recent travels:

I just took trains the whole length of Vietnam–from Saigon up to Hanoi and then to the Chinese border. The stretch of rail just north of Danang heading toward Hanoi runs along the coast and the scenery was stunning. I’ve been taking a lot of trains in China lately–their system is surprisingly sophisticated and efficient. I took the Maglev in Shanghai (fastest in the world–431 km an hour) and the Tibetan Express (highest in the world). China also has some classic steam engines still running. It’s a train aficionado’s paradise. Amy and I are heading to Italy in a couple days and we’ll be riding great European trains there. It seems every country in the world has a terrific passenger train system except us.

He’s right about that, of course. Everywhere you go in the world, countries are pouring resources into their rail systems. Why? Because you can transport more people for less fuel. Because the railroad infastructure is much less invasive. Because trains are less polluting. Because rail systems dramatically reduce congestion in the air and on the highways. And because traveling by train is more pleasant and more comfortable for the passengers. What’s not to like about that?

These are indisputable facts, but they seem to have escaped our peerless leaders. As mentioned in an earlier post, President Bush’s proposed budget calls for a 40-percent reduction in funding for Amtrak, and current funding levels are barely adequate. Cuts that drastic would essentially put Amtrak out of business … except, perhaps, for the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston.

Fortunately, Congress will not permit that to happen, largely because Amtrak trains run through too many Congressional districts and most Members of Congress understand that their constituents would raise hell if their elected representatives went along with that lunacy.