Ranting About Government Support of Amtrak

To help me stay currant with what’s going on in the area of passenger rail, I have set up several Google Alerts. For instance, whenever “Amtrak” appears in a news story, it pops up as an alert and, with a click, I can read about a grade crossing accident or a city council asking for more rail service … a timetable change … whatever.

Unfortunately, it also sends me links to newspaper editorials or letters-to-the-editor mentioning Amtrak. Reading some of that stuff is very discouraging. Much of the misinformation is the result of pre-conceived ideological biases … from letter writers and – I’m sorry to say – journalists who constantly rant against any federal subsidy for Amtrak.

The reality, of course, is that all forms of public transportation are – and should be – subsidized by government at some level.

Government provides air traffic control and builds airports for the airlines.

Air service to rural areas all over the country is subsidized.

Government provides bus terminals for companies like Greyhound.

And those Greyhound buses ride on 6-inch thick, reinforced concrete highways that aren’t built that way for my Toyota Avalon.

When you get right down to it, government builds sidewalks for pedestrian traffic, too.

So how come all those people rant and rave when the federal and state governments support Amtrak?

Although it’s difficult to quantify, it is believed that Amtrak generates a higher percentage of its total operating cost through the fare box than any other national passenger rail system in the world.

The ideologues who rant about the Amtrak subsidy won’t go away, but there is some comfort in knowing that most of them are know-nothing blowhards.