What Will Be Passenger Rail’s Fate Under Trump?
Amtrak could be in trouble. As we speak—and compatible with the ideology of their benefactors, the Koch Brothers—the Heritage Foundation has apparently made a number of budget and tax recommendations to the Trump Administration. Those include their entirely predictable approach to passenger rail in this country: no more subsidies for Amtrak.
As it is, rail fares and other sources produces 92 cents of income for every dollar Amtrak pays out in operating costs. That makes Amtrak, as one of their top management people once said, “The most profitable money-losing national passenger railroad in the world.”
But we all know that if Amtrak were to lose its annual subsidy—running about $1.4 billion a year—it would mean a slow, painful death for most passenger trains in this country.
But where would that leave the people along the Gulf Coast? When Hurricane Katrina tore up a lot of the track east of New Orleans, Amtrak service was suspended. Restoring that train is now under serious consideration and, with NARP helping to organize them as in Chipley, Florida (photo above), literally thousands of people turned out to welcome an Amtrak inspection train and to impress on the government officials aboard what daily service would mean to their towns.
For instance, many of the communities along that route have no air service within a hundred miles and at least four of the dozen or so towns don’t even have intercity bus service. For many of those communities, there is very little public transportation or none at all.
But local public officials, community leaders and outside experts all agree that restoring train service will be an economic stimulus for all those communities along the Gulf Coast. A daily train will create jobs, bring tourists to the area, and trigger development that will generate more tax revenue.
When you stop and think about it, in the grand scheme of things, adding one train a day isn’t that big a deal. Except that it sure as hell is for the people directly along the proposed route. For them it would mean access to affordable public transportation, and NARP (that’s the National Association of Railroad Passengers) believes that is a basic right of all Americans.
So what about it? Do you think that deep down the Heritage Foundation or, for that matter, the Trump Administration, really gives a rat’s ass for any of those people? Nope … neither do I.
“access to affordable public transportation… is a basic right of all Americans”
I hope you’re kidding. Affordable public transportation is a great convenience, but it is not a right. The government cannot possibly provide comprehensive public transportation to all areas of the country. That said, I would love to see service extended to areas that demonstrate demand for service. It’s all about economics.
I’m not kidding. Of course I don’t mean that affordable public transportation is a right for every single American. But the more Americans with access to it, the better off we will all be. And–with respect–it’s not ALWAYS “all about economics”. When it is, middle class and poor people get screwed.
If it’s only about economics, you can easily scrap a lot of government programs, like the National Parks Service, Medicaid and Medicare, roads in the middle of nowhere… At the same time, as a society, you could want yo share the opportunities to economical progress more evenly, to people with health issues, but also to more remote areas. But for that to happen, you need accessibility. Cars are great, but you need to be in good health to drive one, can’t be too young or too old, you need the money to pay for it, etc. Public transport allows more people to get where they need to go, wether it’s work, school, family, the hospital… So to some extent, yes, we need public transport.
Hi Jim. Yes I think Jim Wyatt does have some reason to be optimistic. Mr. Trump has made what seem to be pro-rail comments, even in his inaugural address. It would be my hope and wish that he wouldn’t tear things down as part of his vision for railroad support. Surely he must know (or needs to from NARP) that growing numbers have had it with air travel and are returning to trains. Also he seems to be very much supportive of American jobs. To destroy Amtrak would be un-American. I think some of his views do not necessarily coincide with the John Mica types.
Of course I hope you’re right. It would be wonderful if the president were to come out in support of Amtrak and passenger rail. At this point, any pronouncement from the White House that could be seen as evidence of rational thought would be most welcome.
Hello from San Anotnio. I am sure that we all will remain focused on congressional actions concerning support of Amtrak. One can build a case that recently, the GOP as a whole views Amtrak in a more favorable light then in the past.
I do think you’re right, Jim … some Republicans are rethinking their positions regarding Amtrak. We shall soon see, eh?