Trains, trains and trains


Can Congress just authorize Superman to fix the train tracks?

Sometimes a certain topic works its way through my small section of the blogosphere so much that I can’t help but pause and give it a little deeper consideration. Today, that topic is trains.

For a number of reasons, I am actively trying to rid myself of my dependence on a car. I’ve had a pretty bad run of luck with the car recently – $450 for repairs to the door, $120 for a new battery, $8 bazillion for gas – and I’d just as soon never drive it again. (Shhh… don’t tell the car. They have a way of getting back at you.)

Just last week I jaunted off to Washington for a one-day conference about the future of public broadcasting and had the distinct pleasure of riding Amtrak’s regular service on the way down and the Acela express on the return trip. Not only that, I also got to sample the vaunted D.C. Metro. I also inadvertently got a very pedestrian experience as well. The whole trip took place without even a thought of using my car or schlepping myself to airports at the far reaches of each city to pay $25 to check a bag – which they would lose.

What would I have done without SEPTA, or Amtrak or the Metro? Better yet, what could MORE people be doing with better SEPTA, better Amtrak and a better Metro? Fortunately, one of the candidates for president, a city resident himself, seems to understand this. Unfortunately, according to Will Bunch, the other one “hates trains.”

First the train hater:

McCain’s longstanding jihad against Amtrak is no secret — except maybe to voters in the 2008 election. I was just searching around and found only a couple of recent articles, mostly in obscure places or in the British media, that mention the Republican’s positions against funding rail. In fact, I’m a little surprised that the Obama campaign hasn’t spotlighted this issue in Pennsylvania, since Amtrak has higher ridership here than anywhere else.

McCain’s opposition to funding for Amtrak comes as (a) ridership is reaching record levels and (b) that ridership may need Superman to sweep in and bridge gaps in a crumbling rail infrastructure.

In contrast, Obama just delivered a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors that has fans of good urban (sorry, “metropolitan”) policy all a-twitter. GGW, Yglesias and EzraKlein all focused in on the same quote from Obama’s speech:

Let’s invest that money in a world-class transit system. Let’s re-commit federal dollars to strengthen mass transit and reform our tax code to give folks a reason to take the bus instead of driving to work – because investing in mass transit helps make metro areas more livable and can help our regional economies grow. And while we’re at it, we’ll partner with our mayors to invest in green energy technology and ensure that your buses and buildings are energy efficient. And we’ll also invest in our ports, roads, and high-speed rails – because I don’t want to see the fastest train in the world built halfway around the world in Shanghai, I want to see it built right here in the United States of America.

I’m actually happy with the current speeds of our inter-metro trains. In fact, the speed of the Acela kinda freaks me out but I appreciate getting from DC to Philly in under 2 hours.

Convincing my wife to give up the car… that may be a little more of a challenge.

UPDATE: Fact-esque puts the blame for Amtrak’s current inability to take advantage of all this new demand squarely on the “Pubs” – Republicans, that is:

This article does not point out what ought to be its main theme: that Amtrak budgets have been cut every time a Pub has been in the White House since Reagan, barely held their own during the Clinton admin, and that since the GOP took charge of Congress in ’94 its budget has been cut beyond the bone. Tracks have gone unrepaired, whole regional services have been eliminated, and personnel has been cut to a skeleton of what it should be. With the energy companies – especially oil and gas – in control of Congress, rail has been treated like a bastard stepchild the parents would like to put in an orphanage if they couldn’t get away with killing it outright.


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One Response to “Trains, trains and trains”

  1. Bob Says:

    More than 1/2 of all Amtrak Riders are from NYC. The Acela generates about 1/4 of Amtrak’s income. NYC has no easy airport, and has loads of people who don’t even own a car. For them Amtrak, and the Acela are an ideal way to get to Boston, Philadelphia and D.C.

    No wonder the Acela is regularly sold out.

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