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The A Train The A Train
Getting there in America: We want Amtrak

 Amtrak is afloat despite a continually fluctuating budget and without any long-term commitment from Washington. A national rail line, supporters argue, serves a vital role in transportation solutions.
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Date published: 3/26/2006

WASHINGTON--Over the last year, I have been traveling by rail through communities across the nation, speaking with local officials, business groups, and residents about Amtrak.

Everywhere I go, people tell me the same thing: Amtrak gives them a critical link between nearby cities and forms the backbone of their regional commuter and transit systems.

No one wants anything but more and better Amtrak service.

As one official in Michigan told me, "If we had more trains, we'd put more people on 'em." And people are not just talking, they're walking (or riding, in this case). Amtrak has set ridership records in each of the last three years.

Getting around our communities and cities has never been more difficult. Gas prices are rising, airlines are going belly up, cars remain a major source of air pollution and carbon dioxide, and traffic congestion is at an all-time high.

Our economy depends on our ability to make thousands of miles seem insignificant. Yet too often, a 10- or 20- mile trip to the office takes an hour or more, and hard-won vacations begin an inch at a time on a crowded highway.

The problem is significant enough that candidates in dozens of major metro areas are being elected by pushing transportation reform. Americans are tired of the status quo because they know how important it is to get around quickly, safely, and efficiently.

Solutions to these problems are not easy, but having a broad set of transportation options creates greater flexibility to deal with problems. Amtrak, our nation's only passenger railroad, is an underused option that is in real jeopardy of being permanently derailed.

Derailed rail?

Losing Amtrak would have a definite impact on commerce, national security, the environment, and our quality of life. But our transportation funding priorities tell a different story. Congress is putting only about $1 billion a year into Amtrak.

Meanwhile, Congress' bloated 2005 Transportation Bill will dump an average of $38 billion into roads each year.

Dubious transportation "earmarks" (Alaska's infamous "Bridges to Nowhere") will cost us four times more than Amtrak's annual pittance.

While Congress regularly underfunds Amtrak, President Bush has been working to kill it outright. Last year, the president zeroed out Amtrak's funding and supported pushing the railroad into bankruptcy.


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COLIN F. PEPPARD is transportation policy coordinator for Friends of the Earth.