Over Christmas, two eco-savvy friends of mine took the train from San Francisco to the Southwest. They each spent close to $1K for a round-trip ticket, and nearly two days in a stylish commuter car. Apart from the bad food, they were satisfied with their choice. They chocked it up to a clean conscience: they’d avoided air travel (the most polluting mode of travel, period) and had left their car parked at home.
As fuel prices rise and air travel becomes more of a nuisance, Amtrak has become a more popular choice—especially among environmentally-conscious travelers who want to minimize their footprint.
But, reports Treehugger.com, there’s another reason travelers are ditching driving or flying to ride the train:
…According to the AP, another factor seems to be "the investment by Illinois and 13 other states in short-distance corridors Amtrak wouldn’t otherwise offer, essentially paying for a service where they see a need." The result has been a consistent rise in ridership, with numbers climbing to 24.3 million passengers last year.
While trains are a lesser evil than cars or crowded, carbon-belching airplanes, Amtrak isn’t without its concerns. The company is $3.3 billion dollars in debt and is asking the government for financial support. Amtrak, says Treehugger, "gets enough funding to survive, but not to flourish."
Late last fall, the Senate passed a bill to provide $11.4 billion in funding to Amtrak over a period of six years. Currently, the federal government subsidizes most modes of transport, and gives billions of dollars to the airline industry every year. So far, Amtrak hasn’t seen a dime.
In a statement, Sen. Trent Lott, who proposed funding for Amtrak, said: "We can’t keep asking Amtrak to operate like a business while we string the company along year to year." Democrats have long rallied for federal support of America’s trains.
Expanding routes and increasing the frequency of train service has helped Amtrak to meet its bottom line, but it still has a long way to go. Federal funding, say supporters, will help boost ridership and income, diminishing commuters’ reliance on cars, planes, and other polluters. Ridership in Northern California, from Sacramento to the Bay Area, has tripled in the last eight years, since Amtrak added eight trains to the route.
Photo via flickr by mark242.