U.S. travelers–frustrated by gas prices, traffic congestion, and the hassle and delays of air travel–are increasingly rediscovering the train. One in four domestic flights arrived late in 2007. Add in the maddening yellow-orange-mauve alert security checks, and it’s understandable why passengers are fed up.
Trains allow business travelers to stay connected via cellphones and the internet and provide the space to stretch out and set up shop. Try that while crammed into a plane seat or driving to a meeting (please don’t!).
Train transportation is also by far the greenest transportation solution. Factor in that emissions at altitude are three times more damaging to the atmosphere, and air travel looks even less appealing.
Cool video on increased train ridership from CBS News, after the jump:
Amtrak managed to attract a record-breaking 26 million passengers last year – in spite of the service’s woefully inadequate funding. Amtrak received $1.3 billion from the federal government for 2007, while $14.5 billion went towards air travel and $35 billion towards highways.
Existing rail service in the United States works ok for short to medium length trips in densely populated areas. The northeast corridor features a network of rail lines and a good alternative to traffic-choked highways. But, there’s little coverage for more wide-open areas of the country. Whereas high-speed trains are prevalent throughout Europe and Asia, Acela notwithstanding, the U.S. just isn’t up to speed.
What’s President Bush’s solution to an under-funded, sustainable transportation solution that people want to use? Drastically cut funding. In his recently released 2009 budget proposal, Bush recommends a 41% cut in federal subsidies to Amtrak.
Bush’s oil industry ties and energy and transportation preferences are not secrets. The headlines of two back-to back passages in Bush’s budget proposal tell the whole story of his vision for the country’s transportation future: “Ensure solvency of highway and surface transportation programs” and “Take steps to rationalize the Nation’s intercity passenger rail system.” Apparently in Bush-speak, to rationalize means to eviscerate.
Luckily Bush, the self-proclaimed “decider,” may not have the final say here. Late last fall, The Senate passed a bill by a “veto-proof” margin that would provide $11.4 billion in funding to Amtrak over 6 years. The House of Representatives is slated to vote on this bill within the next couple of months.
“Instead of barely giving Amtrak enough to survive, our bill provides for Amtrak’s capital and operational needs,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D, N.J.), the bill’s co-sponsor along with Trent Lott (R, Miss.).
With funding approaching the level of airport and highway spending, perhaps the United States can offer a mass transit system on par with the rest of the modern world. As one train passenger in the CBS clip stated, “If we had high-speed rail service in the United States, we’d never get on another airplane.”
Photo via flickr by ikonjon.
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