Amtrak must be properly funded

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 26, 2014

By Will Sullivan

Guest Columnist 

Amtrak, this nation’s passenger rail service, is important to this nation and must be maintained. Those who say otherwise are, at best, only fooling themselves.

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This nation supports with its taxes both the nation’s highways and interstates and the air transportation system. Anyone who says otherwise isn’t paying attention. Amtrak has been supported by the taxpayers since 1971 and its ridership and income from those riders has steadily been growing.

Will Amtrak ever be fully self-supporting?

Probably not any more than the highways, interstates and air service will be fully self-supporting.

Those in Congress who constantly raise the cry about the cost of Amtrak are supported by those interests that don’t want any competition from Amtrak, such as the airlines and those who build and maintain the nation’s highways and interstates.

A little history lesson is in order. The railroads were built by the nation’s taxpayers before viable roads were developed and long before people were able to fly.

In other words, we have an investment in those rail tracks and we will lose the use of them to the freight carriers to whom they were given by the federal government many years ago when those lines carried both freight and passengers. The only line that regularly carries passengers today is Amtrak. The freight carriers wanted out of the passenger business and persuaded the government to take over passenger service.

Now, some in the federal government want to abandon passenger service altogether.

More and more people have taken to riding the rails when possible because the airlines now treat their passengers as little better than cattle. If Amtrak goes away, that treatment will get much worse.

The importance of passenger rail service, though, is more than just the paying passengers. It has to do with national security, in two ways.

One is that in time of war, a big one such as World Wars I and II, large numbers of troops can be moved around the nation much more easily by rails than in any other way. The second way is how it supports the nation’s economy and actually involves paying passengers, those who use the rails to go to and from work every day.

This is especially noticeable in the Northeast and around Chicago. Such rail usage would expand even to our area if Amtrak had the means to build more of its own rails and not have to rely on those the government gave to those railroads that now move only freight.

Every other great nation has a large and viable passenger rail service. Only the United States lacks such a rail service. Do we really want to embarrass ourselves further on the world stage by giving up what little we have? I don’t.

Genie and I use Amtrak at least once a year and usually twice a year. We gave up air travel because we feel abandoned by the air lines with their poor service.

One other little thing for those of us who live in and near Picayune. We have a rail station and free parking. Ride the train and I think you will come to love it.