The New York Times and I again agree...this time on Amtrak funding. (Full disclosure...I work for the New York Times in my position as Editor of US Liberal Politics for About.com. They've given me full license to disagree with them, however. I know because I asked....)
Here is my story, "Bush Budget Aims to Close Amtrak Rail Services - Would Force More Into Gas-Guzzling Cars & Planes."
A New York Times editorial today.... Keeping Amtrak Going
For Amtrak's 25 million riders each year, the most distressing news in recent days has been about the faltering Acela - the high-speed train that was supposed to be Amtrak's salvation. The Acelas are now off the rails because of problems with the brakes. As The Times outlined on Sunday, the trains have been a classic Amtrak problem from the beginning, a mishmash of a design that never quite fit America's needs.
But an even larger emergency is threatening Amtrak, America's coast-to-coast passenger railroad. The Bush administration is proposing to spend as little as nothing - a big ominous zero - to support the future of Amtrak. If Washington comes close to carrying out its threat or even stalls next year's contribution to the railroad, Amtrak could be forced into bankruptcy - a mistake of historic proportions.
For some time, the Bush administration has pushed for Amtrak reforms, which almost everybody supports in principle. But the administration's most recent proposal is more like a death sentence - a slow dismantling of Amtrak into regional services while costs currently paid by the federal government would be forced onto cash-starved states.
The fatal flaw in the administration's thinking is the idea that the railroad should be self-sufficient. That's impractical and unnecessary, given the benefits it provides in taking cars off congested highways and offering an alternative to air service in the post-9/11 era. The administration's other big concept, breaking up Amtrak into smaller units, might end up like the mess in Britain, where officials are trying to put their Humpty Dumpty system back together again.
Amtrak's board, whose members were all appointed by President Bush, has suggested a plan that looks like a much better place to at least begin serious negotiations. It would still shift more of the costs of the rail service to the states. But the Amtrak board does at least propose appropriating $1.8 billion for the next fiscal year to keep the company afloat and continue desperately needed improvements, particularly in the Northeast Corridor.
That money should be seen as a subsidy, not a loan or a bailout. The passenger rail service in this country is a national resource, a jewel of interstate commerce. Reform is worth talking about, but only in the context of the nation's sustained and annual support.