If some people in Congress get their way, nationwide passenger trains may no longer be available to Temple students, or anyone in the United States.
Federal subsidies for Amtrak, the nation’s only nationwide passenger rail service, has long been under debate. Amtrak is now facing its toughest hurdle ever after a congressional committee has recommended that Amtrak be dissolved. At the same time Amtrak is asking for an increase in federal subsidies.
Since Sept. 11, Americans have been reluctant to travel by air and Amtrak has provided an alternative for domestic travelers. This is a time to improve, rather than diminish our nation’s rail system.
In comparison to airline travel, Amtrak is an appealing option for travelers. Although security has been increased since Sept. 11, passengers are not forced to endure the long waits at security checks experienced by airline travelers.
Rail coaches offer more spacious accommodations than planes, busses or cars. At almost any time during transit, it is possible to walk around, purchase food or use the restroom. In addition, rail travel is the only option available for some people with disabilities who can not fly or drive long distances.
However, Amtrak has seen a decline in ridership during recent years and has had to rely more heavily on federal subsidies.
This year, President Bush wants to reduce federal spending on Amtrak to less than $1 billion, while a committee has recommended dissolving Amtrak and privatizing passenger rail transportation.
At the same time, Amtrak has requested additional funding this year to keep it in the financial black. One bill, the High Speed Rail Act of 2001, would give Amtrak $1.2 billion annually. This proposal enjoyed support, but may still fail.
Bush’s solution is similar to one tried in Britain several years ago, which has since made their rail system more sluggish than ever. Over the past 30 years Amtrak has received an average of $800 million per year from the government. This year alone the federal government has promised the airline industry $15 billion.
At one time America had a passenger rail system that was more extensive and more efficient than today’s airlines. That system was run by private companies — but if Amtrak were privatized today the most likely result is that the profitable East Coast lines would survive while rail service throughout the rest of the nation would dwindle. Amtrak has already been forced to consider ending some of its longer Midwest routes.
Improvements, like building high-speed lines between major cites nationwide and restoring local service to smaller stops, would provide the transportation infrastructure this nation needs and help to bolster the economy. Such improvements would cost billions, but would have immediate and long-term benefits to American citizens and travelers within the country.
For example, according to one estimate, a Chicago to New York City trip would take less than four hours on a high-speed train.
Those types of improvements, however, are beyond Amtrak’s current operating budget. While Congress debates the future of Amtrak, Temple students should take advantage of Amtrak’s student discounts for spring break travel plans.
Rail travel is luxurious compared to other modes of transportation, and grants the peace of mind that air travel does not offer. Rail travel offers a chance to relax, experience a part of America’s history, and see the country in a way that is missed by air travel.