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Editorial Board

Rail service should not be ignored

Amtrak is facing another round of budget cuts, potentially forcing the beleaguered rail service into bankruptcy. Budget bolstering, not cuts, is required to put the service back on track.

According to an article in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Amtrak has been the bastard stepchild of government transportation since its creation in 1971. Amtrak was given the bare minimum in funding as congressional leaders pushed for its quick return to the commercial sector, hoping for a self-sustaining entity. What they got is a starving organization with a decaying infrastructure, inefficient trains and budget shortfall after budget shortfall.

Amtrak, or a derivative of it, is vital to transportation in the United States. In a world focused on the threat of terrorism, we need another way to network our cities. If our flight or highway systems are targeted by an attack, rail would be able to sustain the blow.

Many criticize Amtrak for consistently operating in the red, but it isn’t the organization’s fault. Amtrak’s funding isn’t even close to that given to air or highways. The 2006 proposed budget calls for $13.8 billion given to the FAA, $34.7 billion given to the Federal Highway Administration and $360 million given to Amtrak. It’s a bit of a discrepancy. How can anyone expect an organization with routes across thousands of miles of rails to operate with a pittance of funding?

Air carriers are not owned by the government, yet they will receive nearly $14 billion from the government. It’s time the rail sector receives similar respect.

Rail travel has the potential for being incredibly efficient. Europe, a place where public transportation is the norm and cars the exception, is networked with miles of high-speed rail service. Public transportation in almost all cases is more efficient than vehicles. We need to emulate that mentality.

There is a certain nostalgia related to rail travel. Passengers can eat, sleep, sit or walk around the spacious rail cars — far different from the cramped, rushed atmosphere of the airplane or stress-filled car trip.

Of course, Amtrak’s well-known success story has been the Northeast Corridor, serving daily commuters in New York, Washington and Boston. The rail lines help alleviate the enormous problem of rush-hour traffic. According to The Boston Globe, this rail route will also face budget cuts, potentially crippling a well-used service.

Amtrak should eventually make its way back to the private sector, but it simply isn’t ready to make the switch. The United States needs to increase Amtrak’s funding, get the infrastructure up to speed and then slowly transfer the success stories to private entities. Giving the program a few crumbs of funding and asking it to perform miracles is outrageous.

It’s time politicians look beyond the lobbyists and give our rails some serious consideration. It’ll be a change in philosophy we all can benefit from.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board, whose members are listed to the left.