Thursday, February 10, 2005

Amtrak on the chopping block

This is tough: the Bush budget proposes eliminating Amtrak’s federal subsidy entirely (it’s currently at $1.2b). This would probably push Amtrak into bankruptcy, and result in the elimination of long-haul rail travel throughout much of the United States.

Now, this is a perennial budget target, and the MSNBC article linked above suggests that Amtrak will probably survive to fight another (similar) battle next year. But in less than five minutes of looking, I found a very interesting strategy document from Amtrak’s CEO from two years ago. If you’re interested in rail travel, his debunking of the “six myths of Amtrak” is compelling.

On a personal note, long trips on the train occupy a special place in my heart. Last year’s trip to New Orleans was a superlative family vacation. I was in the air on September 11, 2001, and got stranded in Dallas. I was fortunate to get one of the last tickets on the Dallas to Chicago train on Amtrak, and spent the next 36 hours on the train. Except for brief periods where the cheap radio I picked up before the stores closed in Dallas would get radio reception, I spent most of the trip in quiet contemplation of that attack. I still think I’m fortunate to not have had the TV nearby for the first couple days following 9/11.

We’re currently planning another trip — this time on the Empire Builder line from Chicago to Glacier National Park — with friends (likely Spring of 2006). I sure hope Amtrak is still around!


  1. I heard Rep. Jerry Lewis, the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, on NPR this morning and he seemed to believe that Denny Hastert will put himself between Amtrak and a shutdown.

    Should he decide to, Denny has a lot of weight to throw around... metaphorically speaking, of course.

  2. Yeah, I've taken trips on Amtrak, too...but why should taxpayer's subsidize these trips? If it can't survive on the revenue generated by tickets it should go out of business/government.

  3. NotAnother (not a valid e-mail address, btw - tried replying privately): if this is your approach, why not let every airline collapse as well? Without large federal subsidies, federally-guaranteed loans and other financial assistance, several of the airlines would have disappeared in the past 10-20 years.

    Or the highway system, also subsidized by the federal government?

    Where do you draw the line?

  4. Amtrak is a vital transportaion option for the East Coast cities. Living in Vermont, I used Amtrak as a fast, safe, and moderately priced means to get from St. Albans, VT to Montreal, Boston, NYC, and DC.

    For business or play, Amtrak needs to stay...along with other government supported programs (except tax-cuts for the upper 2% of American taxpayers).

  5. Amtrak

    Bush proposes ending all federal subsidies of Amtrak. I love taking trains, and plan to in April when I go...