Last week, Congress appropriated 15 billion to help Amtrak “steam forward” (sorry! 😉 ) into the the future.
In a veto-proof 311-104 vote last week that mimics a Senate decision late last year, the U.S. House wisely pumped $15 billion into the national rail system, allowing for capital improvements and providing operating funds for the heavily-subsidized service through fiscal year 2013.
While cross-country service will continue – Amtrak serves 500 destinations in 46 states – the House turned a switch and sent passenger rail service barrelling in new directions.
The bill provides about $500 million in each of the next five years for grants to allow states to contract with Amtrak to expand or establish rail service between cities. It also instructs the federal Department of Transportation to seek proposals from private firms to establish rapid rail service between New York City and Washington, the nation’s first foray into high-speed rail.
I’ve taken Amtrak in the past on various trips mostly from Ohio to DC or vice-versa on the Cardinal. They have been fun and full of socializing with new people from all over the world (mostly while smoking in the smoking car, if they still exist). From students to lawyers, hackers, rural commuters who were taking the train from Prince, WV to Manassas, VA to work construction, the people and their stories can be mesmerizing. I even happened to run into a Shawnee “tribesmen” (who rolled us cigarettes when we ran out) who actually knew my old minister who married my wife and I. Besides being a minister in Oxford, Ohio, he is also the story teller (AKA: Neeake) for the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band. Small world!
In my few trips, Amtrak service was plagued by delays, mostly due to CSX and other freight lines that hit their crew’s time limit and had to stop, wherever they were, and bring in a new crew. Sometimes these stops were made in the middle of the night on a single track with no secondary track nearby for them to “pull over”. Sometimes the delays were up to 12 hours, but at least there was food (and self brought vodka and coke) to pass the time. Even with the delays, there was plenty to do and we were able to move about the train and stretch, unlike the recent airline debacles this past winter. Fortunately, I had no schedule to meet, but others did and problems like these turned a lot of people away from rail.
Hopefully this new federal funding will change this and allow infrastructure upgrades possible that will minimize or eliminate these massive delays and bring back the “good ol days” of passenger rail in the U.S.
To conclude, trains are an American past-time, a mode of transportation that made expansion across North America possible. Most people these days don’t give trains their due when it comes to this “forgotten” piece of history. Lets embrace this funding and encourage your elected officials not to let it die before it is fully realized.
PS – Gas prices aren’t getting any lower any time soon.
Original Article from quote above