Wednesday, May 07, 2008

National Train Day

Yup. This Saturday is National Train Day, with events at train stations across the country. This is the 139th anniversary of the laying in 1869 of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, which completed America’s first transcontinental railroad. Amtrak is using National Train Day to highlight the growing popularity of trains as convenient, energy efficient, environmentally sound ways to travel.

The National Association of Rail Passengers puts it this way:

This year’s festivities come at a time when sticker shock at the gas pump is creating greater public interest in more passenger train service. What’s more, this interest was well established even before the current rise in gasoline prices, as reflected in polls, referenda, and ridership data on train systems across the country all point to one clear conclusion and that is we need more trains.
My congressman doesn't agree. Here is part of his response to my recent letter about the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement bill
:....policymakers have long debated the extent to which the federal government should fund rail transportation. This issue has its roots in a 1997 agreement between Amtrak and the federal government, which authorized $2 billion for Amtrak in exchange for the company's promise of self-sufficiency by the year 2003. While Amtrak has made progress in fulfilling the terms of the 1997 agreement, it is still far from being self-sufficient and its future remains unclear.
I remember 1997. Anna was a babe in my arms. Climate change was barely heard of. Gas was about $1.29 a gallon. Terrorism was something that happened in other countries, and it certainly wasn't funded with our gas money. It was still fun to fly back then, when you didn't have to stand in line and take off half your clothes to get on a plane.

It's not as if we could drive anywhere without federal investment in roads and bridges. Airlines also enjoy support from the federal government, as Jim Loomis points out at Travel and Trains and Other Things:

Here's another mind-boggler for you: One of our speakers this morning was Congressman John Mica (R-Florida) who is a key member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He told us, among other things, that the federal government is going to spend five billion dollars -- that's billion, with a "B" -- to build one new runway for the Miami International Airport. Yes, I said "ONE new runway". Amtrak's funding request for a full year is one-third that amount.

It is -- I must tell you -- a frustrating and maddening situation. Fortunately, I do think there is a new awareness of the importance of rail transportation and of the benefits it brings to the country. Most of the Members of Congress now "get it." Bush and his people don't, won't and never will.

I'm glad to hear that most members of Congress are more on the ball than my guy.

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