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Putting Amtrak Back On Track

Last summer, as gas prices seemed like they would never stop rising, there was a trumpeting of statistics that people were saving money by taking public transportation. In fact, that increase in ridership has continued despite the plummeting gas prices of the last few months. With that in mind, let me..


Last summer, as gas prices seemed like they would never stop rising, there was a trumpeting of statistics that people were saving money by taking public transportation. In fact, that increase in ridership has continued despite the plummeting gas prices of the last few months. With that in mind, let me relate a little story of my trip to New York from scenic New Haven, Connecticut last night; a trip that was supposed to take approximately an hour and a half, took about 6 hours, due to massive train engine failure that left us sitting in the middle of nowhere with no lights and no heat until another train could come to tow us to the next station, where we then had to wait for the next train. Good times! (You can read a longer piece on Amtrak's problems from our Travel issue here.) I relate this story because it is the danger in all the excitement about our ramping up of ridership of public transportation. Outside of the New York City subway system (and even that is not doing so hot) public transportation doesn't work that well, and its failures certainly stick in your head way more than its successes. If, as ridership increases, the government doesn't add some sort of massive funding to make people think "Wow, this bus/train/light rail system works perfectly and is easier and cheaper than my car," then this will just be a little bubble that disappears once some more money starts flowing through the system. It's a lot like electronic voting, which the Coleman/Franken saga in Minnesota clearly illustrates we need, but which, when it had its moment in the 2000 election, was so botched that it will be decades before anyone is willing to trust it again. Here's to hoping Obama's massive infrastructure bill, which for the most part has been mentioned in conjunction with cars and roads, will be throwing a lot of money at Amtrak and municipal public transport (we know he and Joe Biden like trains). And interesting to see who gets named Transportation Secretary. That could say a lot.