Monday, March 9, 2009

Amtrak Recovery and Reinvestment

Amtrak is getting $1.3 billion in stimulus funding from the recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. So now we can expect new train routes and more frequent departure and arrival times on existing lines next year, right?

Not so fast.

According to the current Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman, after years of starvation rations from the federal government, Amtrak is now being held together "with chewing gum and rubber bands."

It is important to note that no national rail transit system in the world operates in the black without substantial financial investment from their respective national governments.

Why? Because 1) every country in the world currently subsidizes automobile transportation in the form of roadbuilding, and 2) the automotive industry has been allowed to externalize some of the costs, specifically in the area of climate degradation.

The majority of the money, about $850 million, will go to much needed maintenance and repair of existing equipment, rail lines, and bridges. The remaining $450 million is dedicated to security upgrades.

I love riding Amtrak. It's easy, convenient (at least when your destination is in the vicinity of a train station), and reasonably priced, and I've never failed to meet interesting people along the way. We'll see what the future holds for expansion of the United States' only national rail line, but the latest round of funding is a start.

A nice essay on riding Amtrak was recently penned by Andy Isaacson for the New York Times. It's a good read. Find it here.

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