The Need for a
National, Subsidized, Passenger Rail System in the US
A Call for Support of Amtrak
Larry L. Boerio
July 4, 2002
* Copyright 2002, Larry L. Boerio This paper may be reproduced or quoted freely in whole or part,
by private parties in personal exchanges. Public/media organizations must obtain the express written permission
of the author. Personal use between private parties is permitted to include provision of
copies or quotes via mail, email, or direct provision to another private party. All uses must credit
the author and include all contact information listed at the end of this document.**
Mission, Purpose and Goal of this Paper:
The mission of this paper is to enable political support for Amtrak and national passenger rail service
in the United States that will allow our country to expand it's skeletal system of passenger rail service
into a fully robust system. We need a system that will provide all Americans the opportunity to be
serviced by pleasant, fast, efficient, fairly priced, user friendly train service.
The purpose of this paper is to encourage you to write (or call) your political representatives and
express support for Amtrak and for a re-invigorated national passenger rail transportation system in the
United States. The advantages of passenger rail transportation are too great for our society as a whole,
and for each individual, for us to not advocate for the support that is needed. This paper also aims to
encourage you to advocate with your friends, neighbors, and business associates in order that
they too will become advocates for Amtrak and national passenger rail service. Our government will
only act decisively with proper remedy, when the country has reached a consensus and brought this
matter to full focus.
Please see "Conclusion and Political Contact Information in Section VII" below to determine how
best to register support for Amtrak and national passenger rail service. In summation of this point I ask
you to consider the following:
IF AMTRAK GOES DOWN, DO YOU WANT TO HAVE TO SAY THAT "I SAT ON MY 'HINEY' AND DID NOTHING ABOUT IT?"
The immediate goal of this paper is to provide information of a general and non-technical nature for
the average citizen who may not be well versed on issues relating to Amtrak and national passenger
rail service in the United Sates. The paper targets for example, the average individual whom may have
recently been exposed to the large number of media stories on Amtrak and its related funding crisis,
and wishes to obtain more information. The information presented in this undertaking aims to provide
the balance, context, and critical counter argument to some media reports that concentrate simply on
the "mounting financial losses" of Amtrak without providing the necessary analysis of the advantages,
purposes, and universally practiced funding requirements necessary to provide effective passenger rail
service on a national level.
Statement of Author's Non-Affiliation with Amtrak or Passenger Rail Service
The author is not affiliated with Amtrak or any form of passenger rail service. The author has
undertaken the writing of this document without financial or other form of remuneration, directly or
indirectly. It is the writer's sole intent to share his knowledge in a personal effort to enable a reasoned
analysis on the part of Amtrak and national passenger rail service in the United States.
Now to my views on the relevant issues:
I) A BASIC OVERVIEW: The need for a national, subsidized passenger rail system in the US -
Advantages of rail transportation, comparison of the US to the rest of the developed world in rail
transportation, comparison of passenger rail funding to other forms of public transportation in the US,
Amtrak basics and the need for subsidy.
I support Amtrak and a properly subsidized national rail service in the US as is found throughout the
rest of the developed world. I am concerned that in the area of passenger rail transportation the US is at
the bottom of the list worldwide. This should not be the case, given the tremendous
advantages a properly funded national rail passenger system would bring to the US in terms of: energy
conservation, environmental and resource conservation, life style enhancement through improved
mobility with less stress and hassle, lower cost of living for those using rail vs. automobile, space
conservation versus highways and parking lots for cars, the provision of a mass transportation system
back-up to the fragile airlines system, and other advantages too numerous to mention here. (See section
V- paragraphs 4 through 6, Section II- paragraph 1, and Section II- paragraph 1 and points 1-7 for
some other advantages.)
Every other developed country in the world subsidizes rail transportation SIGNIFICANTLY
except the US. Across the globe passenger rail service is viewed as a public service the same as
highways, bridges, dams, airports and the like. It is not an antiquated form of transportation as our country
came to think in the 50's and '60s. That was a mistake. It only appears to be antiquated due to
inadequate funding. The most advanced societies on this planet have left the US far behind by realizing
that rail transportation is one of the most efficient and advanced ways to move people from place to
place. The US has missed the point!!
National passenger rail services and matters related to Amtrak should be placed on an equal footing
when it comes to public monies, with all other forms of transportation. We need to subsidize a national
passenger rail system in the same manner in which we subsidize truck, car, airline and
commercial marine transportation systems. I see NO reason why passenger rail transportation should
be given short shrift in this area. The ONLY major reason a lot more people do not ride the rails is
because the system is not adequately funded to cover the track and equipment needed to put in a
modern, efficient system with adequate infrastructure to cover the US geography in an effective
manner where people could really get where they wanted to go quickly and conveniently. Other
countries do this. Why can't the US?
As hampered and hobbled as Amtrak may be, it must continue and be given a chance under its new and
capable leadership to set a new efficient process in place. But it will only be successful if it is
supported by the US government with new and much higher levels of funding than it has previously
It is too easy and unfair to say Amtrak does not deserve another chance, when in fact it never received
the proper funding in the first place in order to prove itself. And it was given the impossible mandate
to be "self sufficient" while providing service to one of the largest geographies on the planet. It is not
the geography that is too much; it is the funding that is too little. Other countries have figured this out.
We need to help the US reach the same state of progress as the rest of the developed world with
passenger rail service.
As my friend, Don Paskewitz has written: "It is now time for the Congress to take dramatic action to
move United States passenger rail transportation to the same level as that enjoyed by citizens in other
civilized countries. We as a nation can no longer pretend that automobiles and airlines offer the
traveling public economical, efficient and enjoyable transportation, whether on commuter and other
short journeys or on extended, cross-country trips".
Certainly if the need for a national system can be agreed upon as outlined in the seven points in
Section II below, then we need to subsidize passenger rail service much more than previously because
it now experiences a higher level of competition when compared to the first half of the twentieth
century when autos and airplanes were not a major competitive threat. (See section II- paragraphs 10
and 11- Note: count the 7 points in Section II as paragraphs. These two paragraphs outline why rail
transportation should be maintained in the face of the "newer" competitive transportation alternatives -
i.e. autos and airplanes).
II) Argument for a NATIONAL system that feeds regional systems vs. a "regional only" system
approach. Is Amtrak the right model for a national system?
Some would argue that we only need regionalized systems as they have proven to be popular,
well patronized, reduce traffic congestion, pollution, commute time, lower stress associated with
driving, reduce parking needs and so on. (Note all these advantages apply to national rail passenger
systems as well.) The Northeast Corridor, Chicago, Los Angeles, Southern California, Northern
California and other commuter and regional systems attest to their popularity and their necessity in our
society. However, I contend that we need these regional systems to be a part of an overall national
system that allows for system coherency for the following reasons:
1) National systems feed and increase ridership to the regional systems who depend on those passenger
revenues to operate and thus they assist the regionalized systems in fixed cost recovery through increased
revenue. Regional systems have proven their worth throughout the US. Examples are cited in the
2) National systems service ALL people throughout the country regardless of location, that are
physically or mentally UNABLE to drive or fly.
3) National systems provide low-cost, long distance transportation for ALL people throughout the
country that can not AFFORD cars or plane trips.
4) A national system helps subsidize some of the regional systems by sharing infrastructure, logistics
support, operations, and facilities.
5) A national system insures that people can travel from one state to another without interruptions in
service because of regional fundings that leave a patchwork of incomplete service from state to state.
A "regional only" system will result in insufficient or non-existent train connections and a lack of needed
continuity from one system to the other.
6) A national train system provides the only real transportation redundancy for the ENTIRE country to
the fragile airline system. This is an absolute necessity for mass NATIONAL transportation if we are
to be able to protect our economy and our lifestyle if the airlines should suffer from financial, labor or
terrorist related problems as we experienced September 11, 2001. This powerful nation should not be
"single sourced" for mass national transportation.
7) Transportation and its efficiencies must be coordinated across state, regional and local boundaries.
Public transportation, by its very nature, transcends these local, artificial boundaries. For rail
transportation to be held hostage to these artificial boundaries will destroy the potential of the system
to meet the needs of the public in an effective manner.
In summary of the seven points above,
only a coherent, national system can efficiently put in place operations that meet all the needs
outlined above. Anything short of a national approach will result in a hobbled patchwork of incomplete
and insufficient systems that meet only part of the needs of part of the population. A "regional only"
approach will result in a gross under-performance in all areas (ridership, revenues, service area served,
ease of use) when compared to a national system with a coherent national agenda.
Speaking on this matter Don Paskewitz wrote: "The ... myth is that breaking up Amtrak into regional
carriers would make things work better. I agree that the states in some regions can and should
participate in regional rail solutions. The emerging example in California is a case in point. But, we
still need a national system and the only logical way to achieve such a system is to maintain a national
organization whose mission is to provide national rail transportation and to assist state and regional
efforts (as Amtrak now provides personnel for Amtrak California and, in the Los Angeles area,
Metrolink trains). We must keep authority and responsibility for national passenger transportation in
one place: ..."
We had a national passenger rail system before and we can and should do it again. Why? Because a
national system of passenger trains offers an alternative form of transportation that has unique
advantages for our society and can only maximize its benefits when it is available to all people
nationwide. These benefits are described throughout this paper and are contained in the seven points
above in this section, as well as in Section V-paragraphs 4-6, Section I-paragraph 1, and also in this
Section- paragraph 1.
I argue that the benefits of a national passenger rail system are not negated just because the demand for
rail transportation is no longer as high as in the last part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th
century. The demand for service may not be as high due to more competition now from autos and
airplanes, but the demand is still significant when supplied by a well designed and efficient system as
is evidenced in other parts of the world. The advantages and benefits of national, passenger rail
transportation still exist. (See listing of benefits at end of last paragraph above) We should allow these
advantages and benefits to actualize. We can make national passenger rail a desired and many times
better form of transportation if we change our "mind set" and insure that it obtains equitable funding with
highways, airports and harbors.
Now as to the matter of whether Amtrak is the right model for a national passenger rail system?
Notwithstanding some of its previous poor management practices, I believe Amtrak is the correct
basic model for national passenger rail transportation. I must confess that I do not have enough
information to compare alternative models side by side in all the important aspects. This undertaking
would be beyond the scope of my expertise and beyond the scope of this document. However, since I
believe in a national system as stated above, I believe Amtrak is a good model because its basic design
enables it to meet all the seven needs outlined above when it is properly funded.
Additionally, I rely heavily on the organizations listed below and their current support for pro-Amtrak
legislation in Congress as the basis of my belief that Amtrak is the right model for a national system.
These organizations have certainly studied this much more than myself. I encourage you to investigate
these organizations in order to verify their positions and their rationale.
The list of Amtrak sponsors below* is quite formidable in its depth of knowledge as compared to the
Amtrak Reform Council, which has taken the opposite view on the need for a national system and the
Amtrak model. Despite the "weight" of the following list of organizations, the current White House
administration has been relying on the recommendations of the Amtrak Reform Council. Does this
make sense? Please consider the collective wisdom of the following organizations and their support of
Amtrak when you consider this issue:
- American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners
- American Passenger Rail Coalition
- Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates (AORTA)
- Association of Rail Travel in the U.S.
- Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce (Mississippi)
- Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains
- City of Coralville, Iowa
- City of Fayetteville, North Carolina
- City of Plano, Illinois
- City of Rugby, North Dakota
- Colorado Rail Passenger Association (ColoRail)
- Committee to Advance the TransDominion Express (Virginia)
- Community Transportation Association of America
- Council of State Governments
- Council of State Governments-Eastern Regional Conference
- Cumberland County (North Carolina)
- Delaware Valley Association of Railroad Passengers
- Delmarva Rail Passenger Association (Delaware)
- Environmental Defense
- Florida Coalition of Rail Passengers, Inc. (Florida)
- Friends of the Earth
- Georgia Association of Railroad Passengers
- Grand Island Area Chamber of Commerce (Nebraska)
- Hastings College (Nebraska)
- High Speed Ground Transportation Association
- Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers
- Lubbock Chamber of Commerce (Texas)
- Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce (Virginia)
- MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce (Mississippi)
- Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers
- Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition
- Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission
- Montana/Wyoming Association of Railroad Passengers
- National Association of Counties
- National Association of Railroad Passengers
- National Association of Regional Councils
- National Conference of State Legislatures
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers
- Ohio State Senate (on a 30-3 vote)
- ProRail (Madison, Wis.)
- ProRail Nebraska
- Rail Labor Division of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
- Rail Passenger Association of California (RAILPAC)
- Rail Users' Network
- Railway Progress Institute
- Richmond (Va.) Friends of Rail
- Sierra Club
- Southern Rapid Rail Transit Commission
- Surface Transportation Policy Project
- Tennessee Association of Railroad Passengers
- Texas Association of Rail Passengers
- Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization (TEMPO)
- The Senior Network, Inc.
- Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (Ohio)
- Train Riders' Association of California (TRAC)
- TrainRiders/Northeast (Portland, Me.)
- Transportation Riders United (Detroit, Mich.)
- U.S. Conference of Mayors
- United Transportation Union
- Veterans Advantage
- Virginia Association of Railway Patrons
- Virginia High Speed Rail Development Committee
- Washington Association of Railroad Passengers
- Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers
*Listing provided by the National Association of Railroad Passengers-
III) National "mind set" and funding are the issues stopping a well patronized national passenger rail
system. A brief history of funding issues related to passenger rail and Amtrak.
The main reason that passenger rail has not succeeded since AMTRAK was formed in 1971 is because
of a "mindset" that trains are old technology and should not be supported with public money. As a
society in the '50s and '60's we came to think that we were too advanced for this "antiquated"
technology. Marketing efforts by the auto, tire and oil industries were a major impetus in developing
and supporting this mind set. Additionally, the private railroads in the 1950's and 1960's could not
support passenger travel without losing money. As a result, they generally neglected it in order to
reduce costs, while being forced to provide passenger service under government mandate. Therefore
the service was generally abysmal and the public came to think that rail transportation had passed the
way of the stagecoach and the ox and cart.
Society overlooked the potential advantages of a properly funded passenger rail system and the US
bought "wholesale" into autos and airplanes as the preferred mode of passenger transportation.
Congress began to subsidize these industries at the expense of the passenger rail industry.
This was a mistake for many reasons. In our rush to "progress" we did not recognize that our virtual
sole reliance on the auto and airline industry portended some serious consequences for the country
such as oil shortages, high energy consumption, pollution, congestion, high highway and airport costs
via public funds and many other ills.
The passenger rail system could have provided an alternative to these shortcomings, along with
providing some of the advantages of passenger rail transportation that are cited throughout this paper.
(See Section V-paragraphs 4-6, Section I-paragraph 1, and Section II- paragraph 1 as well as the seven
potential benefits listed in Section II) In order to do this passenger rail needed the opportunity to
develop its competitive niche versus the newer auto and airlines industries that had emerged in full
form at the time. Passenger rail transportation needed public funding at least equal to the alternative
forms of public transportation in order to re-coup its part of the transportation "pie". But instead,
passenger rail was neglected by Congress. In the 1950's and 1960's the airline and auto/highway
industries managed to obtain the vast majority of the government's transportation funds almost to the
exclusion of passenger rail transportation. With this funding advantage these newer industries were
then in turn able to develop national systems while passenger rail was "left in the dust." This funding
disparity continued in 1971 with the formation of Amtrak; and it continues to this day.
Due to lack of adequate funds, when Amtrak was formed it became a hobbled and emasculated system.
Since Amtrak's founding Congress has never given serious consideration to the funding necessary to allow it
to provide effective service as a national passenger rail system. After starving Amtrak for 31 years
compared to the competitive industries that it subsidizes the politicians, competitive industry
lobbyists, and the fiscal conservatives continue to justify the lack of monies for Amtrak by saying:
"Why should I support Amtrak and passenger trains with public money? Why would I or anyone else
want to use trains? They don't go where I want to go, they're not fast enough or comfortable enough".
Well, off course! With the pittance of money Amtrak received compared to the other public transportation
systems it could only muster a faint outline of a viable passenger rail system. As a result, Amtrak has
been unable to meet the transportation needs of most of the public, many that would ride the rails if it
could do so. All rail transportation systems worldwide require a subsidy and yet we asked Amtrak to
be self-sufficient while subsidizing its competition with lavish amounts of government money for
highways, bridges, airports, FAA and other such infrastructure.
IV) Argument against the position that the large US geography makes the development of a proper
national system unfeasible and therefore no one will ride it.
If anyone believes that we do not need Amtrak and/or a national rail system because no one will ride it
as some have proffered, because this country is too big to develop an efficient system, may I suggest
Geography is not the issue.
First, you can not look at the rest of the world and deny what national rail passenger systems can do
and the advantages these systems offer when they are properly funded. Given the obvious advantages
demonstrated in other parts of the world, you can not discount the need for a national system by simply
saying that it is easier for other countries to have such as a system because they have much smaller
geographies than the US. It is not a difference of geography. It is a difference in mindset that results in a
difference in government funding. It really is that simple. If we can build a national highway, airline,
and harbor system, we CAN build a national rail system.
Yes, to develop a true national system in the US will be much more expensive and complex when
compared to France, for example. But we have a much larger economy, tax base, and a larger potential
for ridership in order to defray some of the costs. And people WILL ride trains when they are efficient
and high speed and combined with local and regionalized systems (see section V below).
V) Why people will patronize a national system especially when combined with regionalized systems.
Regional systems, by themselves are important because of same reasons cited in Section I, paragraph 1
above for all rail travel. They have proven their worth in many areas of the country, with just some
areas cited in Section II, paragraph 1 above.
In order for people to get where they need to go once they arrive from a long distance train or any
train, the US needs to continue to support and expand our success with regional, local, and municipal
rail systems AND other forms of efficient mass transportation systems at the local levels. Therefore,
regional systems are also important because they support national systems. And the national systems,
in turn support the regional systems as outlined in Section II above, points 1 and 4.
To make the point of who will ride national systems when they are efficiently connected to regional
and local systems, I offer the following:
Who wants the gridlock, that I experience everyday in Southern California or the gridlock wherever you live
when the train can help you avoid virtually all of this? Now this is obviously true of regional and local
commuter systems. But whether it is local, regional, or long distance trains, traffic congestion
decreases everywhere with train ridership. Who wants the airline hassles, delays, and being crated
around like a "sardine", along with the other hassles that all air travelers hate. No one enjoys air travel.
It just transports people to their destination quickly. There are no other advantages.
Furthermore the train traveler arrives more refreshed and in a much better state of mind than the auto
or airline traveler and therefore is more productive to our society. This is, as long as the train system is
quick and efficient as has been done in other parts of the world. This can be done here with proper
I have seen time and time again when people travel by train, (locally, regionally, or nationally) they
prefer the many advantages as compared to automobile or airline travel. Here is just as short list of
some of these advantages: ability to view the scenery, ability to sit in spacious and comfortable seats,
ability to read, ability to converse with fellow passengers, ability to take a nap, ability to walk around
and visit the snack bar, lounge, diner or their own private room and to leave behind the hassles or
driving, flying and parking.
Now, what if trains were quick, efficient and cost competitive, and if they went where you needed
them to go, what would happen? In many instances autos and airplanes would lose their one and only
major advantage over the trains-i.e. speed. It is apparent why the oil, auto, and airline industry were not
interested in trains obtaining any more of those valuable government transportation dollars. If passenger
trains did receive equitable funding, rail travel could become the preferred mode of transportation in many
cases. Logic points to many instances, perhaps a majority of cases in some situations, where people
would say: "I prefer the train" We already see this today in various areas of the country. The same
advantages are applicable on a national basis with adequate funding (See section VI below if you feel
passenger rail should not be subsidized as a matter of conservative fiscal policy.).
If we develop the proven advantages of high speed trains into a coherent NATIONAL system I believe
there would be a marked increase in national passenger ridership as well as a marked increase in
regional and local ridership due to the influx of the additional riders from the improved national
I agree that a marked preference for national trains would occur less often than is the case with
regional and local trains. This is because autos and planes have little or no time advantage over
regional high-speed trains for the shorter and medium distance runs. Long distance trains lose their
time advantage or time parity with the autos and airplanes as the distance increases.
However, two points are germane to countering the argument above that some would use for justifying
regional systems to the exclusion of a coherent national system:
First, I believe national patronage would be much higher than what is experienced today. Why?
Because many people will take a little extra time to arrive relaxed while enjoying the advantages of
train travel cited throughout this paper. That is, if the system transports them where they want to go, they
have good alternatives for local transportation when they arrive, the system is reliable, and the system
will not cost them an inordinate amount of money or time as is the case many times today. (See
advantages of national and passenger rail listed in Section V-paragraphs 4-6, Section I-paragraph 1,
and Section II- paragraph 1 as well as the seven potential benefits listed in Section II)
Second, we must remember that ALL components of a national system become part of the regional and
local systems. Therefore, national system components are patronized and utilized regularly by local
and regional passengers, when available, although these passengers may not be deemed "national" or
"long distance" travelers. As more national components are built they become a part of the regional
and local infrastructure. With increased availability from the national system, the local patronage will
increase dramatically from what is experienced today. The examples cited in Section II- paragraph 1
are just some of the areas where this has been proven in practice.
Quoting Don Paskewitz once again: "The ... myth is that "people won't ride trains. ...........The reality is
that people do ride trains, when trains are available. The current limiting factor on cross-county train
ridership is equipment availability, not demand. Similarly, regional and commuter train travel is
increasing dramatically throughout the country. This has happened largely through local initiatives.
Imagine what will happen when the Congress sets aside adequate funding to reequip Amtrak and begin
the long-term task of upgrading our rail infrastructure (in conjunction with the states, local
governments and the freight railroads --- the Alameda Corridor is a prime example of this type of
cooperation where all involved benefit)."
VI) Argument against those that feel passenger rail transportation and Amtrak should not be
subsidized as a matter of fiscal conservative policy, or that passenger rail should be privatized.
Quoting from Don Paskewitz again: "There are several serious myths that continue to dog attempts to
resolve the current Amtrak crisis and put Amtrak on a course to fulfilling its long term share of
passenger transportation requirements. Chief among these myths is that Amtrak should show somehow
"pay its own way." Newspaper articles continue to refer to Amtrak as "losing money." The reality is
that all modes of transportation in this country (and in all other countries, for that matter) are
subsidized. The only real issue is the extent to which the various modes of transportation should be
subsidized. To date, Amtrak has received short shrift. The numbers are staggering: Since its inception
over thirty years ago, Amtrak has received less from the Federal government IN TOTAL than the
Federal government has spent, on average, EACH YEAR on highways."
It is preposterous to assert that a national or any public rail transportation system must pay for itself.
We have created national systems for highways and airports that are not required to pay for themselves
and they continue to operate with public blessing and government subsidy. Given its many advantages,
why should passenger rail service be any different?
The following is an excerpt from my response to an email I received from a fiscally conservative friend in
which he said: "Yes, by all means, lets continue subsidizing the $1,000.00 per passenger with
our hard earned, easy confiscated- taxes."
The following is part of my response:
"Why do we subsidize the trucking and auto industry with trillions of dollars in highways, bridges,
roads and so on? And why do we subsidize the airlines with mega- billions in airports, FAA, air
traffic controllers and the like? And how about the marine shipping industry with gazillions in harbors and
docks? And then we fight over 1 billion (what Congress calls "chump change") for Amtrak which is a
far cry from what is really needed.
Is there some reason that passenger rail should be the orphan step- child of transportation? All
transportation is a public service and it all is subsidized whether it is highways, waterways, airports
or the like. Public services by definition do not make money, yet Amtrak was the only one in the WORLD
asked to do so.
If your answer is nobody rides Amtrak so why should we subsidize it, my answer is two-fold. First, -
not many people ride Amtrak because it has never had financial support anywhere near
(understatement) all the other forms of transportation. Therefore it has never been able to fund proper
operations and capital improvements like EVERY OTHER rail system in the developed world. Second, wait until you
see your freeways if Amtrak shuts down and the commuter systems in this country shutdown. This is
due to Amtrak's operational involvement in these commuter systems.
If we follow your logic, we would not give money to highways, airports, harbors and the like. We would make
them all pay their own way like Amtrak was asked to do. Public service is public service whether it is
airports, highways or rail. So do you want to pull the money from airports and highways?
Take a look at the rest of the world as to what happens when the government supports nationalized and
regionalized rail systems with proper subsidy. Rail is the PREFERRED method of transportation when
subsidized properly. The US can't come up with an effective rail system because we give the subsidies
unfairly to all the other industries. Thus they have a huge competitive advantage.
It is a famous history lesson how the auto, tire and oil industries "bought" the government subsidies
away from rail in the 50's so they could sell what they manufacture and try to put railroads out of business. It
was NOT through fair competition. It was through the removal of the subsidies from the railroads so the
monies could be given to the other forms of transportation. They bought the business by buying the
subsidies. This is called government by special interest.
We need to look beyond the simplistic to the reality. Passenger rail needs subsidized just like the highways
you drive EVERYDAY." (END OF EXCERPTED EMAIL)
Now as to the desire from some that passenger rail systems be privatized. A good summary of this is
presented by Don Paskewitz: "The second myth is that passenger operations would pay for themselves,
if only they were privatized. Wrong: in 1945, virtually every community in the United States was
served by passenger rail provided by private railroad companies. By the early 1950's, those railroads
began shedding passenger trains to stem horrendous losses from passenger operations. When Amtrak
took over most US passenger rail operations in 1971, few railroads were willing to continue their
passenger trains and those few gave up within a short time. If private railroad companies, using
existing equipment and running over their own track maintained in any event for freight operations
could not break even on passenger operations, there is certainly no reason to believe that break even
can be achieved today. Amtrak does need strong management, but it is essentially a public operation. It
is incongruous, to say the least, that President Bush's team would suggest privatizing passenger
operations at the same time the country, through the Congress, has recognized the need to federalize
security at airports. Some functions inherently can be carried out better by governments or quasi-
governmental entities. Passenger transportation is one of these".
VII) Conclusion and Political Contact Information:
The sad fact is that an effective national train system as described above IS possible with today's
technology, but it has not come close to materializing The only thing we are missing to achieve this is
the funding. The needs and advantages of national passenger rail travel speak for themselves. Our
country must bring this matter to consensus and a point of priority. This will take proper information
dissemination in order for the public to realize the advantages and feasibility of the system. Only then
will the political system be moved and will we be enabled as US citizens to experience the benefits of
rail travel as is done throughout so much of the developed world.
We need to pull our country up from "second class" status in this area. And you can make a difference
by providing proper information to your friends and colleagues and by writing to your political
The National Association of Rail Passengers (NARP) http://www.narprail.org is an
excellent resource for information, action alerts and up to date news. I suggest you check out their
website and even become a member.
NARP has suggested making letters to your political representatives short and to the point. While I
respect this recommendation, I believe a little extra information will not hurt the cause. Even if your
representatives are just interested in the "pro" and "con" tally on the issue, some of your letter may be
read by staff personnel or even the representative themselves, in order to pick up a flavor for the exact
sentiment in the country. When I did my recent letters to Congress and the White House I did not spend
a lot of time on them but I did give more than just a short note of support.
So for anyone who hasn't registered their support with letters and calls to their representatives, it
does not take a lot of effort. Following NARP's recommendations, just a few line note or comment is all
that is needed to put your views on this matter on the proper side of the issue tally.
According to NARP here is what you should tell your legislators:
- "That you oppose any shutdown of the Amtrak system, no matter how briefly;
- That you support a system of long-distance trains -- not just corridors -- in the U.S.;
- That the federal government must expand rail services of both types by providing a meaningful funding and
planning partnership with states (as is the case with other modes);
- That a government that does all it can to force people into "choosing" to fly or drive should not deny people the
option of safe, comfortable, affordable, and environmentally friendly rail travel (over any distance).
- Express your support for Senate bill S.1991 as it does the most (among those currently pending) to promote
nationwide passenger rail service."
Please note that the NARP website lists all bills pending in Congress related to passenger rail service
in the US.
Here is important contact information:
Call the White House Inter- government Affairs Office (IGAO) at (202) 456-2896 to leave a message for
According to guidelines from a recent NARP action alert email; do not permit them to transfer you to
the White House Comment Line. NARP's email to me indicated that comments should be made at the
IGAO office and not the White House Comment Line. Note this may only be applicable to the recent
issue on which they were writing regarding Amtrak's request for $200 million in loan guarantees in
order to avoid a shut down. I am not sure. In any event, here is the White House Comment Line: 202-456-1111
Contact the Capitol Hill Switchboard (202-224-3121) to reach your Senators and your Representative
in the House. You need only ask to be put through to their office and you will be directly connected.
The above telephone process is AMAZINGLY simple. All of my Senator's and Representative's
offices answered the phone immediately and had people ready to take my comments when I called.
The IGAO office was the same, ready to take down comments immediately.
It took me a total of 12- 15 minutes to leave my comments for all of the above politicians expressing
my feelings that we need them to support Amtrak's need for adequate funding now, and that we need
their support for long term funding of substantial levels for AMTRAK. That is, funding levels that will
help Amtrak become a real transportation option instead of the hobbled system that it is now due to it's
lack of adequate funding. I asked my representatives to support Senate Bill S.1991 at a minimum, and other long
term initiatives with high levels of support funding.
In terms of writing letters, please check out the following links for addresses and emails to your
President Bush and the White House - http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact
House Representative- http://www.house.gov/writerep/
I have also been told that contact at your local representative's office may be more productive than
contacting them via mail, email, or via the Congressional Switchboard connection at their Washington
office. I am not well versed in this area so it would not hurt to call the local office of your representative
and obtain their opinion as to the best way to make your views heard.
Thanks to anyone who has read this far down. You are either a true Amtrak supporter, very inquisitive
and open minded or you needed something to do for the day!
Seriously though, I wish to thank you for your consideration of these matters in support of national
passenger rail transportation and Amtrak. Please contact your political representatives at all levels,
I will end this paper by providing one more quote from Don Paskewitz that summarizes the need for
"Amtrak needs your support both in resolving the current crisis and in fashioning a workable program
for national railroad transportation for the twenty first century. Please act now to ensure the survival
and future health of this vital national resource".
** Larry L. Boerio
Buena Park, CA
For your convenience a copy of this paper is available at: