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Human beings will be happier - not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That's my utopia.
~Kurt Vonnegut
Saturday, May 27, 2006

A Shutdown Budget for Amtrak

We'd better start paying attention to the signals that reality is sending or we will be living in a very violent, impoverished and demoralized nation. And we have to begin somewhere, which is why I suggest we start by rebuilding the national passenger railroad system. It would have a significant impact on our oil use. It would put a lot of people to work on something meaningful and beneficial to all ranks of American society. The equipment is lying out there rusting in the rain, waiting to be fixed. We don't have to re-invent anything to do it.

The fact that we are not even talking about such solutions shows how unserious we are.
~James Howard Kunstler The Suburban Fantasy

Instead, the House proposes shutting Amtrak down.

Follows is a sample letter with talking points from Friends of Amtrak. Contact both the House and Senate.
Full Support Needed for Passenger Rail Transportation (Amtrak):

It is very important to the ongoing viability of this country that we support and enhance intercity passenger rail transportation. Now, more than ever, intercity rail (e.g. Amtrak), is critical, considering:

Ø The current energy situation resulting from dependence on
foreign oil/fossil fuels (trains are the most fuel efficient modes of
Ø Security concerns and possible shutdown of the aviation system
and highways due to terrorism, natural disasters, etc.;
Ø Freedom of mobility, for both citizens and visitors, is jeopardized by a retracting airline industry and diminished highway travel options.

Intercity rail needs to be preserved as a freedom of choice in mode of transportation in the United States. Ironically, this network has gradually been diminished down to a bare-bones skeletal network and it needs to be restored to pre-1980 levels.

Amtrak should not be expected to make a profit; rather it is a basic infrastructure service which the federal government must provide, just as they provide an aviation and highway infrastructure system. First-class and dining services need to continue to be offered so as to attract myriad customers, whose revenues, if properly managed, could help offset some operating losses. Creative financing could be used to support some of these services, possibly involving private sector sponsorship and/or operating franchises (such as the Pullman Company provided). The great long-distance trains of the West could be linked closer with our National Parks system, and preserved for future generations.

In recent years, Amtrak has made great strides in improving services and increasing ridership, despite a lack of support from Washington (They fired David Gunn, the best leader Amtrak ever had and the Amtrak board is composed of people without any experience or vision in rail transportation).

Intercity rail travel, where supported, enhanced and/or restored (such as in Maine, California, Midwest and Northeast corridors), has been proven to attract new customers. It gets them out of fuel guzzling automobiles and out of the crowded skyways. But, without a long term support plan, including funding and a guarantee that services will be there tomorrow, our choices will be left with either driving or flying, neither of which is an attractive or civilized mode of transport.

The best course of action would be:
1) For Congress to fund Amtrak’s FY 2007 budget at or above the level requested by the current Amtrak board:
2) For Congress to review the firing of David Gunn and the make-up of the Amtrak board, and to appoint new members who will be constructive and build a new Amtrak:
3) For a long term strategic plan to be developed and implemented. This plan should include provision for new and improved infrastructure, new equipment including high speed trains, and minimum levels of service in terms of coverage (all major cities should be served), frequency (at least two trains per day) and a customer/passenger bill of rights which would include minimum standards for levels of service, on-time performance, food, sleeping accommodations, etc.

Funding should not be an issue, since we are talking about small amounts compared to what is spent on supporting, rebuilding and defending third-world countries.

If we can't even consider funding the backbone of this country, much less improving it for all, then we really are A Nation of Clowns
posted by Cyndy | link | | |


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