An editorial in the Grand Rapids Press endorses more funding and support for Amtrak as part of the solution to our energy and global warming crisis. I couldn't agree more.
According to the editorial, ridership on the Grand Rapids-Chicago line has increased 75% from 2001 to 2006. And 2006 was a year of record ridership on Amtrak (established in 1971) with 25 million passengers. From the editorial:
[Amtrak's] future has always ridden on uncertain funding and received mixed signals. Presidents at some points have called for no federal contribution -- which would be a death knell for Amtrak -- only to have Congress save the day. A year-to-year scrap for survival is no way to build a robust national passenger rail system.
Congress would do far better to fund Amtrak the way it funds roads, in multi-year budgets that allow planning, consistency and steady improvement.
A measure in the U.S. Senate would accomplish those goals. The bill would shell out $11.4 billion in federal funds for Amtrak and other passenger rail services over six years and provide another $7.4 billion for rail development. The funds would require new on-time service standards. Those improvements are necessary to justify the investment.
Clearly, Michigan wants passenger rail service -- more and more of it. Congress can give that to the state and the country by promising steady funding that will build up the national passenger train system. In an age of rising energy costs and a national thirst for foreign oil, that's the right track to follow.
For once, I don't have to be embarrassed by my state's senators - Levin and Stabenow. They're supporting the bill.
And there's no reason we can't revolutionize national transportation through a significant investment in passenger trains and light rail. We've been there before:
Between 1870 and 1916, the total track mileage of U.S. railroads grew from 53,000 to 245,000 miles (85,000 to 394,000 km); during the same period, key technological innovations (including standard gauge track, more powerful locomotives, air brakes, signaling systems, and steel passenger cars) brought significant improvements in the safety and speed of rail travel. By 1910, railroads handled 95% of all intercity travel in the U.S. Peak volume of passenger rail travel was reached in 1920, when 1.2 billion passengers were carried.