Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Stupid beyond belief

The Bush Administration has proposed eliminating funding for Amtrak starting in October of this year. It admitted doing this as a ploy to get Congress to focus on its "reform" plan which turns much of burden of Amtrak funding over to the states. Of course, the Republican tax-cutters have been busy in the states as well leaving state government bereft of adequate funding even for basic public services. The only conclusion one can come to is that the Bush Administration's announced ploy is not its real ploy. Forcing states to shoulder most of the responsibility for Amtrak would be the same as ending the vast majority of Amtrak service, and that's what the adminstration really wants to do.

Consider that this is the administration that came into office talking about America's "energy crisis." What it meant, of course, was that oil and utility interests didn't have enough power. So, as has become the administration's pattern, it seized on a false crisis (the false electricity shortage in California brought to you by Enron and others) and then offered a solution that is what they wanted to do anyway: drill for oil everywhere in the United States. But, wait! The administration actually did stumble onto a real crisis without knowing it. Energy supplies are strained worldwide. Natural gas production is peaking in North America right now. Some experts say we have already reached peak world oil production and others say we'll be there within the next 10 to 15 years. Not much time to prepare.

So, one of the first orders of business, you might think, would be to build a decent mass transit system with an expanding intercity train service at its center. Not so. The feckless secretary of transportation, Norman Mineta, thinks that Amtrak should be run on a corporate model. Funny, he doesn't think the nation's highways should be run this way. But, then there are no huge contractors providing big campaign contributions for laying and maintaining Amtrak's right-of-way, are there?

No public rail system in the world runs at a profit. All of them are part of an integrated transportation system that offer options to people and create efficiencies in the movement of people and the use of fuel and resources. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that we will be needing a lot more rail service in the coming decades, not a lot less.

Amtrak has never been able to prosper because it has gotten too little money not too much. It has been forced to defer maintenance and investment just to keep daily operations going. Mineta tries to make Amtrak's decision to do this look like bad management. The bad management came from the transportation department and Congress.

But one thing is certain: This op-ed piece by Mineta in The New York Times has the right headline. Would Mineta do the same to the roadbuilding lobby, or say, his own children?

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