Thursday, July 24, 2008

A realistic article on Amtrak

Thoughtful articles about my favorite political subject, passenger trains, are hard to come by. This one, Train in Vain is a notable exception. The author, Ben Jervey, makes a cross country trip on Amtrak and reports his findings.

Jervey seems genuinely concerned that this country hasn't made a commitment to passenger rail, and he shows why Amtrak isn't all it could be. He gently, but realistically distributes responsibility for the problem to all parties involved, including Amtrak itself. In all, I am in agreement with him that Amtrak should be more than it is, and that economic conditions will likely force the matter sooner or later.

Which brings me to something I heard last night. Leon Panetta gave a talk to a group at my workplace. He expressed frustration with American political tendencies to govern by crisis. Our leaders habitually wait until a problem becomes so incredibly bad that it can't be ignored before working on solutions. Transportation in general, and Amtrak in particular, are perfect examples of the principle. Given that transportation affects the economy, the environment, energy policy, public safety, and overall quality of life, we need better national transportation policies which acknowledge the importance of passenger trains.

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