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Congress must rescue Amtrak from Bush's ax



Published: Sat, February 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Detroit Free Press: President Bush has had Amtrak on the ropes for four years. Now he's preparing a knockout blow with a shortsighted plan to end federal subsidies for the passenger rail service.

If Congress doesn't stop him, Bush will derail a part of the nation's transportation system that cuts pollution, traffic congestion, dependence on foreign oil and the huge expense of building and maintaining highways.

Amtrak got $1.2 billion this year in operating subsidies and capital investment for its nationwide system. That might sound like a lot, but it's about the same as the price tag to rebuild seven miles of interstate highway in Detroit.

Instead of granting Amtrak an operating subsidy, Bush wants to set aside $360 million to run trains between Washington and Boston, if the railroad goes belly up. Bush's plan would leave huge sections of the country without train service. Private operators would pick off the most profitable routes and the rest would disappear.

A national passenger rail system is in the national interest. It's a federal responsibility.

Worn tracks

Amtrak is limping now. Congress, for the last two years, has given the railroad $600 million less than it needed to pay for capital improvements, including the replacement of worn track, repairing bridges and rebuilding rail cars. A few states provide subsidies for Amtrak, but Washington won't match those contributions

Amtrak, under three-year President David Gunn, has cut costs and increased ridership to a record 25 million a year.

Amtrak's problem is a lack of federal rail policy. Bush's push to dismantle the service is more about ideology than efficiency. Federal subsidies are not proof of failure. Even the busiest public transportation systems need operating subsidies. And highways and aviation get a lot more government help.

Congress must stop this bush-whack.




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