It seems to me that with our current and future energy crisis (there is an ever-increasing Chinese and Indian demand for oil, from the same not so friendly sources) we should be making sure to expand mass transit, including the currently under-funded Amtrak,Â in terms of improving the quality of service and the infrastructure to do so.
But despite much touted energy reform, this is not happening.Â In fact, things are getting worse.Â This past Thursday, 50,000 passengers between New York and Maryland experienced a black out, and were stranded. For hours.
The NY Times notes,
Although it’s not clear exactly what went wrong with the system, the underpinnings of the nation’s railroad system are primed for disaster. The White House and Congress have tried to squeeze every dollar out of Amtrak’s meager budget. To survive, the nation’s passenger railroad has cut service and raised ticket prices. But what really frightens the rail experts is how little federal money has been available to update the railroad’s aging infrastructure. One inspector general for the Department of Transportation warned that the budget for basic maintenance and improvements was so low that Congress and the White House were playing “Russian roulette” with the welfare of millions of riders across the country.
Amtrak would need at least $2 billion a year to bring the system to a state of good repair, according to the department’s analysts. For the Northeast Corridor, where some parts go back to the 1930’s, it would take a total of about $4 billion. So far, Congress and the White House have agreed to hand over a scant $600 million a year for all capital programs on passenger rails from coast to coast.
Washington power brokers like to say that Amtrak is mismanaged, but calling for better management of a system where the wires and steel are eroding is simply dodging the question.
What is revealing is that even now, with much talk about energy reform, the question of increasing mass transit is still not even addressed.Â This is not just a “dodge,” it is an elephant in the room that is not only not mentioned, but perhaps truly not seen.Â Many are obviouslyÂ still not convinced that there is a real need to have safe, speedy, and subsidized mass transit systems, not even the critical lineÂ that runs to and from the nation’s capital to the nation’s financial center.
This is happening because those of us who do understand this are not prioritizing it.Â We have failed.Â Not the obtuse.Â They don’t get it because we haven’t made them get it.
We have to accept that.Â And we need to start fighting for things that we can change.Â Not just point at and mope about things we can’t change until the House or Senate changes, and possibly not until the next administration.
But with growing acceptance and concern over our energy crisis, as well as the stall on Monday, we should take the opportunity to champion our national railroad, and hit hard now.Â
From there, we expand the issue to improving and expanding local mass transit systems.
And then we fight forÂ creating new ones.Â