The Bush budgets for 2006 and 2007 proposed ending federal support of Amtrak, the only US national passenger rail service.In fiscal 2005, the federal subsidy to Amtrak was $1.2 billion, which is what Bush spends in six days in Iraq.
In late July 2006, the Senate Appropriations Committee included $1.4 billion for Amtrak in the 2006-07 federal budget, thus once gain saving Amtrak from the Bush Administration ax.
Eliminating federal support would force Amtrak into bankruptcy and cause it to shut operations.
Amtrak provides intercity and cross-country service to more than 500 US destinations in 46 states on a 22,000-mile route system. 24 million passengers rode Amtrak this past year, an all-time high and ridership has soared on all routes, from the northeast corridor, to the west, midwest and more.
Amtrak President David Gunn called Bush's 2006 proposal "irresponsible and a surprising disappointment."
"Bizarre" Budget Cuts
Republicans and Democrats object to this short-sighted budget cut, as seen on NBC's Meet the Press on February 27, 2005. Appearing were Senators Joe Biden (D-DE) and Rick Santorum (R-PA), a conservative Bush supporter.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about another tough issue for both of you: Amtrak. The president wants...
SEN. BIDEN: It's not tough for me.
MR. RUSSERT: You take Amtrak every day back and forth to work.
SEN. BIDEN: This is absolutely bizarre that we continue to subsidize highways beyond the gasoline tax, airlines, and we don't subsidize, we don't want to subsidize a national rail system that has environmental impact. Do you know what it would take? It would take us $71 billion to be able to go and take--if you took Amtrak out of the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston, to build enough highway on 95 to go up and back. This is the ultimate being penny-wise and a pound-foolish.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Santorum, your Republican colleague from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, said the president's elimination of federal subsidies for Amtrak is unacceptable.
SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you share that view?
SEN. SANTORUM: I would agree with--it's not...
MR. RUSSERT: So you're going to fight it?
SEN. SANTORUM: It's not acceptable to me, either.
Why would George Bush propose to shut down Amtrak?
A recent op-ed in Newsday claimed that the Bush administration has sold out the railroads to the oil interests, airlines interests and the automotives interests.
The Bush mantra is that Amtrak must become self-sufficient financially, just like the airlines and highways. Reality is that airlines and highways are supported by many billions annually of taxpayers dollars.
Another reality is no mass transportation system in the world survives without government subsidies. And why should it? Government is not business. Government supports its citizens with their own funds.
The White House openly predicts that without subsidies, “Amtrak would quickly enter bankruptcy, which would lead to elimination of inefficient (i.e. unprofitable) operations…."
The purpose of government is not to make a profit. It is to serve the people, not take and profit from the people.
Bush's message on this is atrocious. It doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s a fraud.” Said Dr. Vukan Vuchik, Professor of Transportation at University of Pennsylvania.
Why should Amtrak be saved?
- Cost-efficient - Subsidies for Amtrak since it began in 1971 are less than “loans” given to US airlines since 9/11.
- Energy-efficient – Amtrak uses just 54% of the energy per passenger mile that airlines consume.
- Loss of Amtrak would immobilize millions – Many smaller communities are poorly served, or not served at all, by other forms of public transportation. Many people…elderly, disabled, those with medical conditions…cannot fly, and need trains as a travel option.
- Amtrak is good for the environment – Trains create less pollution because they use less energy. Also, one rail line can carry the equivalent of 16 highway lanes, thus additionally reducing both gas usage and air pollutants.
President Bush wants to push Amtrak into bankruptcy, and end its rail services. He proposes to set aside funds for a new train system to someday run only in the country’s northeast corridor.
Bush wants to “privatize” the rest of Amtrak by selling its assets, and let corporations make profits as they see fit.
The leading House Democrat on transportation, Minnesota Rep. Jim Oberstar, predicts a “test of wills.” “This is serious” he said. “They really intend to eliminate Amtrak.”
Said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ),” They’re about to run Amtrak off a cliff…. We’re gonna fight it, and we’ll see who blinks first.”