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Front Page » April 5, 2005 » Opinion » Save the trains for future Americans
Published 3,523 days ago

Save the trains for future Americans


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By KEN LARSON
Sun Advocate publisher

While living in Eastern Montana with my grandparents I finished high school and often had the chance to ride Amtrak from my parents home to western Montana. I loved it and every chance I now get I try and take the train. Shortly after moving to eastern Utah I realized that Helper had one of the few train stations in the state and I decided I wanted to ride Amtrak to Denver. That possibility came true about three weeks ago and I was able to catch the train and interview many of the passengers for a story that appeared in the Sun Advocate.

Over the past few years I have heard reports about Amtrak's service being cut or even curtailed but it wasn't until I got on the train and began visiting with other passengers and train personnel that I realized that nationwide passenger-rail service is in great danger. Amtrak has said that the funding level ($1.2 billion) provided this year is not enough to run the existing nationwide service in 2005. Without increased funding, the system may shut down.

Some key Bush administration and congressional leaders want to end or drastically cut Amtrak's nationwide service, even though the department of transportation inspector general and Amtrak agree that route cuts would not produce financial savings for several years. Such cuts could end support in Congress for all intercity passenger rail travel.

Nationwide service gives Americans a travel choice they have used increasingly since the 9-11 attacks. You can't believe the number of retired people or senior citizens who have time on their hands and are fed up with airports, increased security, inconveniences and rudeness by airport personnel. All of those situations have increased dramatically since 2001 and people need other choices.

Amtrak also serves many smaller communities with few transport alternatives. With the increases we are experiencing in gas prices and the rising cost of airline tickets train travel is an incredible option for many people.

The United States has tried for too long to have a rail system designed on the cheap. In the last 20 years federal highway spending has more than doubled and aviation spending has more than tripled, while Amtrak expenditures has fallen sharply and has consistently been below its subsistence level.

This is not what other developed countries are doing and it is not what we should be doing. Our Amtrak system is in major trouble and if you are interested in helping now is the time to tell our president to preserve our national, interconnected passenger-rail network and to support Amtrak President David Gunn's work to rebuild it.

We need to urge congress to maintain or enlarge the present nationwide network and to make the federal government a genuine funding partner with states' higher-speed rail efforts.

Amtrak has received less funding than it needed to run and maintain its rail system in 19 of the past 21 years. The result of such meager funding is that Amtrak has had to resort to deferred maintenance, coupled with crippling debt.

I believe its time to do something about it. Contract the president at president@whitehouse.gov and contact your senators and representatives to let them know how you feel.


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