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New Amtrak and intercity Public Transport Section

By Light Rail Progress • August 2003

While the primary focus of the Light Rail Now! website is certainly the development of light rail transit (LRT) and other urban and regional public transport modes, one must keep in mind that all mobility systems are interrelated – particularly public transport systems. That implies that the issue of intercity rail passenger service (and other surface transportation) is integrally linked with the fortunes of local mass transit, including LRT.

Texas Association for Public Transportation (TAPT) has long recognized the crucial importance of maintaining, improving, and expanding Amtrak intercity rail service, since our inception in 1973. indeed, research, analysis, and educational work by TAPT had a critical role in helping bring about major improvements in Texas Amtrak service in the 1970s and 1980s.

Expansion of Amtrak (should it survive at all), with its access straight into the heart of city centers, would provide a tremendous boost to all urban public transport, including LRT. indeed, supporters of urban and regional public transport have a vested interest in promoting improved, expanded intercity public transport of all modes – particularly Amtrak and intercity motor coach services.

Furthermore, the "market" arguments about the supposed "profitability" and "self-supporting" character of the highway and air transport systems, made by Amtrak opponents, are precisely the same as those wielded against urban public transport by its Road Warrior opponents. The rebuttals to those arguments are important ammunition in the efforts to bolster proposals and plans for LRT in cities both in North America and elsewhere.

In the USA, intercity rail passenger service – virtually synonymous with Amtrak – has increasingly emerged as an especial target (for elimination) of far-right opponents of public transport, clearly on behalf of special interests within the highway-motor vehicle industry and the air travel industry (which have received public subsidies astronomically in excess over the relatively minuscule assistance meted out to Amtrak). This occurs even after more than three decades of starvation-level funding in the face of an increasingly capacity-constricted national railroad system. Thus, it is our judgement that Amtrak, with its potential for yielding unique and significant improvements for public transport generally, merits special attention.

While rail passenger service in other countries has faced some attacks by "privatization" ideologues and highway and air industry competitors, these attacks do not seem to present the same degree of ferocious threat currently posed by the concerted effort of far-right extremists in the USA to gut and dismantle Amtrak in conformance with an ideological blueprint for destruction. To put it bluntly: Amtrak is currently in grave danger – despite the clear indications that travellers like Amtrak, the public in general support Amtrak, and Amtrak has repeatedly demonstrated its potential as a critical and highly cost-effective tool in maintaining intercity mobility in the face of worsening highway and airline congestion.

Amtrak Acela trainFor all these reasons, Light Rail Now! is initiating this special Amtrak and intercity Public Transport section to present facts, reliable information, and well-supported arguments, both to counteract the barrage of misinformation and misconception about these issues, and particularly to enable planners, decisionmakers, and the public to make truly informed decisions.

Updated 2003/08/12

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