Jack Markowitz, the curmudgeonly and conservative retired Trib business editor, finds himself aghast to be opposed to one of the president's proposed budget cuts: the Amtrak subsidy. He makes a concise yet eloquent defense for continuing to subsidized the nation's beleaguered passenger rail system:
Rail travel gets a public contribution to ticket prices in even the countries with the best, fastest trains, such as Japan and France. In fact, all sorts of transportation receive subsidies overt or hidden.
U.S. rail travel might be kept on the shortest rations. Yet it's the last line of defense against dooming all inter-city travel to the automobile (fuel-wasting and smashup-prone), airlines (whipsawed by oil prices, security scares and socked-in airports) or buses (crowded and dingy at terminal level).
Like most of Bush's budget cuts, I suspect slashing the Amtrak subsidy is a bargaining chip or a way to shift blame to Congress for the nation's profligate spending. Northeastern lawmakers, whose constituents use Amtrak or who rely on it themselves, usually end up salvaging the railroad system. As Markowitz notes, Amtrak would be wise to eliminate some inefficiencies and, if money allows, to add lines at peak times that would attract more travelers. In any case, I agree that Amtrak is worth saving.