The Bush administration has long sought to neuter Amtrak over the years by slashing funding. Pretty typical stuff from a mis-guided administration. Just as the country desperately needs more rail & people become open to the notion of using rail to get around, let's apply a final KO to our passenger rail system, barely clinging to the ropes. Makes perfect sense.
The good news is that a Democratically controlled Congress has seen the value of public passenger rail & has protected Amtrak's budget allocation.
Now, as this NYTimes editorial points out, merely protecting the "woefully inadequate" budget number is clearly not enough, but it's a step in the right direction.
There is a problem, however. Bush has the veto. In order to negate the potential veto, we learn:
To get a big enough vote to override a threatened veto by President Bush, the House leadership obliged the worst instincts of Republicans. It included a measure requiring the government to seek proposals from private companies to construct a high-speed rail service between New York and Washington.
The privatization of everything might end up being the most damaging legacy of the Bush years, which is really saying something when you consider the list of failures. I'm currently reading Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, which exposes how the Bush administration has funneled billions of taxpayer dollars to private security firms (aka mercenaries). It's a stunning & startling eye-opener to say the least. Blackwater employees operate in a nebulous zone where there are zero legal repurcussions for their actions. Plus, the amount of waste in terms of money is horrifying. When you make war profitable & you invite in private corporations to enjoy the spoils of war, you create a real need for more war. Seriously, check out the book. It's quite a read.
Privatization might not help you win a war, but it is a hell of a way to generate profits. So why not privatize passenger rail, too? Well, I think the Blackwater escapade can teach us something about why not. Companies will cut every corner available in order to maximize profit. Do you really think a private company would do a better job with a high-speed electric rail line in the northeast corridor? As the Times points out, the cost to purchase right of ways alone makes the idea infeasible.
Much better would be to follow the European model:
Where passenger rail works best, as it does in Europe, it is treated like the critical service it is and is publicly financed, like the highways.
Exactly. This is mission critical stuff. We can't afford to farm this job out to private contractors who will not have the public's interest at the top of the list. This is too important. We the people need to own this. Electric rail is key to our future energy policy. Let's hope the Congress does the right thing & let's pray Bush doesn't veto.
Image provided by Flickr user ashman 88 under Creative Commons license