Published on Friday, July 28, 2006 by the Madison Capital-Times (Wisconsin)
Bush Just Keeps On Ignoring Railroads
by Dave Zweifel
The federal government's Transportation Department has just issued a "white paper" on reducing traffic congestion in the country and guess what? It doesn't include a word about how improvement of either passenger or freight rail in America might be able to help.
Once more, the powers-that-be in Washington are determined to put all the nation's transportation eggs essentially in one basket more and bigger highways with a small sop to improving some airport traffic control systems.
The oversight drew a letter of protest from the president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, George Chilson.
"While you are right to target congestion as a serious and growing national problem, we are dumbfounded that you failed even to mention rail in National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network," he wrote. "Neglect of rail both by federal policy and stage politics that it encourages is the primary reason that our nation continues to spend enormous amounts on transportation infrastructure without satisfactory results."
What's ironic particularly with this administration, which wants to privatize everything from Social Security to Homeland Security, is that the rail system's tracks and rights-of-way are virtually privately owned by the rail corporations.
But, as Chilson said, "private ownership of the nation's rail infrastructure does not render it less valuable to the American people, place it beyond the purview of federal transportation policy, or make it ineligible for public funding."
The rail passenger advocate pointed out that outgoing Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has an example of how public and private interests can work together on rail improvements right in his home state of California.
There, the state invested in track, signals, bridges, stations and passenger cars and it has since led to a popular and fast-growing network of 60 daily passenger trains that carry more than 4 million passengers a year on three routes.
"California has proven that a dollar spent developing a railroad will buy us as much freight- and passenger-hauling capacity as a dollar spent on airports or highways," Chilson insisted.
What California did was provide funding for new side-by-side tracks to be built so that passenger and freight service don't interfere with each other, a major problem that impedes the country's Amtrak service to this very day.
Why leaders of this administration can't understand that to put 500 people on a train essentially removes 500 cars from the highway is nothing short of perplexing unless, of course, road builders just have better connections and more money.
Dave Zweifel is editor of the Capital Times. E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2006 The Capital-Times