Transportation Policy & Amtrak

In a time when airlines are failing, three-in-a-week, and canceling flights, which will likely lead to further rises in air travel costs; in a time when fuel costs continue to rise, causing havoc in nearly ever other sector; in a time when we’re recovering from a pro-highway Bush-appointed transportation secretary; in a time when we obviously need Amtrak more than ever, the Republicans have nominated John McCain, a man who has been one of Amtrak’s harshest critics in the Senate (despite finding it rather convenient), a candidate deemed “worse than Bush” on transportation policy, even by the right wing.

It’s clear that the “failed business model” of rail travel only fails up until the point when fuel costs make air and automobile travel prohibitively expensive. And we’re getting there rather quickly. In the holiday season, when snow storms strike on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, airports close but Amtrak keeps on running. Here in the northeast, Amtrak trains deliver passengers right to the middle of some of the nation’s most important centers of business & finance, law, politics, and academia: New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Philadelphia. And the train doesn’t dump you off at Dulles, or La Guardia, with another 45 minutes of cab ride to go, you are delivered to the city’s center. Those of us who work in the northeast and travel to/from these cities and want to be able to get something done en route, rely heavily on Amtrak.

So this is not a time to clamp down on Amtrak. If you’re pro-business, you’ll recognize that travelers in the nation’s busiest business centers rely heavily on Amtrak. If you’re in favor of diversifying our transportation “portfolio”, so that we’re not entirely reliant on air or highway, then you know we need Amtrak.

So where do the candidates stand?


Obama’s campaign has created a document—the Bluprint for Change—which clearly and concisely outlines his policies on the most important issues. Additionally, he has policy documents dedicated to specific issues, including a statement on transportation policy. In that, Obama specifically address Amtrak thus:

Obama believes we need to reform Amtrak to improve accountability. In many parts of the country, Amtrak is the only form of reliable transportation. In the U.S. Senate, Obama is a cosponsor of the Passenger Rail Investment and Innovation Act of 2007, a leading act to provide long-term federal investment to Amtrak. As president, Barack Obama will continue to fight for Amtrak funding and reform so that individuals, families and businesses throughout the country have safe and reliable transportation options.

Top marks for Obama.


I give Hillary high marks for her transportation policy, assuming she actually intends to follow-through on it. In addition to increasing efficiency standards for autos, she wants to spend $1B to increase passenger rail infrastructure, but keep Amtrak at its current (underfunded) levels:

Hillary believes that greater federal involvement is needed to maximize the potential of this transportation mode. She will increase federal investment in light rail by $1 billion over 5 years in order to help finance capital projects. These investments are in addition to the federal commitment to Amtrak.

Not bad, but not much there for Amtrak. B-


The McCain campaign’s website doesn’t mention transportation policy. Anywhere. In his “on the issues” section, he does specifically mention our space program and second amendment rights, but nothing on transportation. He has entire “issues” sections dedicated to “human dignity” (ie, his anti-abortion panderama and anti-gay-marriage rant) and again, one for second amendment rights. So, high marks for finding a euphemism for “anti-abortion”, but a failing grade on transportation policy.

Goole Search on the McCain site for the word “Amtrak”: no results.


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