Commentary

Amtrakís last gasp?

Seems like there’s always some article pondering Amtrak’s demise. This one’s from The Baltimore Sun: Hemmed in by miles of peas, lentils and Durham wheat, the 36,000 residents of this town have better transportation choices than most in this part of the country. Minot sits at the junction of three interstate highways. It has a new airport that provides daily service. Still, for more than 70 years, its heartbeat has been defined by the visits of the Empire Builder, a passenger train now operated by Amtrak that twice each day – one train west, and one east – traces a 2,000-mile course across the prairie and mountains between Chicago and Seattle. But the rhythm of the Empire Builder’s visits might soon end. President Bush is proposing to break Amtrak into a network of regional systems supported by a combination of private and state money and significantly reduced federal aid – a plan widely viewed as a virtual death sentence for the national rail system. Congress is expected to begin pondering Amtrak’s future soon. Its decision will be felt across America. From crowded Penn Station in New York City to rural way stations such as Minot, more than 23 million passengers use Amtrak every year. Critics call the national network an expensive toy for rail enthusiasts and say the shape of the passenger rail system should be determined by the willingness of states and users to pay.

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.