$66 billion for Amtrak

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lrh442

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Amtrak, due to it's government funding, is always going to be political. However, it doesn't have to be partisan. But when supporters make it partisan Amtrak loses. People who really care about passenger rail will do well to avoid partisan generalizations and attacks.
 

danasgoodstuff

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Amtrak, due to it's government funding, is always going to be political. However, it doesn't have to be partisan. But when supporters make it partisan Amtrak loses. People who really care about passenger rail will do well to avoid partisan generalizations and attacks.
This is an important distinction, and if passenger rail supporters can do something that lessens the partisan divide then that's a win/win for rail and the country as a whole. Mostly moderate Dem, issue by issue guy here - always glad to sit down and talk to people to see if we can get beyond broad brush generalizations to individual issues where we can agree.
 

Dakota 400

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If you can explain to Republicans that trains are cheaper for the public than highways, you can win them over.
Amtrak does not contribute to the campaign coffers of our legislators. The industries that support building highways do make such contributions. Think that might make a difference? 😀
 

sttom

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Amtrak does not contribute to the campaign coffers of our legislators. The industries that support building highways do make such contributions. Think that might make a difference? 😀
There is a difference between Congress, Voters and State Legislators. Generally politicians that don't throw themselves in front of every camera they see are not as ideological as less well known ones. Meaning, convincing Ted Cruz or Louis Gomert that Amtrak is worthwhile probably won't happen. A Republican voter or unknown State Assembly Rep, you have a better chance. If there is anything that we can say is bipartisan about Amtrak, its that there is both support for it and hostility.
 

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Both George Bush (43) and Donald Trump proposed zero dollar budgets for Amtrak. I've never seen a zero dollar budget proposal from Carter, Clinton, Obama, or Biden. If Amtrak lost routes and frequencies because it was not fully funded it should be Congress that answers for that since they hold the purse strings. Obama and Biden are pro-rail but can only grant what Congress is willing to authorize and state officials are willing to accept. I have yet to see a Democratic official refuse public rail funding like Rick Scott (R) or run on a platform of redirecting passenger rail money to fund roads like Scott Walker (R). While it's true that some Republicans are indeed pro-rail many others are proudly anti-rail or at least against spending public money on it. One thing I can confirm is that voting for Democrats has never required me to vote against passenger rail. I think false equivalency and partisan hand wringing we see in this and other threads comes from people who struggle to align a history of supporting passenger rail while voting for those who put its future most at risk.
 
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Ziv

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I can not speak for others but for myself, despite my love of Amtrak trains, Amtrak itself does not even make it into the top 5 issues that I consider when I weigh which candidate will get my vote.

… I think false equivalency and political hand wringing we see in this and other threads comes from people who struggle to align a history of supporting passenger rail while also voting for those who put its future most at risk.
 

Tlcooper93

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Both George Bush (43) and Donald Trump proposed zero dollar budgets for Amtrak. I've never seen a zero dollar budget proposal from Carter, Clinton, Obama, or Biden. If Amtrak lost routes and frequencies because it was not fully funded it should be Congress that answers for that since they hold the purse strings. Obama and Biden were pro-rail but could only grant what Congress was willing to authorize and state officials were willing to accept. I have yet to see a Democratic official refuse public rail funding like Rick Scott (R) or run on a platform of redirecting passenger rail money to fund roads like Scott Walker (R). While it's true that some Republicans are indeed pro-rail many others are proudly anti-rail or at least against spending public money on it. One thing I can confirm is that voting for Democrats has never required me to vote against passenger rail. I think false equivalency and partisan hand wringing we see in this and other threads comes from people who struggle to align a history of supporting passenger rail while voting for those who put its future most at risk.
all of what you say is true.
as I wrote before, it’s more nuanced than left=rail and right=anti-rail.
What you just wrote is a nuanced answer that certainly unveils a trend, but acknowledges the complexities.
 

sttom

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You also have to take into consideration how much of what Bush and Trump did were posturing over policy. Republican Presidents have been hostile to Amtrak, but Congress largely isn't. And since the House controls the budget, the Presidential budget always just struck me as a performative tradition rather than something most people outside the Belt Way actually care about. The outcome though is what I care about, Clinton, Carter and Obama weren't explicitly hostile to Amtrak but cuts happened under them none the less. Which confirms some people's hypothesis about our politics being that we have one party that tries to destroy everything and the other one breaks things slightly. If that were the case, killing Amtrak directly or anything really isn't likely to work outside of an emergency, but killing something by 1000 cuts, that could work. The issues with Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa and Indiana are more proof of why Amtrak shouldn't be entirely beholden to the states when it comes having more service than a once per day long distance train. We don't do that with highways, airports or Social Security.
 

GoAmtrak

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Amtrak, due to it's government funding, is always going to be political. However, it doesn't have to be partisan. But when supporters make it partisan Amtrak loses. People who really care about passenger rail will do well to avoid partisan generalizations and attacks.
I agree with you.
Amtrak is a mostly state-funded passenger railway service. So there is always the question how much money Amtrak shall receive on a regular basis. That's why I think the impact of political parties (or some politicians) on passenger railway service is definitely not off-topic.

As some remarked rightly, my words "Just vote Democrats over Republicans for more passenger railway" was simplified. It was good to stimulate discussion about the impact of political parties on Amtrak. I gained some interesting new insight from your posts and learned something new.

Nonetheless, I still have the impression there is more than just a tendency Democratic politicians make more efforts towards improving passenger railway in the US:

- Joe Biden is a Democrat and for a long time, there wasn't a president making that much efforts to improve the passenger railway service. Donald Trump more than once asked Congress to reduce Amtrak funding. He's a Republican (and he is great ;) ).

- John Kasich (Ohio) and Scott Walker (Wisconsin) both had the chance to strengthen the Amtrak network in their state and even turned down federal money. Jim Douglas (Vermont) decided the Burlington commuter rail was not viable and to abolish it. Eric Holcomb (Indiana) proposed budget cuts which led to service cuts of the Hoosier state. All those politicians are Republicans.

- In contrast, I heard of Jon Tester (Montana) making efforts Amtrak to revitalize Montana's Hi-Line. I heard of Derek Bauman (Ohio) pushing for expanded railway service around Cincinnati. Tester and Bauman are members of the Democratic Party.

I just have the impression Democrats make more efforts towards passenger railway expansion, as my examples above should show. That's why I can imagine more Democrats in power could be an advantage for Amtrak. On the other hand, are there also numerous examples of Democrats who have hindered Amtrak expansion in their states in the last 20 years?

I do agree it is a big advantage if passenger rail projects are bi-partisan. Then you really have the strength behind it to get it done. I hope as many as possible politicians get on board for expansion.
 
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AmtrakMaineiac

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The partisan divide over support for rail could be somewhat explained by the fact that urban areas tend to vote Democrat and rural areas Republican. Rail primarily is seen as benefiting urban areas e.g. the Northeast Corridor. Of course our national network does benefit those rural areas it serves but in general this is not perceived as important as having a good highway network in those places.
 

GoAmtrak

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If you like talk instead of action. Remember the largest cuts over the entire life of Amtrak were under a Democratic president. Much as Trump was an obnoxious personality, he at least got things done, many of which never got any press. For example, he got more done to clean up superfund pollution sites than was done over the previous 3 presidential terms. Frankly, our current guy in office is a bumbling stumbling international embarrassment to this country. Then there are several other unrelated party platform issue that ensure I will never vote Democrat unless the alternative is a pure communist. There is also the joke running around, "my father had not voted for a Democrat since Kennedy until Biden, but by then he had been in the ground for 10 years." I can live with "mean tweets" if that is what it takes to make things happen. Reading through some of the things being proposed, a lot of this money is going to studies and some of the provisions are requiring things already being done. More looks than action, AGAIN. It is Texas that will probably have a high speed railway running before that in California has all sections under construction or even alignment and right of way settled. I would say excuse me for the politicing, but I won't.
I respect your opinion, but I may ask who is trying to make more efforts for passenger rail, Trump or Biden?

In this article is written Trump proposed to cut the Amtrak budget by half: https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2020/02/11/trump-again-asking-congress-slash-amtrak-funding/

Joe Biden in contrast has pushed the infrastructure bill to give Amtrak the possibility for expansion for the first time in many years.

Perhaps you are right and some Democrats including Joe Biden just talk about expansion but don't do that much to really improve. Personally, I hope this is or will not be the case and we can move forward.

I don't want to be missunderstood, I'm just talking about Democrats and Republicans and their relation to passenger rail, not their politicial agenda in general.


The partisan divide over support for rail could be somewhat explained by the fact that urban areas tend to vote Democrat and rural areas Republican. Rail primarily is seen as benefiting urban areas e.g. the Northeast Corridor. Of course our national network does benefit those rural areas it serves but in general this is not perceived as important as having a good highway network in those places.
I can imagine this may be partly an explanation for the divide also. Urban areas tend to vote Democratic and get more rail service, rural areas tend to vote more for Republicans and get less rail service (while we all know those are tendencies as there are also urban Republicans and rural Democrats, and some cities don't get railway service like Columbus or Phoenix).

By the way thank you to Devil's Advocate for your post to which I highly agree.
 

neroden

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There was an old breed of Republicans who strongly supported passenger rail, and there still are a few.

But there is also a highway-mad breed of Republicans who have become more and more aggressively hostile to passenger rail. They are bizarre -- they seem to think trains will cause Communism or rioting or some such nonsense.

There used to be highway-mad Democrats who attacked passenger rail too, but they mostly disappeared before I was in college (they still exist at the grassroots level and you can still find some in state legislatures, but not many).

And then there is a pretty large caucus of Democrats who are really strong passenger rail supporters.

There are still a lot of "lukewarm" Democrats and Republicans who don't really care either way.

In the old days, a "lukewarm" Republican would probably vote for a passenger rail project if it brought money to his district, and some still do. Unfortunately, for many years, many of the "lukewarm" Republicans have been pandering to the highway-mad Republicans -- which led to things like Kasich, who I think probably has no personal opinions on the matter, cancelling the fully federally funded Cleveland-Columbus-Cincy line which had been planned for over a decade.

The "lukewarm" Democrats do not have a similar highway-mad caucus to pander to, so they don't generally do things like that. They generally go along and support passenger rail as a favor to their passenger-rail-supporting colleagues, as long as they get enough phone calls in favor, even if they never would have inserted a passenger rail line in the budget themselves. (And might cut it from the budget if people stop advocating for it.)

That's my analysis, anyway.

I think you can probably figure out which politicians go in which group.

Governor Newsom's a "lukewarm" Democrat, for example, who will cut rail funding if he thinks nobody's demanding rail funding, but will sign it if his colleagues are demanding it. Bill Clinton was the same. I believe Obama was the same too.

Trump certainly has no personal opinions about passenger rail, and neither did G W Bush or G H W Bush, but all of them were pandering to the highway-mad caucus of their party.

Biden actually personally supports passenger rail. He is probably the first President since... Eisenhower, perhaps?... to care personally.
 
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pennyk

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MODERATOR NOTE: The moderating staff has removed many posts as being off topic and/or responses to posts that were removed for being off topic. Please try to keep your comments on the topic of Amtrak funding and please limit the discussion of politics to that which directly relates to Amtrak. Thank you.
 

Abe26

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Can someone explain how come the USA, supposedly a very super country. but when it comes to trains we are about 100 years old??
 

Tlcooper93

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Can someone explain how come the USA, supposedly a very super country. but when it comes to trains we are about 100 years old??
Because we are not actually a “super country,” and American exceptionalism led us to a false sense of reality. When I was younger, I really bought into the charade. It wasn’t until I started traveling to Europe and Asia for music that I noticed America was really behind when it comes to moving people around.

Turns out countries that we deemed less, surpassed our level of infrastructure decades ago.

In the technicals, you could write pages as to how the American “anti-train” attitude pervaded to the point where conservative governors would return government money (and still do) simply because it was given to start commuter rail projects.

The famous Boston Big Dig had plans for a North Station-South Station connection tunnel, but Ronald Reagan rejected the proposal and refused to fund any project that included provisions for rail.

Of course, car culture, the Koch Brothers, the Cato Institute (funded by the Koch Brothers) and a general culture that rejects anything communal in favor of individualism also contribute to the difficulty of rail related progress.
 
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WICT106

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Can someone explain how come the USA, supposedly a very super country. but when it comes to trains we are about 100 years old??
One reason is that many who vote for a certain party, are accustomed to getting around by car, and don't use transit and have never taken a train -- and they are O.K. with that. They're accustomed to getting around by car, and can't see themselves using a train ( or transit ) for any reason whatever. They don't want to have to pay for something they don't use, they've never used, and cannot see themselves using. They also have little to no idea of how difficult it is to get around town without a car. They're accustomed to getting around by car.
 

joelkfla

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In the technicals, you could write pages as to how the American “anti-train” attitude pervaded to the point where conservative governors would return government money (and still do) simply because it was given to start commuter rail projects.
Not just because they were anti-train, but also because it came from the opposing party.
 

Abe26

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we finally got a pro train person in the white house, probably won't happen again anytime soon, why can't we get some real infrastructure changes for at least normal speed trains?
with a car from NYP to CHI , with a car it takes 12hours , with a train its almost 20 hours!
you have every day almost 50 flights , if you can get the train on some semi normal speeds, not talking high speeds you should at least get it down to 10 hours, and I am sure you will have a much bigger audience on the trains. make it stop by PIT and CLE and you connect 4 big cities!

NY-BUF , with a car under 6 hours , with train almost 8 hours , why can't we have just semi normal speeds and make the trip within 5 hours? you have over 20 flights a day from NY to BUF, taking into account going to the airport till the final destination, its at least 4 hours , so for another hour you would for sure have much more costumers taking the train , then flying .

I feel the 66 billions $ , its just going to waste , instead of improving the infrastructure and getting more people using trains , we are just throwing money at the old system with no real benefit's. and then the republicans will say , hey you got 66 billions dollar, did anything meaningful improve?
 

CraigInNC

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The biggest problem I see going on is that everything has become "national" which is as problematic as being "partisan." Historically, outside of a handful couple 2-3 controversial issues that divided parties, most issues had other cleavages, urban/rural, regional, state/state, etc. The whole discussion of this bipartisan bill that just passed is an example of this. Yes a lot of GOP Senators voted for it and a handful of GOP House members did as well but it was whipped (at least in the House) by GOP leadership as a partisan vote. This very same bill could have been proposed during the past administration and the then President would have gladly signed it. As-is. That is the reality we live in. So now 13 House GOP members are catching flak for voting for a bill the current President signed that probably 90% of the GOP would support otherwise. As it relates to Amtrak, I tend to see that the D's tend to support Amtrak more often than not while the R's are more split but there is still substantial support for rail (and other mass transit). Federally and locally based on what I have seen in DC and in my home state of NC. There were a handful of true believers like John Mica who tried to throw monkey wrenches into the works but there was usually enough R's to move the necessary money. Biden is perhaps the first expressly pro-Amtrak president mainly because of his own personal experience riding the rails between DC and Delaware all those years. Few people probably voted for him just because of that but many railfans were heartened to see him win because of the potential for favorable attention. Who knows if the infrastructure bill would have looked different if another D besides Biden would have been elected. The past president claimed to want to move infrastructure legislation, remember "infrastructure week?" But nothing happened for reasons that are beyond this thread. Amtrak, light rail, and other mass transit programs generally find bipartisan support here in North Carolina and was even subject to discussion with the recently passed NC State Budget that the Governor signed last week that includes additional monies for intrastate rail. Too many electeds are putting national events in front of local interests and even their own feelings/desires and constituent needs in order to follow the herd.
 

Tlcooper93

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we finally got a pro train person in the white house, probably won't happen again anytime soon, why can't we get some real infrastructure changes for at least normal speed trains?
with a car from NYP to CHI , with a car it takes 12hours , with a train its almost 20 hours!
you have every day almost 50 flights , if you can get the train on some semi normal speeds, not talking high speeds you should at least get it down to 10 hours, and I am sure you will have a much bigger audience on the trains. make it stop by PIT and CLE and you connect 4 big cities!

NY-BUF , with a car under 6 hours , with train almost 8 hours , why can't we have just semi normal speeds and make the trip within 5 hours? you have over 20 flights a day from NY to BUF, taking into account going to the airport till the final destination, its at least 4 hours , so for another hour you would for sure have much more costumers taking the train , then flying .

I feel the 66 billions $ , its just going to waste , instead of improving the infrastructure and getting more people using trains , we are just throwing money at the old system with no real benefit's. and then the republicans will say , hey you got 66 billions dollar, did anything meaningful improve?
First of all, this is the first time in the history of Amtrak that they have any real money to work with. In their 50 years of existence, they have only been given enough cash to keep them from drowning.

When it comes to Amtrak management, I will be first to admit to their shortcomings, but we act as if we’ve given Amtrak a ton of money before and they’ve squandered it.

This has never happened, so we have no idea how Amtrak will handle this cash.

Secondly, asking Amtrak to be profitable/provide excellent service/insert-your-own-desire-here, is like asking Greyhound to completely pay for the highways it uses and make a profit at the same time.

Airlines additionally receive massive subsidies in different ways. They of course pay fees, but comparing airlines with trains in this country and in this day and age is not smart.

For once, let’s cut Amtrak a break, and wait and see what happens. Who knows, this could be a turning point.
 
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MARC Rider

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It wasn’t until I started traveling to Europe and Asia for music that I noticed America was really behind when it comes to moving people around.
It's not just that we're being surpassed on "moving people around." On my trips abroad to other developed countries, I've noticed that there's less crime, less poverty, better city planning, better quality television programming, and even the food is better. For crying out loud, I visited England and thought the quality of the food was better than that in the US.

I'm afraid that the US is just one step above being a Third-world country, and not a very big step, either.
 

neroden

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It's not just that we're being surpassed on "moving people around." On my trips abroad to other developed countries, I've noticed that there's less crime, less poverty, better city planning, better quality television programming, and even the food is better. For crying out loud, I visited England and thought the quality of the food was better than that in the US.

I'm afraid that the US is just one step above being a Third-world country, and not a very big step, either.
Don't get me started on health care, where the US is actually worse than most third-world countries. When Mexico and Thailand established universal health coverage in the 2000s, it should just have embarassed the US. Yeah, we have problems.

There's actually an Amtrak connection to this: the issue of health insurance screws up every single labor negotiation. This *isn't an issue* in most other countries because they have a universal system. It also puts costs onto employers which are central-government responsibility in nearly every other country, making the books look worse for every employer, including Amtrak. I don't know how much of Amtrak's budget is going to Aetna for health insurance, but it's a lot, and it's distorting the picture of the cost of train service.
 
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Tlcooper93

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It's not just that we're being surpassed on "moving people around." On my trips abroad to other developed countries, I've noticed that there's less crime, less poverty, better city planning, better quality television programming, and even the food is better. For crying out loud, I visited England and thought the quality of the food was better than that in the US.

I'm afraid that the US is just one step above being a Third-world country, and not a very big step, either.
I wasn’t going to include those categories, but you’re certainly right!
 

CraigInNC

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I am not against airlines per se, not my favorite form of transportation, but they have collectively lost more money in the last 40 years than any other industry in the United States. Their business model has never been consistently profitable and the business is highly cyclical to the point of requiring government intervention as we saw through 9/11, Great Recession, Covid, etc. With that being said, perhaps because airlines are nominally private entities with most being traded on the stock exchanges, they get a pass by politicians despite costing the government even more money as a percentage of their volume then Amtrak does. Of course no one can argue that the airlines are valuable, not just for passenger travel but for cargo, but Amtrak does not have a cargo dimension which of course is handled by NS, CSX, etc. I tend to agree with Tlcooper93's comments in that how Amtrak handles this money over the next 5 years will be crucial to future support and the direction of the entity. A mindset change needs to be made with the public and elevate Amtrak from a boutique transportation medium for a "somewhat" eccentric section of the traveling public to a mainstream, if secondary, transportation option.
 

me_little_me

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Does anyone know if any European countries require their local governments to pay for or subsidize the shorter distance trains operated by the central government? Anyone have their version of the 700 mile rule (accounting for a proportional country size (e.g. Luxembourg having a 700 meter rule?) Do the French make their Regions pay? The Swiss make their Cantons pay?
 
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