- Jan 23, 2019
The votes can be secured if you give Congress something to vote on and someone at Amtrak were actually competent at making the point that they can provide a much more useful service for the money. For twice what Amtrak did manage to get from the Infrastructure bill, they could easily double the number of route miles served a dramatically increase it's ridership.This is probably true, but I don't think that at the national level the votes are there yet for a dedicated funding source for passenger rail the same way that the highways have such a source in the fuel tax. But it's true that once there's a pot of Federal money that can go to the states and be used only for passenger rail projects, there may be more interest in such projects.
But you still can't discount the power of ideological opposition to government funding of such things. Consider the case of Merritt H. Taylor Jr., the owner of the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company, one of the last fully privately run transit companies in the US. He was very conservative and believed the government had no business subsidizing companies like his. He resisted all forms of regional cooperation, especially with governmental entities like SEPTA, and kept his company private for as long as he could. However, in the end, he did sell out to SEPTA. The ideology is still there, which is why there are a lot of people rooting for Brightline, because they're not taking government money. The problem is, I'm not sure the Brightline model can be repeated in other places. Even their Las Vegas line is not really going to work without partnering with the publicly owned railroads serving central Los Angeles.
As for convincing people, it really depends on the crowd. Rural Congress people already support Amtrak, so it's not like it would take them much to support an expansion program. Politicians from urban areas would be fairly easy to convince as well. The main lines of convincing would be traffic relief and economic development around stations. Which would help their developer friends. The wild cards would be suburban Republicans, politicians from right along the NEC and Northeastern politicians not along the NEC.
The NEC politicians would demand a pound of flesh for sure and their Senators would guarantee that. I would consider northeastern politicians a separate group because they might vote as a block within their states, but I don't see why a politicians from say Buffalo would care about better trains between New York City and DC. Suburbans Republicans might be a lost cause depending on what state they are from. I doubt someone like Dan Crenshaw would vote to expand Amtrak no matter how good it was for Texas whereas someone from North Carolina or Virginia would be more open to it.
Then there is what devil's are in the details? Obviously relying on the states to play along with a small amount of federal money is a failed idea. Which is why I have pondered just giving Amtrak a set amount annually to run "State Services" and just letting them stretch it as far as they can if a state decided to be a pain. Which after digging through some of the regulations around rail and Amtrak, it doesn't seem like they would need the states if the feds foot the bill. The issue is more about how much is being spent, how is it allotted and can we spin this into an economic development argument.