Unnoticed by most of the press and by nearly all of the public is a draft budget for the next fiscal year of Amtrak that has just been announced by the House Committee on Appropriations through its Transportation, Housing and Urban Development subcommittee.
It would cut next year's operating budget for Amtrak by a devastating 60 percent, requiring what would undoubtedly need to be a shutdown of most of our national railroad. Instead of receiving $563 million a year as it did in 2011, Amtrak would receive $227 million.
According to Amtrak's president, and the National Association of Railroad Passengers, this astonishing decision to virtually end rail transportation in the U.S. probably will come before the House of Representatives in just a few weeks — and given the present makeup and mood of the House, it likely will pass.
So how will Americans travel through most of the country? They will either stay home, or get into their gas-guzzling cars, or they will turn to already overburdened airlines to take them from place to place. Conservative estimates say that 9 million daily commuters in the nation's most populous regions will need to seek new transportation options. A national nightmare is in the offing.
Until now, the antics of the all-government-is-bad crowd have been quaint. They have now become dangerous. In the hope that the U.S. Senate will act more rationally, and that the public will force the House to accede to a better Senate-created budget for Amtrak, immediate advocacy and action are needed from all of us unless we want to become the only advanced, prosperous nation on Earth to lack a viable rail system.
I am not talking about the other sensible proposals to begin creating a system of high-speed rail in the United States — though you should know that the high-speed rail project is set for zero funding in the House's proposed budget.
I am talking about the continued operation of Amtrak as we presently know it. The threat and the danger are real.
I recently placed a call to the president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers and interviewed him at length. His voice reflected the anxiety of this imminent threat to a sensible national transportation system. It actually is being proposed and will come before the House in the near future. We must all take a stand. We must inundate Congress with our protests. We should pay no attention to those ideologues who will respond with their usual, pompous bleats about Amtrak's not showing a profit (as if all public agencies, like the police, fire department and highways, should show a profit!), and save our own opportunity to take the train — an energy-efficient train — for many of our trips within the U.S.