During the recent week when the dreaded Sequester caused flights to be delayed all over the nation, resuting in grave inconvenience to millions, we learned that the purpose of the hold-up was to save some 5% of the money the federal government spends each year on air traffic controllers--the people in the airport towers. That 5%, we were told, amounted to 637 million dollars, which means--as any handheld calculator will show you--that the amount of money spent each year by the federal government on air traffic controllers alone, comes to at least 13 billion dollars. And that's only a fraction of the much larger amount spend each year by the federal government on air transportation.
By contrast, we spend about 1 billion dollars a year subsidizing Amtrak.
Whenever I advocate, in this blog, greater funding for Amtrak (and the long-term development of high-speed rail), I am immediately assaulted by various Luddites for even suggesting that government should support rail transportation. How horrendous! they cry. How incredible to suggest that the federal government should dig into its pockets for rail transportation. How anti-American! How anti-free-enterprise!
Absent from their arguments is any mention of the infinitely greater sums the federal government spends on highways and vehicular traffic, and on airports and aviation.
The president of Amtrak, Joe Boardman, recently issued a plea to Congress to adopt multi-year funding for Amtrak, as opposed to its current practice of issuing a small sum each year, usually following a cliffhanger of opposition in the House of Representatives. Only with such long-range funding is Amtrak able to fulfill its many responsibilities with efficiency and productively. The incoming, new Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, is expected to endorse that plea.
As all of us should. Our failure to create a modern, up-to-date rail system is a terrible blow to the quality of life in the United States and to our economy. How can the opponents of federal support for our railways continue to overlook the massive support we already give to air transportation, highways and roads?