If you offer it, they will ride

Last winter, Amy and Monkey and I took the Amtrak to Denver for her brother's wedding. We had to drive to New Orleans to start the trip because the freight lines who control the tracks haven't reopened service from New Orleans east to Jacksonville, but we had to pick up Monkey anyway, and it gave us reason to spend New Years in New Orleans--no real downside there. But the trip itself was awesome, even when we were delayed for a day on the return trip, since Amtrak put us up in a great hotel, gave us money for food, and that allowed us to spend the day at the Chicago Art Institute. Given a choice between riding and flying, I'll ride every time.

And that goes for commuting as well. I took the Caltrain back and forth from Stanford most of the time when I lived in San Francisco, and never had cause to complain about the service, especially once they instituted the Baby Bullet.

So I was excited when I read that Amtrak is setting records for ridership these days. In fact, they've been doing it for the last four years, and the growth is even greater in places where the states have ponied up the money to get Amtrak to run short-distance commuter trains, like the Capital Corridor in California.

The problem, as it always has been for Amtrak, is money. For some reason, some in the Congress (along with King George the Lesser) want Amtrak to run a profit, even while the very reason it was formed was to let private companies who hadn't been turning a profit to get out of the business. Got that? It was formed because private industry wasn't making it worthwhile--so much for the indestructible power of the market, eh?

But it's difficult to argue that people don't want to ride trains, when more and more of them are doing just that, so I'm hopeful that Congress will not only restore the cuts King George the Lesser wants to make in Amtrak's budget, but will also approve the money Amtrak needs to make capital improvements on their equipment. It's a long-term good to see an increase in passenger train usage, especially as we careen toward peak oil.

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