Saturday, April 09, 2005

A lie in the hand is worth two to the Bush

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, the Shrub gang is striving to drive Amtrak into bankruptcy by eliminating all federal funding for passenger rail service. Surprisingly, some of the strongest opposition comes from some of the "reddest" of states - or, truth be told, not surprisingly since in large areas of the west, Amtrak trains provide the only major long-distance transit service.

One such train is the Empire Builder, which runs from Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon, across the northern tier of the US, and down to Chicago. For some ski areas, such as Whitefish, Montana, the Empire Builder is the major - read the major - means for vacationers to get there. Loss of long-distance train service would have a devastating impact on the local economy.

As a result, Montanan officials, including the governor, lieutenant governor, a few mayors, and perhaps some of the Congressional delegation are staging a whistlestop tour across the state to publicize the concerns and endorse funding for the system. The Whitefish Pilot for April 5 added that
[t]he group has also decided to create a resolution that city councils could pass saying they oppose cutting Amtrak funds. [Whitefish mayor Andy] Feury said that details of the resolution are still being worked out, but that the hope would be that city councils all over the country would pass the same one.

Their goal, Feury said, is to not only save Amtrak funding this year, but to try and eventually get a plan in place that will take care of its funding needs into the future.
The White House idiots, however, are pushing ahead with their plans, which,
according to transportation department spokesman Brian Turmail, would have individual states kick in funding for Amtrak, with federal matching grants being awarded to those states that invest in improving their rail. ...

Turmail said that the administration plan would allow states where Amtrak is an important service to continue funding it, and that they would be encouraged to make upgrades by the federal grants.

"It's an incentive for states to improve their rail systems," he said.

This structure, he said, would then be more similar to the way the federal government funds highways and airports.
Wow. So much bull in so few words.

First, "their" rail? The rails are owned by private freight companies, not the states. One of the problems with Amtrak from the start has been that it had to contract with those private companies to gain access to the rail lines - and if that company decides that they'll make more money on a given day by allowing some slow freight to have priority, then the Amtrak passengers just have to sit and wait. Calling on the states to kick in more money for rail maintenance and improvement is actually calling for additional public subsidies to private corporations.

Second, considering the precarious financial condition of many states, this so-called "incentive" is rather like telling someone with terminal cancer that their insurance is being cut off as an "incentive" for them to improve their health.

Third, this would be "similar" to how the feds fund highways and airports if and only if the feds also fly the planes and drive the cars. Which, as far as I'm aware, they don't.

But here's the topper:
In answering a question during his Detroit press conference, [Secretary of Transportation Except for Trains Norman] Mineta asked how they could justify supporting a line, like the Montana section of the Empire Builder, when just 53 people a day use that service.

Amtrak serviced over 130,000 passengers in Montana last year, which averages out to about 350 passengers per day. According to Turmail, the number given by Mineta was "hypothetical," and was not intended to be taken as fact.
Not after he was caught in his lie, no. Which of necessity raises the question of just which of the administration's other figures about Amtrak are likewise "hypothetical?"

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