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Amtrak on the Campaign Trail, Garodnick Wants Federal Infrastructure Funds


In an article for today’s Boston Globe, Derrick Jackson writes that “train travel is finally becoming a third rail of politics,” and “the first one to fry over it might be John McCain.”

For years, McCain, in the comfort of cheap gasoline for autos and airplanes, made Amtrak a personal whipping boy. Despite the fact that governments in Western Europe and Asia zoomed far ahead of the United States by supporting high-speed trains to relieve congestion, promote tourism and now as we are coming to know, save the planet, McCain has spent considerable capital in denying the passenger rail system the capital to modernize.

At this point, the current Amtrak passenger boom and capacity crunch has been well documented by the national media. Obama is a supporter of high-speed rail, which would include the proposed DC/NY system and, possibly, a funding boost for Moynihan Station.

The House and Senate have passed bills calling for new investments in passenger rail, creating the same federal incentives for states to invest in rail service, offering 80 cents for every 20 cents spent by the states. Barack Obama is a cosponsor of the Senate bill. Noting on his website that he is committed to the development of high speed rail, Obama said, "In many parts of the country, Amtrak is the only form of reliable transportation."

In the section of McCain's website called "reforming our transportation sector," there is no mention of rail. There is only his clean-car challenge to automakers, his $300 million prize to design battery cars, and enforcing only existing gas mileage standards. When The Washington Post reported on how President Bush's fiscal 2006 budget did not include a subsidy for Amtrak, would kill both $20 million for the next generation of high-speed rail, and $250 million for railroad rehabilitation, it quoted McCain as saying on television, "I'm glad the president is coming over with a very austere budget."

The luster of austerity is gone. Public transportation is becoming a real issue for the campaign trail. If so, McCain has all but handed Obama a golden spike to beat him over the head with.

Also, New York City Council Member Daniel Garodnick penned an editorial for today’s New York Sun calling for more federal support for the repair and expansion of the infrastructure system.

It is safe to say that the federal government has an interest in New York City remaining a global center of commerce, one with a mass transit system that can support a growing population, and a healthy infrastructure that does not endanger residents or discourage business, unlike the case of last summer's eruption of an 84-year-old steam pipe in Midtown Manhattan.

The extension of the no. 7 subway line to the Hudson Yards area is underway and when it's complete, its $2 billion price tag will have been paid entirely by the city of New York. Same goes for the $6 billion cost of building a third water tunnel that will serve New York City. Indeed, state and local governments foot most of the bill when it comes to infrastructure investment.

Add Moynihan Station to the list!

Read “McCain’s Agenda on Amtrak,” by Derrick Jackson for The Boston Globe

Read “Rebuilding New York,” by Daniel Garodnick for The New York Sun

Also, the National Association of Railroad Passengers has an excellent explanation of why the “mandate for profitability” is unfounded.