Our “good friend” Dick Durbin came to Quincy today to meet with a carefully selected group of people to talk about Amtrak. The general public wasn’t invited, but that’s no surprise given the cold reception Durbin has gotten here in the past.
Durbin and his pals are worried that Amtrak will lose it’s funding and that the runs to places like Quincy will end. They like to tout the numbers of people who ride Amtrak as a testament to it’s success. They cringe at the idea of a reduction in any government-subsidized programs, and Amtrak just happens to be one of those programs that are held up as being good for rural areas and economic development.
As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Programs like Amtrak are created by mostly well-meaning people trying to help others, even when those others aren’t asking for help. Rural train and air service is supposed to promote economic growth by improving access. Whether it does that or not can be debated, but that’s not really the issue. These programs can’t sustain themselves. The either cost too much and therefore don’t get enough riders, or they lower the cost to get more riders and don’t make enough money. Either way, the only way they can continue is for the government to prop them up with our money.
So why is ridership up? I figure the main reason is the cost of gas. Gas at near $4 per gallon has made a drive from Quincy to Chicago pretty painful. When the Amtrak is available at pretty cheap rates, it starts to make sense in comparison. Also, technically we (taxpayers) are already paying for it, so we might as well use it, right?
We shouldn’t all be paying for Amtrak. Let it support itself. Yes, ticket prices will go up, and they will need to learn to be more efficient. If they can’t make it work, then it should be shut down.