For ordinary, common-sense Americans, the 113th Congress has a lot to prove. Will our lawmakers finally reject the corrosive politics that values gridlock and inaction over progress, or remain stuck behind those who say any bipartisan agreement for the good of the country is, by definition, a defeat?
When it comes to our passenger rail system, let me ask the question this way: Do we want to create an efficient, integrated system that springs from planning and prudent investment, or shall we continue to limp through this young century, losing ground daily as other countries develop and build cutting-edge transportation systems?
As Congress prepares to deliberate this year over the rewrite of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA), we have the opportunity to make things right and finally match our pursuit of a modern economy with a modern transportation system.
With 31 million riders and growing popularity, Amtrak had its best year ever in 2012. Not bad for a chronically underfunded railroad. But its physical infrastructure and rolling stock are badly aging due to long periods of underinvestment and neglect. Meanwhile, Congress no longer debates ways to deploy new federal investments in passenger rail and other transportation needs – Congress actually debates whether we should debate these issues at all. Something is seriously wrong.
I hope this year’s discussion over Amtrak and passenger rail finally puts to rest the tired idea that the federal role in transportation should be miniscule and that Amtrak should be sold-off, piece by piece, to the wolves. Our Executive Committee completely rejects that wrongheaded view.
Yes, we were busy last Congress defeating ideologically driven proposals designed to distract us from implementing national rail policy. We beat back a privatization agenda that would have ended Amtrak as we know it and decimated thousands of middle class jobs.
Let’s make things right again. We will push the politicians to advance a reauthorized PRIIA that ends the neglect of Amtrak, supports the jobs and rights of its skilled workers, rejects Amtrak-killing privatization proposals, and — for a change — actually gives Americans what they want: a smooth, safe and modern ride.