Sunday, June 22, 2008

McCain Inane on Trains, Barack Backs Amtrak

I've always loved trains, especially in the Northeast corridor. You can get to the heart of just about any big city from Boston to Washington, DC with less aggravation and often faster than a plane. And, unlike a car if you're the driver, you can sleep, get lots of work done, grab a bite to eat whenever you like, and the scenery isn't half-bad, either.

All of that was before the insanely high prices of gas, which have made not only autos more expensive to drive, but air travel, too. Trains of course also use energy, but the electricity that moves the trains draws less oil than cars or planes. An article the other day in the New York Times gives the details, along with the unsettling news that growing train use in our age of soaring gas prices may not be able to keep track with the aging equipment. Amtrak clearly needs help - or, more help than it's been getting from the Federal government. The article concludes with a brief mention of McCain opposing subsidies for Amtrak, versus Obama, who co-sponsored a bill that would increase them.

I decided to look into this a bit more. A DCist article from early June has the amazing rundown.

McCain not only opposes Federal subsidies for Amtrak, he's been working for years to do away with it completely. Why? The perennial Republican pipe dream of privatizing the industry. Which of course could take years to succeed, if ever it does, and in the meantime our country is deprived of the single best alternative to gas-hungry cars and planes.

Obama, unsurprisingly, has a much more sensible, enlightened approach - we do what we can to improve Amtrak, including extending the high-speed rail service in the Northeast corridor to the midwest, and eventually to all of America. (I've taken trains from New York to Chicago, and New York to Atlanta, and the rides were wonderful, but slow.) Some of these ideas go back to Obama's work in 2003. Like his thinking on Iraq, they show he is in tune with where America and the world are heading.

Trains are of course by no means the most important issue we face. But the drastically different positions of McCain and Obama speak to how they contrast on most issues: rigid, unworkable, out-of-date positions by McCain, versus practical, common-sense, pathways to the future by Barack Obama.

With any luck, people from the Northeast corridor and beyond will be able to take a fast train down to Washington in January for his inauguration.
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