If The Department of Transportation carries out is plan to cut the Amtrak system by almost a third. Stephen Kushner, George Dornbuch and 500 other regular riders will be up the Potomac River without a passenger train.
Everyday they ride from Washington to Harper's Ferry on The Blue Ridge, one of the trains scheduled to end of the Amtrak system is pruned.
If the Blue Ridge is dropped, "it will inconvenience and disrupt my work schedule and my family life." Dornbuch who lives in Hagarstown complained at a hearing on the DOT-proposed cutbacks.
"The Blue Ridge is my only feasible way of getting home in the evening," testified Kushner, who lives in Winchester and works in Washington.
"The alternative for me is driving. My personal gasoline consumption will go up 2 1/2 times."
Instead to dropping trains like the Blue Ridge, and forcing riders into energy-wasting autos. Amtrak should be adding new trains to attract more passengers said Ross Capon executive director of the National Association of Rail Passengers.
"Railroads are things of the past, gone the way of the pony express and the passenger train," the same DOT hearing was told by Samuel Sherwood, a Washington man who called himself "a disgruntled taxpayer."
Passenger trains are "a romantic but outmoded form of transportation . . . a ripoff of the taxpayers," agreed Charles Crawford, a professional disgruntled taxpayer, director of the National Taxpayers Union, a group that claims credit for California's Proposition 13.
The only reason people like Amtrak, Crawford charged, is because "they don't understand how much it is actually costing them."
Amtrak's New York to Florida run wastes so much of the taxpayers money. Crawford said, that "you could pay someone to fly down there spend a couple of days on the beach and give him a ticket to Disney World and still save money" over what it costs Amtrak to run the train.
The great Amtrak debate is on again.
Ordered by Congress to apply the "zero base budget" idea to Amtrak. DOT has proposed a plan it says could serve 90 percent of Amtrak's passengers but with only two-thirds the track.
By dropping routes covering 8,000 miles - and leaving eight states with no passenger trains - DOT claims it can hold Amtrak's federal subsidy to $800 million in 1964. Running the present system will cost taxpayers $1 billiob a year by then. DOT Secretary Brock Adams has warned.
At 50 public hearings that started last week and will continue for the next month, the Interstate Commerce Commission is taking the public's pulse on Amtrak.
As ICC Chairman Dan O'Neal put it at the first session. "Doubts persist in Congress, in the administration and among the American public as to whether the benefist of rail passenger service now offered by Amtrak are worth the cost."
There are no doubts in the mind of Crawford, whose National Taxpayers Union began the hearings by "declaring war" on Amtrak, calling it, "a perfect example of a program kept in place by special interest groups with no consideration of the excessive costs to taxpayers."
Crawford blames railroad unions and pork barrel sampling congressmen for creating a rail passenger system that is used by only three tenths of 1 percent of the nation's intercity travelers, but will cost $530 million this year.
Crawford's taxpayers group echoes arguments that have been used against Amtrak for years by its most vocal competitors - the bus lines. Greyhound and Trailways officials have testified at the ICC hearings that they can provide transportation alternative to Amtrak, at lower costs to the taxpayers.
Government subsidized Amtrak trains are stealing passengers from tax-paying buses, the bus companies contend. Theodore Knappen, senior vice president of Trailways Inc., noted that DOT's plan calls for dropping Amtrak trains that carried 700,000 passengers last year.
If only 100,000 of those travelers switched to buses, paying $50 tickets, it would bring $5 billion a year in new revenues to the bus companies, he noted. That's roughly half of Trailways' earnings last year.
Giving business back to buses "would be a first step towards undoing some of the damage that has been done" by subsidizing Amtrak, the bus industry spokesman said.
Amtrak backers, like Capon's Rail Passenger Association, counter that the buses have their own subsidies including free using of the Interstate highway system, without which the buses could not compete for long-haul passenger traffic.
Bus passenger traffic began to fall off long before Amtrak existed, Capon argues; and most people who are unable to take trains drive rather than ride the bus.
"The U.S. must begin to build a viable alternative to the automobile system," Capon said, calling for adding rail service "in more markets, at faster speeds and at increased levels of frequency."
Noting that more of the world's successful rail passenger systems operate at a profit, Capon contends profitability is an unrealistic goal for Amtrak.
Cutting Amtrak's system only weakens it, demanding greater subsides for fewer passengers, while improving the service can attrack more business, Capon said.
He cites the Washington-Richmond corridor as an example, noting that ridership in the first quarter of 1978 was up 83 percent from two years earlier, as the result of expanding service to six trips a day. The DOTplan would cut that back to three trips a day.