The May 4 editorial “A road to salvation?,” attacking America’s long-distance train service, trotted out the same tired talking points about profits and losses that anti-rail interests have used for decades to club passenger rail. Demanding profits from routes such as the California Zephyr or Southwest Chief misses the point. Should rural highways turn a profit? Should Metro operate on fares alone?
Amtrak is a vital and cost-effective tool of economic development. Passenger trains make money for towns they serve by generating jobs, retail, mobility, tourism and real estate development.
All travel modes are subsidized, from airlines enjoying the world’s safest air-traffic control system courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer to buses and trucks battering a highway system only half paid for by gas taxes.
As a government-supported enterprise, Amtrak’s core mission is to provide mobility and access to communities that need it and where private industry cannot profitably provide it.
The editorial did a disservice when it dismissed the real and growing needs of veterans, seniors and the disabled in small towns as “special pleading.” Ensuring economic opportunity and access to mobility for the entire country is a federal responsibility as old as the postal roads in the Constitution. That Amtrak can do this while covering better than 90 percent of its costs at the farebox is a testament to good stewardship of dollars that promote economic growth in towns across the United States.
Jim Mathews, Washington
The writer is president and chief executive of the Rail Passengers Association.