Feb 11, 2011

Off the Rails

This week Republican congressmen and punditry have unleashed viscious criticism against President Barack Obama's vision for efficient, clean and convenient high speed rail in the United States.

In his State of the Union Address, the president declared a goal of extending high speed trains to 80% of the American people in an effort to make our communities more enticing to job-creating international companies and to make the United States more economically competitive.

To make good on his promise, he declared intentions to spend $53 billion over 6 years on high speed rail, starting with an $8 billion appropriation in next year's budget.

Almost immediately, the GOP came to the defense of their campaign contributors in the fossil fuel business, proposing budget cuts that would eliminate funding for high speed rail lines already under construction and dismantle the highly successful Amtrak program which has just recorded its 15th straight month of ridership increases.

As Amtrak increases in popularity and more Americans turn to the rails as their preferred travelling option, perhaps we should follow Obama's suggestion and increase our funding for passenger rail. Gas prices continue to climb to new records, and there is evidence that Saudi Arabia's oil production has peaked. It is worth noting that Saudi Arabia is the number one exporter of oil to the United States, and without their oil our automobile-based economy would crumble.

Our crumbling infrastructure damages our economy today. By being too reliant on expensive and congested roads, we are costing ourselves billions of dollars that would be better spent on high speed rail.

I would therefore argue that both political parties should step back from their budget deadlock - cutting funding for high speed rail and eliminating Amtrak would be mortgaging the future of the American economy. We could better afford cuts to our cold-war era military bases and cost-saving alterations to our entitlement programs than to ignore our opportunity to build modern transportation infrastructure at a reasonable cost today.

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Keep it civil and pg-13, please.