Monday the U.S. Senate cleared the way for a Wednesday vote on Amtrak funding.
For the past few years, Amtrak - America's only national passenger rail service - has been on starvation rations in terms of funding from the federal government. Typically, the Bush administration proposed eliminating all federal funding in annual budget recommendations; Congress subsequently added back "not enough" money, but nonetheless was able to keep Amtrak afloat.
Some people say: "Why does the federal government need to support Amtrak anyway? Can't they support themselves?"
Well, in addition to the fact that no other national passenger rail network in the world operates without federal investment (or has figured out a way to do so), highways nor air travel in the United States would not exist without hefty subsidization by the U.S. Government.
Like a two-legged stool, a two-faceted national transportation system becomes exponentially stronger when a third component - passenger rail - is added to the mix. In America today, we are dangerously over-weighted on the side of automobiles. As gas prices have risen, Amtrak has had record ridership.
The current bill, which has already passed the House, funds Amtrak in the amount of 13 billion over the next 5 years. They've been operating on about a billion a year, so that's a healthy increase. But this funding only maintains the current system; an increase in routes and frequency of trains will require much more investment.
Tragically, it took a passenger train wreck in Los Angeles recently where some two dozen people were killed, to move a rail funding bill forward.
President Bush has indicated he will sign the bill in it's current form.