The Bernina Express train zips students across the Alvaneu
Viaduct in the Swiss Alps.
Photograph by Joe Patronite
| Rail Links |
In 1951 passenger trains in the U.S. served 226,000 miles (363,634
kilometers) of routes. U.S. population has grown 60 percent since
then, but today Amtrak plies only 22,000 miles (35,398
kilometers) of track, often infrequently. A handful of small, mainly
commuter, lines account for a few more short routes. In the next
three years Amtrak does plan to increase frequency and add a few
routes it deems profitableand cut two others.
Traffic plies a U.S. interstate system paved with subsidies and
Photograph by Kevin Horan
Europe and Japan, by contrast, offer travelers extensive, frequent
train service on state-built systems. Those services are now
privatizing, with mixed success and with the advantage of compact
routes and a working infrastructure already in place. Canada
subsidizes its VIA Rail trains.
In the U.S., Congress is withdrawing tax support for Amtrak
operations by 2003, while still subsidizing highways to the tune of
some $41 billion (according to official statistics, last compiled for
1998) in addition to $69 billion in tolls and gasoline taxes (which, like your train fare,
serve as a user fee). Thus the government is underwriting over a
third of highway costsnot to mention expansions for crowded
airportswhile planning nothing long-term for trains.
The Tourism Forum asks this month:
Should taxes be used to expand Amtrak service?
Post Your Opinion
Other Forum Topics
Online Extra: High-Speed Trains
Jonathan Tourtellot is a TRAVELER senior editor and forum host.
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