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Editorial: Note to Washington -- Amtrak is important

Nov. 18, 2017 at 11:16 p.m.

Those who keep an eye on the uncertain trends and portents emanating from Washington say funding for Amtrak's Texas Eagle route appears to be safe in the next federal budget.

As usual, though, funding for passenger rail was not assured — nor is it yet official.

The budget proposed by President Donald Trump eliminated all government subsidies for long-distance rail service. Fortunately, leaders in Congress have a different view and are proposing increases for it in their budget plans.

Since the beginning of the modern Texas Eagle more than 30 years ago, it has been a political football and its obituary could have been written numerous times. Thanks to the tireless work of those who believe in rail transportation — including many in Gregg County and elsewhere in East Texas — the Eagle has survived.

"Survived" is the key word. It generally has not been given resources to improve.

Despite that, the Texas Eagle has not only survived but thrived.

For the year ending Oct. 1, ridership on the Texas Eagle increased almost 13 percent, with revenues up more than 6 percent. Most business professionals would look at such results and see in them reason for additional investment.

Clearly, there is demand for passenger rail in East Texas and beyond. One can only imagine how much more successful the route would be with more investment that would allow for upgrades of equipment and facilities up and down the line.

Some, however, believe Amtrak must be "self-sufficient," receiving no federal subsidies. That sounds nice but the truth is all modes of transportation in the United States are subsidized in some way.

Airports are only partly paid for by airlines, with taxpayers putting up billions each year for expansions and upgrades of facilities. When highways are built or repaired, no one presents a bill to automakers, though they surely benefit.

This is not to suggest levels of funding for rail should be equal to that for roads or airports, just that it be more consistent and match the realities of the market. Obviously, automobiles will always be the king of transportation in the U.S.

But that does not mean rail isn't important, both to the nation and to Longview. There are plenty of people here who either cannot drive to Dallas, Houston or San Antonio or do not have a car. Riding the train costs about the same as a bus ticket and is a better mode of transportation.

Nor should we forget the people who are brought to our area via the Texas Eagle. Those include both visitors and people coming back home. Both passenger types are seen at the depot on a daily basis.

The Texas Eagle has been highlighted at least locally as a tourism tool and, as it improves, will only become more important. This is a resource that has not been fully plumbed.

Until funding becomes stabilized and, yes, is actually allowed to grow, we will not be able to realize the full benefit of Amtrak to our city and region. Those up and down the line know of Amtrak's importance and that its future has a bearing on our overall success.

It is past time for the federal government to grasp this truth.



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