Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Time for Some Hard Decisions
The politicians had been watching these convulsions in the rail-
road industry with consternation, and most members of Con-
gress had come to realize that sooner or later they would have to
confront a very fundamental question: Did America really need
some kind of national passenger rail system? There were loud
and vocal arguments on both sides, but the answer finally came
up “yes,” helped along at least in part because there was already
a mandate to that effect on the topics in the High Speed Ground
Transportation Act, which was passed by Congress in 1965. It
created and funded a federal office to look into the feasibility
of, among other ideas, high-speed rail. Some of the funds had
gone into the study of far-out futuristic schemes, but a lot of the
money was put to practical use, such as helping the Penn Central
railroad begin high-speed passenger service between Washington,
D.C., and New York.
Things came to a head during the summer of 1969, and after
a great deal of argument and discussion, a variety of bills were
introduced by several different members of both the House and
the Senate. There was the usual dithering, and the several versions
became mired in the legislative process. Then, in June of 1970,
the Penn Central collapsed into bankruptcy. The resulting shock
waves galvanized Congress into action. What emerged was some-
thing called the Rail Passenger Service Act, which finally allowed
the private railroads to give up their passenger service. But it also
created a half-private, half-public company—eventually known
as Amtrak—that would take over the job of providing the coun-
try with a nationwide passenger rail system. Although a bit short
on specifics, the bill was nevertheless a commitment of support
for passenger trains by the federal government. It was also pretty
much a bipartisan effort. (Cynics have noted—and continue to
note—that support of passenger rail service has a lot less to do
with political philosophy or transportation policy than it does
Search WWH ::

Custom Search