Missing the Train

Take the A Train, ride that Wabash Cannonball, hear the clickity-clack of the Orange Blossom Special. Trains are more than a part of our history - they're a rich part of our culture. But are they a part of our future?

I'm not talking here about the enormous potential of long-distance trains - upgrading Amtrak and building a top-of-the-line high-speed train system between our population centers. Rather, I'm focused today on the promise of rail travel within our great metro areas. I've ridden these local systems in the Bay Area, Chicago, Washington, DC, and elsewhere - they're simple, handy, efficient, fast, inexpensive, and a joyous way to get to where you're going. They also move hundreds of thousands of people a day without creating traffic jams or smog; and they create thousands of good jobs at good wages.

Here's what one observer says: "Mass transit is an excellent substitute for roads." Those are not the words of some anti-auto Earth Firster - but of Paul Weyrich, an icon of right-wing thinking. To him, urban train systems make all kinds of sense and are a legitimate focus for federal, state, and local spending.

Public demand for these systems is strong - ridership is up 21 percent in the last five years; new systems in Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City, and elsewhere are exceeding expectations, and there's a backlog of 200 local transit projects seeking federal matching funds.

There's the problem. The Bushites - tagged by Weyrich as "THE most anti-rail administration" in our country's history of mass transit - is trying to gut federal support. "In their zeal for fiscal conservatism," writes Weyrich, "they are prepared to scuttle one of the most successful government programs of all time."

"Missing the Train," a new report by the Sierra Club, highlights projects in Tampa Bay, Portland, Houston, Milwaukee, and elswhere endangered by Bush's cuts. To get a copy, call 202-675-7915.

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