How much more remedial can one make it: Amtrak loses money because people don’t use it. People don’t use it because people neither need nor want to use it. People are — gasp! — relying entirely on airplanes and roads.
So when Lautenberg says, “We cannot depend entirely on airplanes and roads,” what he really means is “I get a warm fuzzy feeling from the thought of having Amtrak, and that’s more important than any other use that you might have for your tax dollars.”
Amtrak, roads, planes (airports), public transit and shipping are all heavily subsidized at the federal, state and local levels. Non-Amtrak trains have been historically heavily subsidized.
I don’t pretend to know which mode(s) of transport would win out without tax subsidies but it is time to find out. Let’s eliminate all the tax subsidies and put the mechanisms in place to assure that the folks using a particular transportation service are paying the full cost per use.
It will take time but I suspect that we will see dramatically different answers rise up than we have seen with the centralized planning of the last 150 years.
An Amtrak like service may or may not be one of the answers.