Other nations also are making major finds. Most of them are not our enemies. Clearly $4 gasoline has begun to change attitudes and even behavior. Transit systems all over the nation are carrying loads not seen since the years immediately following World War II. I was visiting with the Amtrak hierarchy last week. Passenger traffic is dramatically up from a year ago last month. One of the trains has 85% more passengers this year over last. All of the Corridor trains, Washington - New York, New York - Boston, Boston - Portland, Chicago - St. Louis, Milwaukee - Chicago, San Diego - Los Angeles and three other California corridors are all carrying record numbers of passengers.
In fact, Amtrak is running out of equipment. Amtrak has only a small backlog of injured passengers cars which can be repaired and put back into service. Most Amtrak trains need reservations now in order to guarantee seats to passengers. No wonder the Amtrak reauthorization bill has passed both houses with veto-proof majorities. Typically, the George W. Bush Administration was on Capitol Hill lobbying against the bill. Their green eye-shade mentality cannot comprehend what is happening in the countryside.
A Senate-House Conference Committee will iron out differences in the bills. President Bush already has said he would veto the measure. I will be very surprised if his veto were not overridden. The House-passed bill contains two amendments the fate of which is uncertain. One would provide $150 million for each of the next ten years for the Washington Metrorail System. Bush is really against that amendment and he might succeed in getting it knocked out of the bill. But Metrorail is now carrying almost 800,000 passengers per day. The other amendment was pushed by Representative John Mica (R-FL). It would authorize a super high-speed corridor between Washington and New York, reducing the time between those cities from three hours to less than two. A laudable goal but the cost of doing such would be so prohibitive that a new corridor may never see the light of day. Even if gas prices decrease many people would have discovered that they can save money by using the train and may do so in relative comfort. This dramatic turnaround may not just be temporary.