How Washington Derailed Amtrak

It’s easy to love trains—the model kind, the European kind, the kind whose locomotives billow with steam in black-and-white photos of the old American West. It’s harder to love Amtrak, the kind we actually ride. Along with PBS and the United States Postal Service, Amtrak is perpetual fodder for libertarian think-tankers and Republican office-seekers on the prowl for government profligacy. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush repeatedly tried to eliminate its subsidy, while Mitt Romney promised to do the same. Democrats, for their part, aren’t interested in slaying Amtrak, but mostly you get the sense they just feel bad for it. “If you ever go to Japan,” former Amtrak board member and rail die-hard Mike Dukakis told me, “ride the trains and weep.”

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