The current state of our passenger rail system in particular and our transportation policy in general points out the hypocrisies of both Left and Right. The Left, like Bernie Sanders, wants more Amtrak, except that his brand of politics killed off passenger rail in back in the 1920s and through the rest of the century. The Right wants to end subsidies for passenger rail but not for the other modes of transportation that their constituencies typically use, and it so happens most of those voters come from places that were built up after we killed off passenger rail.
Me, I’m tired of seeing Amtrak and passenger rail as a political football. Government must get out of the transportation business, and these constant, never-ending battles is exactly why. Level the playing field, return it all to private enterprise, and we’ll all be fighting each other for a seat on the train.
There is a popular notion at large, part of a sort of phantom “bi-partisan” centrist conviction, that the degradation of American infrastructure, exemplified by the backwardness of our trains and airports, too, is a failure of the American political system. We all should know that it is bad to have our trains crowded and wildly inefficient—as Michael Tomasky points out, fifty years ago, the train from New York to Washington was much faster than it is now—but we lack the political means or will to cure the problem. In fact, this is a triumph of our political system, for what is politics but a way of enforcing ideological values over merely rational ones? If we all agreed on common economic welfare and pursued it logically, we would not need politics at all: we could outsource our problems to a sort of Saint-Simonian managerial class, which would do the job for us.
Gopnick fails to mention that fifty years ago, that faster train was run by a private company on privately owned land.