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Letter to the Editor: Amtrak subsidy is only a fraction of airline support

Sunday, March 16, 2003

To the editor:

Your March 13 editorial on Amtrak was classic Republican dogma regarding national rail service. Amtrak's critics for years have been decrying the public money spent to maintain any semblance of a national network of passenger rail service.

Of course, the reason Amtrak won't go away easily is that people use it. Last year nearly 25 million Americans used intercity rail service. This is in addition to the nearly 1.3 million riders a day carried by the nation's commuter rail services. New commuter lines are being developed in nearly every major metropolitan area in the country, and ridership is steadily increasing.

Critics love to point to the $1.2 billion federal subsidy that pays for Amtrak operations, and they love to point to the misguided promise made by W. Graham Claytor which you quoted in your editorial. There is no reason to expect that any transportation system will pay for itself. In 75 years of commercial air service in this country, the federal investment in infrastructure, air-traffic control and general subsidies to the airline industry is in excess of $1 trillion.

Nearly any independent analysis of the airline industry will conclude that in the 75-year history of airline operations there has been no net profit made. If airlines cannot be profitable with governmentally funded state-of-the-art facilities and control systems, it is difficult to imagine how anyone could expect national passenger rail service to be profitable while running mostly on 19th-century technology.

WALT LILLY

Cape Girardeau