This article has been making the rounds of the transit blogs today - it's an op-ed piece from the Boston Globe explaining how much John McCain hates trains:
For years, McCain, in the comfort of cheap gasoline for autos and airplanes, made Amtrak a personal whipping boy. Despite the fact that governments in Western Europe and Asia zoomed far ahead of the United States by supporting high-speed trains to relieve congestion, promote tourism and now as we are coming to know, save the planet, McCain has spent considerable capital in denying the passenger rail system the capital to modernize.
In 2000, when he was chairman of the Senate Science, Commerce and Transportation committee, McCain killed $10 billion in capital funding for Amtrak. He denounced Amtrak as a symbol of government waste, claiming, "There's only two parts of the country that can support a viable rail system - the Northeast and the far West."
I knew that McCain was deeply anti-rail, but I hadn't realized he played such a key role in gutting Amtrak funding. $10 billion for capital funding in 2000 would have revolutionized Amtrak. Instead of a system that does the best it can with hardly any money and with severe track issues, $10 billion would have paid for an enormous amount of track improvements, electrifications, new train cars, all of which could have helped more Americans get around on the rails.
Derrick Jackson, the author of the op-ed, goes on to demonstrate McCain's lack of interest in rail, despite the clear interest from the American public:
In the section of McCain's website called "reforming our transportation sector," there is no mention of rail. There is only his clean-car challenge to automakers, his $300 million prize to design battery cars, and enforcing only existing gas mileage standards. When The Washington Post reported on how President Bush's fiscal 2006 budget did not include a subsidy for Amtrak, would kill both $20 million for the next generation of high-speed rail, and $250 million for railroad rehabilitation, it quoted McCain as saying on television, "I'm glad the president is coming over with a very austere budget."
The luster of austerity is gone. Public transportation is becoming a real issue for the campaign trail. If so, McCain has all but handed Obama a golden spike to beat him over the head with.
Not all Republicans are so misguided. Republicans like Curt Pringle, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Mica understand the value of high speed rail. But Republicans in the State Senate, like Sen. Jim Battin, don't understand it. Instead they prefer to attack trains, even though our state has desperate need for them, whether they're light rail, commuter rail, or high speed intercity rail.
John McCain will fight against federal funding for high speed rail. Barack Obama will deliver that funding. If we want this project to happen, Californians need to understand that choice. It doesn't matter what party you identify with - high speed rail has value. We welcome support from all quarters.
Republican politicians are only hurting themselves with their anti-rail stance. As voters in California and America begin to see the value of rail, and as Republican voters come around on the issue, anti-rail zealots like McCain will only find themselves deeper in the political hole. America is changing, embracing trains as a smart solution to our transportation needs, and to our energy and environmental crisis. California is leading the way. Will Senate Republicans join in - or will they follow McCain down the dead-end track?