John Previsich and Edward Wytkind: State's residents support Amtrak, oppose single-person crews
Politics seem to be more divisive than ever, and campaigns seem to never end. The one thing that unites Americans across political and ideological lines is the need for good transportation options, and their overwhelming support for our national passenger railroad, Amtrak.
Red, blue or purple, recent polls across America in places like Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois and North Dakota have shown huge support for Amtrak as a necessary transportation link for Americans. In other words, Americans who may disagree on a whole host of issues -- from the role of government to the environment and taxes -- seem to like their trains and want more of them.
West Virginia is no exception. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed in the 3rd Congressional District want to increase or maintain Amtrak service in the state. And about seven in 10 -- just above the percentage of people in WV supporting unions -- want to increase or maintain Amtrak's current funding levels, according to a survey conducted by DFM Research.
Lawmakers in Washington who hold Amtrak's fate in their hands need to understand a simple proposition unearthed by this poll: support for Amtrak is deep, and it isn't laced with the partisanship that dominates inside the beltway in our nation's capital.
Nationwide, Amtrak ridership is at an all-time high, reaching almost 32 million last year, thanks to growth on most routes in all regions, not just in the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor. Amtrak has broken ridership records in 10 of the last 11 years, with total ridership up 50 percent since 2000. Based on this latest poll, that number could soar even more if the politicians start listening to their voters.
Americans are "voting" for Amtrak at the ticket counter and understand that a well-financed, well-maintained passenger rail network is essential to an integrated national transportation system.
Investing in Amtrak and the development it attracts is also good business. Since 2010, every federal dollar invested in Amtrak pours $3 back into the economy. That's why many business leaders have come out in favor of expanding passenger rail service in the state. Why? They understand that long-term economic growth depends on consistent investment in transportation -- and expanded passenger rail must be part of the picture.
A well-funded and accessible Amtrak system isn't all that West Virginians say they want. They also want the freight trains -- up to a mile and a half long and 19,000 tons -- that travel across West Virginia to be as safe as possible. Specifically, more than 9 in 10 West Virginians agree that one-person freight train crews should be barred in favor of mandatory two-person crew operations. While rare, there are single-person freight train crews out there -- last year's fiery crash of a freight train in Quebec that killed 47 people and burned down a town had a single crew member.
Fortunately, new federal regulations and legislation are pending in Washington that would make two-person crews the mandatory standard, just the way West Virginians would have it. Yes, the politicians may be listening to the views found in West Virginia and most states.
Whether they consider themselves conservative or liberal, Republican, Democrat or Independent, or none of the above, the people of West Virginia couldn't be clearer about their support for expanded and properly funded Amtrak service. They also viscerally understand why it is unsafe to operate massive freight trains with a single crew member.
If the people we elect are looking for policies that the vast majority of Americans can get behind, they might start by rewriting our federal rail laws to ensure expanded Amtrak funding and safe and properly crewed freight rail trains.
John Previsich is president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers' Transportation Division. Edward Wytkind is president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.
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