Taking Aim at Rail

It would appear that tea party Republicans aren’t big fans of government rail programs, judging from the Republican Study Committee’s spending reduction recommendations released last week. The conservative crop of Republicans have proposed eliminating federal subsidies for Amtrak ($1.6 billion annually), the Transportation Department’s New Starts program for commuter rail and rapid transit systems ($2 billion annually), and all grant programs for intercity and high-speed rail ($2.5 billion annually).

Overall, the plan is intended to slash $2.5 trillion in government spending over 10 years, and it goes after more than just rail. The RSC also wants to zero out weatherization grants, family planning funding, and the “International Fund for Ireland,” to name a few. The plan also isn’t anywhere near becoming a reality. Many of the programs on the list have aggressive defenders who will make sure they survive even in this era of budget cutting.

So why pick on rail? Are there unique characteristics of rail programs that make them ripe for trimming? How are these rail funding programs different from federal subsidies for highways or runways? Are there essential features of each of these rail programs that should be preserved, and if so, why? What can rail and mass transit enthusiasts do to convince conservatives like the RSC that their projects are worthwhile?