When fuel and transportation reach a crisis, all options need to be considered.
And that includes looking backwards to the days of the railroads.
If there's a way to revitalize the railway industry to make it viable, that option needs to be on the table. Even if it means getting the government involved to get things up to speed.
It's easy to buy into the nation's "romance of the rails," of course. From the electric American Flyer trains run by tots to the plush Pullman-car getaways of Hollywood stars in the 1940s, the railroad train has earned a place deep in the American heart. (Utah, with the Golden Spike "1869 Wedding of the Rails" on its commemorative quarter, has fostered its own unique relationship with railroads.)
Now the U.S. Transportation Department is thinking about throwing its weight behind a tax credit for freight trains, if the industry will invest in long-term equipment and passenger rail projects. It would be a hefty incentive a 25 percent tax credit. And Congress needs to move with caution. Naysayers abound. Some feel that if railroads were viable, private enterprise would step in and make them work without government help. But then in the realm of transportation, national and local governments have always been available to jump-start freeways, highways, light rail not to mention things like museums, stadiums and libraries.
Sometimes a good idea needs a good push from the taxpayers.
Resurrecting the rails in America may be such a case.
Already the signs are pointing to a rebirth of interest in rail travel. Amtrack ridership was up 2.75 million people for the month of July. That alone shows that the turbulence of the airline industry and the gas crunch at the pump are forcing people to look for new ways to get around. And if one of those new ways involves taking a relic and making it reliable and cost-efficient, more power to those willing to take on the project.
Other nations where citizens are less well-to-do never abandoned their railway systems. Taking a train across Europe is still considered an adventure of a lifetime. Asian nations thrive on train travel.
Perhaps with the right incentives and the right people at the wheel, the antique notion of peering from the window of a westward bound locomotive may once again work its way into the daily lives of Americans.