We know that, of the 31 million-plus passengers that Amtrak carries in a given year, 19 million of them won’t step foot on a Northeast Corridor train. Do those 19 million people matter to the WSJ? Are they worthy of the investment taxpayer dollars?You can see the rot from the Capitol Limited and you can see the rot from the Acelas, if you look up from your electronic shackle. And catch the irony: angry flyover voters are useful to the Trump cheerleaders on Wall Street, but they'd better not make too many demands for trains.
Of course, if you’re from small town and rural America, this question might not strike you as academic. If you’re from one of the 225 towns that would lose all intercity rail service if the long distance trains ceased to run, you might take offense at the notion that your town wasn’t worth the work it took to maintain the connection to the wider world; that your train wasn’t worth the public investment.
The last year has taught us the cost of the disconnection we’ve allowed to grow in our nation. And in the 2016 postmortem, the “Acela set”—the media pundits whose view of America is largely defined by the Washington, D.C. – New York City segment of the Northeast Corridor—took a lot of heat for its inability to understand what was happening in the rest of the U.S. The problem is not Amtrak’s Acela, of course, but the people who ride it. If the Wall Street Journal editors took the time to ride a train outside the corridors of power, they would see value of these trains—and the costs that the policies of disinvestment and abandonment they’re advancing have exacted on the rest of us.
But fighting over the funding for overpurposed cross-country trains that keeps the Acelas from being great doesn't get us any closer to a national regional rail network in which trains might be crossing Nebraska or North Dakota or Ohio during daylight hours.
Perhaps there is a block grant policy available, using some of the current Amtrak appropriation to support and expand the existing state-supported trains where they exist (e.g. California, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania off the Corridor) and to create emerging corridors in some of the relatively thickly settled parts of, for instance, Minnesota or North Dakota or Ohio or Wisconsin.