May 1, 1971: Amtrak begins operations. Its creation was an unprecedented taxpayer-funded lifeline to the freight railroads. They were given the authority to get out of the passenger rail business, in return for allowing Amtrak trains priority on their tracks.
Amtrak was not expected to last very long, since most people believed that passenger trains would be completely replaced by the publicly-funded highway and air traffic control systems. But forty-five years later, passenger trains are more popular than ever, despite chronic underfunding.
So let’s celebrate Amtrak’s anniversary by reminding our elected representatives that passenger rail is still an amazingly good value. The “Mayday” from the freight railroads that we answered in 1971 was the right thing to do. Tell elected officials in Congress, state capitols, and city halls to say “Yea!” to rebuilding a robust and reliable national system.