Amtrak investment

MILLIONAIRES aren't made in a moment, observes Thomas Stanley, a Georgia State University marketing professor, who has studied the species. They take their time, investing for the long haul, looking ahead a decade or two and not just seeking to exploit quick-changing factors. We're not, of course, in the business of counseling people on making fortunes. Our focus is public policy. But Mr. Stanley's observations about profitable investment should be recalled as Congress reviews support of Amtrak, the government-subsidized passenger rail service. The Senate prudently voted to reduce Amtrak's spending by some 12 percent, as part of its deficit reduction freeze -- not erase Amtrak entirely, as White House Budget Director David Stockman wanted.

Programs that help position a society for future needs should not be put on the block in each year's version of a crash diet on federal spending. A decade hence, New York and Philadelphia will be the same short distance from Washington, making plane travel in that region no more logical than now. There will be more people, not fewer, in the heavily traveled corridors. Rail links to satellite cities in metro areas could make more sense, not less.

Assets and technologies can lie dormant and then make comebacks. Whole cities, from New England mill towns like Lowell, Mass., to megatowns like New York, as noted elsewhere on this page, can take new hold. The supersonic aircraft, grounded as an American investment, is getting a new look as Pacific air travel grows.

Crack new French trains allow Parisians to speed to Lyons for lunch and return, in just a workday. One could muse that if American city restaurants equaled those of France, Amtrak's survival would be assured.

But the point remains that passenger rail service in America may soon be seen to merit greater investment, not less, and it would be foolish to erase the base that now exists.

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