America can't be an advanced nation with a broken-down rail networkIn a Congress that specializes in short-term thinking, the dithering about Amtrak ranks high on a long list of botched opportunities.

The national rail passenger network carries an aging fleet of cars. Many rail routes in high density, highly traveled corridors are imperiled because of outdated technology and tracks which Amtrak must share with freight railroads.

This is not how it's done in Japan, Germany and other industrialized nations.

Thanks to a myopic White House and congressional decision-making that's based on ideological prejudice, not rational, economic analysis, the annual Amtrak discussion is about as articulate as a late-night discussion among drunks in a bar.

Meanwhile, the pace of change in this nation and its economy move on. The New York Times has observed that, "for the United States to be an advanced nation with a mobile work force, the American government needs to maintain a clean, efficient national railroad."

Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith gets all of this. In private conversation, Smith will acknowledge the need to bring Amtrak up to international standards. But Smith is largely silent on the topic in front of his colleagues. Is Sen. Smith holding his tongue for fear of upsetting the ideologues that run his party? Is he waiting for something the rest of us cannot see?

The Times noted that, "the underpinnings of the nation's railroad system are primed for disaster." It's later than President Bush or Congress thinks. We need a courageous and intelligent senator such as Gordon Smith to talk sense about our national rail network.

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