There are a lot of bad reasons for subsidizing Amtrak: it provides a vital service to small towns (how vital can it be when only a handful of people get on or off the train in any of those towns each day?); it saves energy (extending the tax credit to the Prius and other low-mpg vehicles would save more energy for less money); it relieves congestion (how congestion is there between Wolf Point and Glasgow, Montana?). But the worst reason was laid out a couple of days ago in a New York Times op-ed: Amtrak’s dining car will heal our political divisions.
On a 9,000-mile trip on six Amtrak trains, songwriter Gabriel Kahane learned that, when you eat in the dining car, you are often seated with other riders. Where most of our digital world “finds us sorting ourselves neatly into cultural and ideological silos,” the dining car “acts, by some numinous, unseen force, as a kind of industrial-strength social lubricant.”
In other words, he met people whose politics were very different from his–“abhorrent, dangerous, and destructive”–and discovered they were still human beings. “That ability to connect across an ideological divide seemed predicated on the fact that we were quite literally breaking bread together.” This made him “wonder if the train might be a salve for our national wound, bringing us into intimate conversation with unlikely interlocutors, and allowing us to see each other as human rather than as mere containers for ideology.” Continue reading