For many years transportation policy has been one of the most important responsibilities of U.S. state governments. Transportation programs consistently are one of the four largest items in state budgets, and transportation issues often are major concerns in state elections, the state legislature, and the executive branch. 1
Although state transportation programs have emphasized roads and highways for most of this century, the states also have a long history of participation in railroading. During the 1800s, when many states lacked rail service, they adopted subsidy programs to encourage expansion of the railroads. Further state involvement in railroading came in the late 1800s when pricing abuses and corruption practiced by a number of railroads led to state regulations. More recently, the wave of bankruptcies and abandonments that has swept the rail industry has brought about new state efforts to preserve rail service. States have tried tax relief programs, loans, subsidies, and even public ownership in an effort to provide rail service that otherwise would be lost. 2
When the Amtrak system was created, the states were given an additional opportunity to participate in transportation policymaking. The law creating Amtrak provided that states could obtain additional rail passenger service if officials in those states were willing to help pay the costs of the additional service. This provision reflected a recognition of the fact that transportation policies have localized effects as well as national 3consequences. 3 Services that might not seem necessary from a national standpoint might be very important to a particular state or group of states. Therefore, the states could help to mold the system to meet their individual needs. The provision also reflected the controversies over Amtrak's route structure and concerns about the cost of the system. States where people felt short-changed by the national network could add to it but only if they helped defray the added costs. The next section of this chapter will seek to explain why some states have adopted subsidies while others have not; the following sections will try to explain why some of the subsidy programs have survived while others have been terminated.