Response published by the Washington Post, September 24, 2007

The Rail Alternative

Monday, September 24, 2007; Page A18
(c) 2007, Washington Post

Post editorials about airways congestion—most recently, “The Crowded Skies,” Sept. 10—have omitted one big part of the solution: Divert travel off planes by investing in rail to provide fast, frequent service in more markets.

Many states long have been poised to help with such investments if federal matching grants materialize. Some states, such as California, Wisconsin, Washington and North Carolina, already have partnered with Amtrak without federal funds, but most future improvements require an end to the anti-rail bias in federal funding.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers has offered a proposal that, simply by upgrading existing and already planned rail infrastructure, could bring passenger trains to 103 more metropolitan areas and more options to people who already have some train service.

Ross B. Capon
Executive Director
National Association of Railroad Passengers

The Crowded Skies
What Congress can do to help bring order to air travel
Monday, September 10, 2007; Page A14

(c) 2007, Washington Post

AIR TRAVELERS can be forgiven for not cheering the news from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics that flight delays and cancellations were a smidge better for July (30.2 percent) than June (31.9 percent). What they’ve endured this summer is the worst since the federal government started keeping track of such things in 1995. Things are going to get worse before they get better. But Congress can improve the situation by standing up to the aviation industry.

The skies are jammed with big planes, regional jets and smaller aircraft, including those corporate jets that whisk chief executives hither and yon. Meanwhile, air traffic controllers are tracking all these flights on equipment that is the technological equivalent of Pong. That’s slowly changing. Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration awarded a $1.8 billion contract to ITT to build more than 700 ground stations across the United States that will be the foundation for a satellite navigation system that will give pilots and controllers the exact location of planes in the air and on the ground. Such precision will make it possible to bring order to the crowded skies by allowing more planes to fly on high-traffic routes.

But all this costs money. One way to raise the cash is for Congress to make the airlines pay to fly at peak times from the busiest airports. Congress could accomplish this by auctioning the slots and limiting the number of flights at those places and at those times. The current congestion, along with severe weather on the East Coast, nearly brought air travel to a halt this summer. Another way to pay for upgrading the system is to make general and corporate aviation pay its fair share. It incurs 16 percent of the air traffic control system’s costs but pays for only 3 percent. Congress must resist the vocal corporate aviation lobby. The imbalance is not fair, and it must not stand.