Would privatizing Amtrak mean less delays, cancellations, and overall travel frustration? That I can’t answer, but if Governor Romney is elected, his campaign promises that the federal government will stop subsidizing the rail line, which last year received almost $1.5 billion in federal funds.

The Democrats, however, call the Romney plan “short-sighted,” with U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) saying that it “would mark the end of the line for Amtrak service across the country, while punching a ticket to the unemployment line for thousands of workers.”

The question turns on what role the government has in providing public access to services like transportation even when they cost more money than they earn. Amtrak served 30 million passengers last year, but still lost more than $450 million. The government spent $562 million to keep the company afloat on the operations side, and $650 million on capital costs like track maintenance.

While the tea party activists call for less spending on Amtrak, the Democrats recognize the line’s important role in U.S. infrastructure, noting that more people travel via Amtrak than ever and dismantling it would have rough consequences for commuters. They also point to all the cars kept off the roads by the railroad and, therefore, all of the prevented pollution.

Vice President Joe Biden voiced his strong support for Amtrak last week. “I’m the biggest railroad guy you’ve ever known,” he said. “I have traveled round trip from Wilmington, Del., to Washington, D.C. – a 250-mile round trip – over 7,900 times.”

If Amtrak did lose federal funding, though, it probably would not affect Biden’s route. The Boston to New York to D.C. corridor is one of the busiest. More likely to be on the chopping block would be the long-distance routes connecting remote areas of the country. But congressmen – from any party – are not going to support cutting off their own districts, making the discussion, at this point, mostly political.

Featured image credit: Richard Thornton/Shutterstock