Opponents of a plan to privatize Amtrak are pointing to experiences in Great Britain, saying privatization would lead to layoffs, higher fares and poor service.
Two House Republicans are spearheading efforts to privatize the nation's passenger rail system - Rep. John Mica of Florida, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Rep. Nick J. Rahall, both D-W.Va., are longtime supporters of using federal funds to support Amtrak's national railroad system.
Last week, Rockefeller warned that the Republican legislation would likely eliminate passenger train service in West Virginia, which serves cities including Charleston, Huntington, Montgomery, White Sulphur Springs, Hinton, Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry.
When Mica and Shuster proposed their legislation - the Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act of 2011 - on June 15, they cited the privatization of railroads in Great Britain, which happened in the early 1990s. The bill was formally introduced last Tuesday.
Mica and Shuster say their plan would reduce taxpayer subsidization of Amtrak, and hasten the development of high-speed rail.
But Gary Zuckett, executive director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group, called the proposal to privatize Amtrak using the British model "the wrong road to go down."
"British privatization ended up costing taxpayers there even more money, after the railroads went bankrupt, than the public subsidies cost before privatization," Zuckett said.
"Why are we proposing to go down the same road?" Zuckett added. "I agree with Congressman Rahall and Sen. Rockefeller that this is not a good idea. We need to support our rail system, not sell it off."
Reconnecting America, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that advocates for transit-oriented development, is working to preserve Amtrak.
Today, heavily traveled, profitable rail lines in the Northeast help finance railroad lines in less populated areas throughout the United States.
"Very few, if any, of the long-distance lines will attract private sector funding," said John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Reconnecting America. "The focus on privatizing the Northeast Corridor will weaken the existing national system ... Removing the profitable Northeast Corridor from the current system of shared benefits deprives the rest of the nation's rail system of critically needed operating assistance."
In a report, Reconnecting America wrote that Mica's proposed changes were likely to "weaken or terminate the intercity rail connections that are the lifelines in small towns from Montana to West Virginia, as well as big cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles."
Zuckett said the plan would "allow private entities to cherry pick the profitable lines and leave the other ones to flounder."
"We need to keep Amtrak intact and support the whole system," he said. "It is good that profitable areas help areas like West Virginia and western states that really need rail service."
The legislation proposed by House Republicans to privatize Amtrak would put it on sale to the highest bidder in the private market.
Reconnecting America says the Republican-backed legislation would put at least 110,000 jobs at risk later this year.
The group also compared Mica's proposed legislation to what happened in Great Britain.
"The plan is very similar to the United Kingdom's attempt to privatize its rail network. Taxpayers had to bail out the infrastructure company and increase their annual subsidy to support the rail network," the group wrote in the report. "The system is now more expensive than before privatization."
Reconnecting America predicts private investors in the U.S. would show little or no interest in investing money in railroads anywhere outside the Northeast.