Steven Hatfill's Big Idea

Amtrak's two recent catastrophes—the Maryland derailment and forced sidelining of Acela express trains due to mechanical problems—gave fresh fodder to critics who say it's time to face facts and let the old railroad take the deep-six. Amtrak got $205 million in a short-term bailout earlier this summer and is seeking $1.2 billion over the next year. Up to now, the White House only has been willing to back $500 million.

If Amtrak goes down, the passengers can flee to the airlines, which in the wake of the Acela misfortune began offering cut-rate deals along the Washington-to-Boston corridor. But it's hard to believe capturing 10,000 daily Acela customers will save the airlines, which are just barely keeping their heads above water. At the same time, the airlines are going bankrupt or seeking aid to stay in business. After Sept. 11, Congress provided $15 billion to help them stay afloat. That wasn't enough, apparently. US Airways, the seventh largest airline, has debts of $7.8 billion and is seeking reorganization under the bankruptcy laws. American Airlines, the nation's largest, announced layoffs of 7,000 in August, along with cutbacks in flights. United wants $1.8 billion in government-guaranteed loans.

Truth be told, much of the nation's vital transportation infrastructure will have to be nationalized—in all but name. Of course, in this age of the almighty "free market," no one dares say so.

With Saddam Hussein threatening to drag any U.S. assault right into Iraq's cities, it's worth considering again America's recent policies on the slaughter of innocent civilians. Marc Herold, a New Hampshire professor who tracks civilian casualties, compared U.S. compensation to Italian victims of the tramway accident with Chinese victims in the NATO bombing of its Belgrade embassy, and with Afghan civilian deaths. It comes down to this:

•Italian: $2 million per victim.

•Chinese: $150,000 per victim.

•Afghan: $100 per victim.

Research by Gabrielle Jackson and Cassandra Lewis.
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