We were surprised and pleased that a plank supporting passenger rail service found its way into the Republican party platform at the GOP Convention in Philadelphia last week.

It states: Our national railroad network is a crucial component of our public transportation system ..., and our national passenger railroad network remains a precious resource that can play a key role in transportation and economic growth. Republicans support a healthy intercity passenger rail system, and where economically viable, the development of a national high-speed passenger railroad system as an instrument of economic development and enhanced mobility.

This is a big change from the Reagan administration, whose budget proposals always included a big zero where the Amtrak subsidy was supposed to be.

It is also noteworthy that this reversal comes at a time when the GOP nominee is the governor of Texas, a state where high-speed rail advocates lost a bloody battle a decade ago to gain support for a network of fast trains to link the state's major cities.

No offense to Southwest or any other airline, but we've long felt that Houston, Austin, Fort Worth and Dallas deserve high-speed rail service at least as much as New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

The turnaround in the GOP's rhetoric is largely the work of Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, who chaired the GOP Platform Committee and who also happens to be chairman of the Amtrak board.

Is this a great country or what?

In passing?

The GOP platform also makes a passing reference to travel and tourism as "a vital force for job creation with a positive annual trade balance to boot."

That was nice, but, gee, it was only a passing reference. Maybe the Democrats can do better.

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