Last week's column focused on how policies of the Obama administration are likely to affect airlines and the travel business. I didn't have room to say all I wanted to about what may be the most striking change in store in the transport arena: how Amtrak and other passenger-rail service will be treated by the White House.

Barack Obama's campaign outlined an ambitious effort to support not just the service Amtrak already provides but development of new high-speed intercity rail corridors and public transportation in urban areas.

The president-elect's platform made its case in part by linking those needs to cutting our thirst for expensive fossil fuel, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and spurring the economy by rebuilding the nation's transportation infrastructure, including airports and highways.

If you've ridden an Amtrak train recently, you may know how timely these efforts are. Thanks in part to record gasoline prices and the hassles and cost of air travel, the once-ridiculed, often less-than-perfect railroad is carrying record numbers of customers and collecting more revenue than ever before.

At peak times, it's standing-room only on some trains. Amtrak warned last summer that, at times, it doesn't have enough rail cars in good working order to meet the demand.

In the 2008 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Amtrak carried 14 percent more customers and collected 18 percent more revenue than it did the year before. It was the sixth straight year of increases. Some routes saw increases of more than 30 percent and virtually all of its 43 routes nationwide carried at least 6 percent more passengers.

This upward trend was broken in October, when traffic fell on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, most likely because of lower gas prices and the deteriorating economy reducing business travel.

But Amtrak patronage elsewhere continued to grow last month, as it has been doing for several years. At one time, half of the railroad's riders were on Northeast Corridor trains. Today, it's 38 percent because of the growth on routes in the rest of the country.

Among the reasons for that growth is that numerous states, including Pennsylvania, help support short- and medium-distance Amtrak trains that are just the kinds business and leisure travelers want - especially when gas hits $4 a gallon.

Public transit systems, both those that operate trains and those with buses only, have had an increase in riders this year as well. They carried 5.2 percent more passengers in the second quarter, compared with 2007; those are the latest figures available and represent growth before gas prices surged this summer.

The American Public Transportation Association says 85 percent of the systems, like Amtrak, also lack the capacity they need to meet peak-hour demand.

Fortunately, Congress responded this year to decades of starvation budgets for Amtrak by passing a five-year, $13 billion reauthorization bill that President Bush signed. If Congress appropriates funds as the bill envisions, it should give Amtrak money to begin making up for past shortages, including the lack of equipment to meet peak demand.

Over the last 25-plus years, three Republican presidents and members of Congress, aided by some Democrats, have worked to dismantle Amtrak, contending that it's not used by enough travelers to justify annual operating subsidies of a million dollars or more.

If people in the Northeast or other heavily populated areas want passenger trains, this argument goes, they should form regional compacts and subsidize them themselves. But long-distance trains are a thing of the past and don't deserve taxpayer support, the critics say.

Congress has repeatedly rejected this approach, voting to keep a national passenger system in place, a position that a majority of Americans have said in surveys they agree with.

I have always considered the position of the Amtrak critics specious. Transportation systems have been a government function since the Romans started building roads and can't exist unless all taxpayers - not just those who use them - support them.

Airlines use airports that today are largely self-sufficient, collecting revenue from passengers. But most of them - including Philadelphia International - were built years ago at taxpayer expense. The air-traffic control system is supported both by user fees and all taxpayers. Some of the cost of aviation security also is borne by all of us.

Likewise, highways and city streets aren't built and maintained solely with gasoline tax revenue from motorists. When you back out of your driveway to start an out-of-town trip, you're on a public street that your property and income taxes helped pay for, on your way to an airport your grandparents helped build.

Perhaps we now have an administration in Washington that understands the role that all forms of transportation have in mobility and economic development.