Trains For America

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Just a few inconvenient facts about Amtrak

Let;s not pick on Ben Cunningham. The columnist for the Tennessean must be a fine fellow, and he certainly makes a few salient points about the current federal trend to bail out everything in sight. We must, however, part company on Amtrak.

Here is the specific offending portion and a link to the entire essay.

The result: The U.S. auto industry will become just another bloated, politicized, semi-governmental blob producing a mediocre product that fewer and fewer people will choose — think Amtrak, Fannie Mae or the Postal Service. And Congress will have created yet another source of temptation for themselves. Expect many more future Duke Cunninghams and Ted Stevenses to go to jail over illegal bribes from auto-industry lobbyists.

Where to begin?

Duke Cunningham made his money on Defense Department contracts. Does Ben propose doing away with the Air Force?

Amtrak is, from the beginning, corporate welfare. It was designed as a mechanism to pay labor protection for the rail industry, which was all too willing to ditch the passenger trains they promised to run when they took all those taxpayer breaks to build them in the first place.

Amtrak pays loads of payroll and local taxes.

It is political, just like interstate highways and airports. Amtrak is part of the transportation system. It provides the sole intercity service for many rural communities. It is exactly what government should be doing.


Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

5 Responses

  1. Adron says:

    He however has a valid point. Amtrak is a joke, a mere dishonor compared to the privately operated trains we had before. There is absolutely ZERO comparison to the greatness of Penn Central, NY Central, Santa Fe, Northern Pacific, Milwaukee Road, Southern, and the others out there (and there are still many unlisted). These systems ran their primary routes on time, in fine afluent luxury. Amtrak, does none of that. In addition many of the main roads did NOT require a subsidy on the scale of Amtrak, instead they turned annual profits on at LEAST operations. Something else Amtrak is not even remotely close to.

    If Amtrak was even half of what these lines were, you could say that and the fear of these subsidies and nationalization of entities would be invalid, but to the contrary the bailouts, subsidizations, and other dishonest, immoral, and disgusting efforst the Government has put forth are making the country a very dishonorable deal. We’re all, getting shafted.

    Maybe one day we’ll recover, but it isn’t looking very good yet, that’s for sure.

  2. Ran says:

    Adron, you’re kidding, right? While you are right about many of the differences between what Amtrak offers and what the private passenger lines offered, in their prime, the idea that Amtrak should, would, or even could operate on similar terms is laughable. To pick one point, Amtrak cannot run its primary routes on time for the simple fact is does not own them and has no dispatch authority over them.

    As for the need for subsidy, how many of those fallen flags you mention are still in operation? None? Yes, well, I suspect there’s a correlation there.

    I need to stop falling for trolls.

  3. Allan says:

    Ran, Amtrak does have priority on the routes tho … as long as they run ontime. If they miss their window, then they go to the back of the line.

    And how much worse would an airline be if it were run by political appointees like Amtrak is?

  4. Ran says:

    Missing a slot is not the only reason Amtrak is moved to the back of the line. The freights can choose not to give Amtrak its lawful priority, if they are prepared to pay a modest penalty. More and more, the freights have shown they would rather pay the penalties than honor the law. See Lautenberg’s study of the costs of delay for further details.

    How much worse could the airlines get if they were government run? Eroding safety, abysmal on-time performance, non-existent amenities, and over-capacity that’s killing the entire industry. It’s hard to see what benefits private management has brought to air travel.

  5. Bill says:

    On the issue of Amtrak trains being out of their “slot” or operational window, a detailed review of Amtrak delays for almost any route, quantified by cause of delay, will show that actions by the freight host railroad are the primary cause for Amtrak being “out of their slot” in the first place.

    Amtrak has made enormous strides over the last decade in making sure that their trains depart their origin terminals ON TIME. Once a train is on the road, about 75-80% of the delays incurred are the result of actions or inactions of the host railroad (dispatching errors, slow orders, defective signals, freight train interference).

    When an Amtrak train is out of its slot due to Amtrak’s fault (such as locomotive failure en route), the freight railroad’s reluctance to help recover time might be understandable. The more common event is when the freight railroad forces Amtrak out if its slot, and in that case, it should be incumbent upon the freight railroad to make an extra effort to dispatch Amtrak in such a fashion that time could be made up to allow the train regain its dispatching slot.

    Hopefully the on time performance expectations outlined in the recently passed Amtrak reauthorization bill will result in improved on time performance.

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November 2008


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