Trains For America

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Surprise! Amtrak isn’t recession proof

Here’s a few snippets of recent rail events before you all head home for the weekend. First, some bad news. Amtrak ridership for the first quarter of 2009 is below expectations. This is a slight dip from the same period last year and 5% percent below expectations, according to the Associated Press. CEO Joseph Boardman told a House transportation subcommittee that lower fuel costs were leading some riders to return to their automobiles.

Surely our experienced Amtrak naysayers are going to jump all over this, giving the usual spiel about how the system is a waste of money and should be privatized AKA closed. Forget that Amtrak has seen unprecedented ridership growth in the past couple of years, provides green jobs, and stimulates the economy. Here’s a very specific case in point from Vermont’s ongoing battle to save its popular Ethan Allen Express route:

Rutland City Republican Peter Fagan said even the specter of the proposed Amtrak cut has had an impact on economic development. A condominium project slated for the old Sunshine food store lot has been placed on hold, pending the outcome of the Amtrak negotiations, according to Fagan.

“That’s an economic driver the city would like to take advantage of,” Fagan told the House Transportation Committee. “If the train is funded, they’ll continue on. If the train is not funded, that project is in doubt.”

Seems like the private sector is willing to embrace smart growth, if the public will provide the means for it.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics

One Response

  1. Adron says:

    I could easily fix Amtrak.

    1. Kill the Union. Remove 40% of the work force for now. See #18 to see how this pans out. It would be painful at first but it NEEDS to happen desperately.
    2. Increase efficiencies per employee to the level of Virgin Rail or even SNCF & raise the employee pay by 20% effective immediately. Assure they’re fully covered so they have no reason to kowtow to their Union masters again.
    3. Put forth either a bond offering, stock offerring IPO, or something of that to get investments going in every major corridor in the country.
    4. Get rid of the FRA stupidity that slows our trains and bump up speeds anywhere form 5-30% in reasonable areas.
    5. Bump ticket prices for corridor routes by 3-5%.
    6. Automate corridor food car operations.
    7. Make all long distance trains much more luxurious. Offer greater service levels and upgrade equipment so it works – at greater than 98% of the time.
    8. Offer real remuneration to the host railroads. Get a REAL garauntee of on time arrival.
    9. Bump up California ticket prices by 5-20%, increase speeds by 5-30%.
    10. Work with the freight railroads to get PTC in place 1-2 years early.
    11. Push for bonds, stock offerings, or other investments for immediate operational starts for high speed rail in every 100-200 mile corridor city pair.
    12. Prepare for stock offering & bonds to issue in 2-3 years once the initial corridor pairs start connecting and showing passenger rail pricing power.
    13. Work with the Government to reduce, remove, and generally get rid of any law that is older than 1-3 years old or applies to America’s outdated passenger rail operations modes.
    14. Modernize the ticketing process, do NOT leave Amtrak’s employees dealing with the mundane stupidity of having people line up to manually hand out tickets. That is EMBARRASSING for Amtrak and amazingly costly and stupid. Airlines fixed that problem 30+ years ago – obviously their is a canned solution to fix this.
    15. Start buying equipment, invest in companies willing to start making equipment, and get the equipment into service and carrying passengers ASAP. This is unfortunately a 2-5 years process – but it has to start sometime.
    16. Get rid of the FRA stupidity that causes railcars to have dumb things like 800k lbs impact zones & cost about 2 mil a pop. American ingenuity could easily get them back to a reasonable price. 800k-1 mil a piece is absolutely reasonable. With FRA silliness fixed that price is within reach.
    17. After 2-3 years, once the equipment is received, start growing workforce by 80%. After 5-6 years grow the workforce another 80%. This is something that can NEVER happen under the current regime of American passenger rail.

    Final kicker – Connect airports for the longer hauls & make sure the long distance trains connect with cruise ships, resorts, and the places people actually go. That alone could add several hundred million to the coffers of Amtrak.

    …and final boastful pride point. Stand proud when riding in 3-4 years to know that passenger rail could be, and is the only truly sustainable economically and environmentally form of transportation in the world. Know you’re not stealing money from Mary to pay Paul at that point.

    …for now, just keep dreaming that someone saves us from the continuing theft. Because really, the next economic collapse, after this debacle – if we make it through – is going to easily be even worse. The US probably won’t survive, nor the world, as a developed and civil place. Keep your fingers crossed, maybe we’ll at least get by with a semi-mediocre improvement in rail, I don’t even think the above could happen (even though England & Japan pulled it off, and Germany & France ALMOST did). But I dream about having pride in our passenger rail again one day.

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