Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Happy Birthday Amtrak

On May 1, 1971, Amtrak took over the passenger train operations of 18 operating railroads. The following is from memory and consists of random thoughts.

Richard Nixon signed the bill as corporate welfare. Amtrak became responsible for railroad company labor protection costs and Railroad Retirement benefits.

From memory, Southern, D&RGW and Rock Island did not participate. Is that correct?

You never saw a more rag-tag collection of junk as the original fleet of rolling stock which became the Amtrak passenger car fleet. They were running a GM&O dining car from the 20s. The Santa Fe equipment was nice and new but most everything else was ready for retirement. It is much like the current fleet of Amtrak equipment – way over due for replacement.

None of the equipment “matched” so maintenance was a nightmare. The order of Superliners went into service around 1981, a full decade into operation.

Amtrak is to this date a whipping boy for everything that goes wrong in the federal government, yet there is probably no agency (although Amtrak is not an agency) that gets the level of congressional meddling. I say this often but the tinkering goes right down to the dining car operations.

I note today that congress is conducting hearings on the BCS bowl system and I am goad of it because they will be off Amtrak’s case for at least a day.

While I do not include myself among those who blindly believe more money will solve every ill of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, I do think it would be a beginning. Amtrak desperately needs a reasonable subsidy and stable management that will concentrate on a business plan.

The constant struggle for life extends down to on board service. How would you like to work for a company under unceasing duress?

The original name of  NRPC was Railpax. There is a country music song that uses the word: She’s a Railroad Lady. Cannot remember the artist.

Jimmy Carter was Amtrak’s biggest enemy. Decimated the system in a day. Cut a dime worth of expenses and lost a dollar’s worth of revenue.

I am informed that truckers intend to fight further appropriations for Amtrak till the last dog is hung. More money for rail means more freight shipped by rail. That is the pathetic condition of American transportation policy.

Amtrak might provide an essential service to hundreds of small and medium sized towns, but that would take leadership that responds to more than the financial contributions of well heeled special interests and a vision that goes beyone this week.


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

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May 2009