Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Mica proposal for northeast corridor

Here is the text of yesterday’s release concerning the enormously dishonest Republican proposal to “privatize” rail passenger service in the northeast corridor. It is a powerful indictment of this country that, as we approach the very real possibility of defaulting on our financial obligations, it is impossible to have a civil and intelligent discussion of a topic that ought to be of interest to all, transportation

It is noteworthy, or at least worth mention just for the yucks, that GOP misinformation specialists drag out the Sunset Limited’s supposed loses per-passenger-mile without mentioning the Union Pacific demand for $750 million to begin daily service.

Before somebody gets all over me, we all know this is not a serious proposal, but it so grievously offends against honesty that the well is poisoned. How can people of good will ever enter such a conversation?

Anybody remember when George W. Bush had Peter Pan ready to take over the “profitable” NEC?

Here is the crux of my despair. If this is the tone of discussion concerning Amtrak and high speed rail, what is the level of integrity in discussions concerning the federal debt ceiling? How can the United States of America face a grave fiscal situation when we cannot honestly discuss trains?

Oh well, here it is.

Washington, DC – A dramatic new direction that focuses on bringing competition to high-speed and intercity passenger rail service across the country was presented today during a national briefing by Committee leaders. The plan incorporates competitive bidding and private sector involvement to bring high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor and improve intercity passenger rail service nationwide.

U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, presented their new direction for U.S. passenger rail service to national and state transportation officials and passenger rail stakeholders across the country, and enable their participation via webcast and teleconference. The Mica/Shuster initiative is called the “ Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act .”

“After 40 years of costly and wasteful Soviet-style operations under Amtrak, this proposal encourages private sector competition, investment and operations in U.S. passenger rail service,” Mica said. “Competition in high-speed and intercity passenger rail will cut taxpayer subsidies, improve service, and bring our nation into the 21 st century of passenger rail transportation.

“Our plan will create jobs by finally bringing real high-speed rail to the one region of the country where it makes the most sense – the Northeast Corridor – and do so in a dramatically shorter time than Amtrak’s 30-year plan, at a fraction of their proposed $117 billion cost,” Mica said.

“Amtrak has repeatedly bungled development and operations in the Northeast Corridor, and their new long-term, expensive plan to try to improve the corridor is simply unacceptable,” Mica continued. “The nation cannot afford to continue throwing money away on this highly subsidized, ineffective disaster.

“It is time for a new direction. Around the world, other nations and the private sector have successfully competed to develop high-speed and passenger rail service,” Mica said. “There is no reason we cannot do the same in our most densely populated and congested region. By giving the private sector the opportunity to bring its resources and expertise to the table, we can lower costs, increase efficiency, and improve high-speed and intercity passenger rail service across the country.”

The Mica/Shuster proposal will also give states greater control and authority over their intercity passenger rail services, currently operated by Amtrak. Ridership on state-supported routes has increased significantly over the last 15 years, and incentivizing private sector competition for rail services on these routes will ensure states and taxpayers get the best possible deal and the best possible service. The initiative will also open up other Amtrak long-distance money-losing routes to competition, allowing the private sector the opportunity to bid on any intercity route and potentially improve service.

“It is time to deregulate America’s passenger rail system, and give intercity passenger rail the same opportunity for success that the freight rail and commercial truck industry have benefited from” Shuster said. “ We must look for more effective and innovative approaches to providing modern and efficient passenger rail service by focusing on projects that make sense, leveraging private sector investment, increasing competition, and opening the door to public-private partnerships.

“Both around the world and right here in the United States we have seen that competition works,” Shuster continued. “When Virgin Rail began operating the West Coast Line in Britain, the company doubled the corridor’s ridership in six years and turned a profit. Here at home, in an open bid process, Veolia won over Amtrak for Florida’s Tri-Rail South commuter line at $97 million to Amtrak’s $162 million. Success and cost savings like this can happen here if we end the Amtrak monopoly on intercity passenger rail and open it to competition. Done right, what in the past has been a liability can become an asset, generating jobs, economic development, and value for hardworking taxpayers.”

Northeast Corridor Competition

The Mica/Shuster initiative will bring real high-speed rail to the nation’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) between Washington, DC, New York City and Boston. The NEC is the region of the country where high-speed rail offers the greatest chance of success and the most national benefits. The corridor is already owned almost in its entirety by Amtrak. It is the most densely populated and congested area of the United States, and has the essential transit connections necessary for a successful high-speed system. Unfortunately, Amtrak’s Acela currently averages only 83 mph between Washington and New York, and just 65 mph between New York and Boston. The Mica/Shuster initiative will:

End the Amtrak Monopoly

Separates the NEC from Amtrak, spinning it off as a separate business unit

Transfers the title for the NEC to US DOT, including all assets, property and trains

US DOT enters into 99-year lease with Northeast Corridor Executive Committee

Executive Committee manages NEC infrastructure and operations

Bring Private Sector Expertise and Financing to the Table

Requires a competitive bidding process for development of high-speed rail on the NEC

Allows private sector to recommend best PPP framework

Establishes performance standards for competitive bidding process:

Real high-speed rail on NEC – less than 2 hours between WDC and NYC

Double total intercity rail traffic on NEC

Highest level of private sector participation and financing

Lowest level of federal funding

Full implementation in 10 years or less

Winning bids selected by NEC Executive Committee

Protect the Public Interest

5-member NEC Executive Committee represents federal and state interests

All current commuter and freight operations on NEC are protected

The Time is Now

NEC high-speed rail in one-third of the time as Amtrak’s proposal, with firm deadlines

Within 20 months of enactment, the NEC will transition from Amtrak monopoly to PPP

Create and Protect Jobs

New jobs for rail construction and operations

New jobs associated with development around rail stations

Hiring preference to any displaced Amtrak employees

Intercity Passenger Rail Competition

Fifteen states around the country currently pay Amtrak to operate intercity passenger rail. Unlike the Northeast Corridor, most state-supported routes run on track owned by freight railroads. The Mica/Shuster proposal encourages private companies to compete on these state-supported intercity routes. Because these routes still require federal subsidy, and because they are operated by Amtrak, there is significant room for improvement in service quality and financial performance. The Mica/Shuster initiative will:

Create Competition and Improve Service

Promotes competition by encouraging states to initiate a competitive procurement process for a menu of services

Incentivizes competition by redirecting funds from Amtrak to state DOTs

Establishes an expert panel for recommending competitive best practices

Save Taxpayer Dollars

Allows states to keep money saved through competitive bid process

Saves federal taxpayer dollars by requiring a new allocation process in 2020 to reflect cost savings achieved through competition

Protect Freight Railroad Interests

Involves host freight railroads through market-driven access negotiations

Create and Protect Jobs

Requires states to maintain current levels of service

Creates private sector jobs

Provides hiring preference to any displaced Amtrak employees

Long-Distance Passenger Rail Competition

This initiative will finally allow for competition to Amtrak’s least successful lines in an effort to reduce federal subsidies and improve service. Amtrak’s long-distance routes are subsidized at an incredible $117.84 per passenger on average. For example, the Sunset Limited, traveling between New Orleans and Los Angeles, lost $407.92 per passenger in 2010. Amtrak’s failing long-distance routes need to be opened to competition to reduce the burden on taxpayers and improve service for the traveling public. The Mica/Shuster initiative will:

Create Competition and Improve Service

Promotes competition by allowing private sector operators to compete with Amtrak to operate long-distance routes

Requires winning bids to be selected based upon the lowest possible level of federal support

Allows private sector operators to make a profit, incentivizing improved service and ridership growth

Save Taxpayer Dollars

Mandates that operating subsidies for contracted long-distance services be lower than Amtrak subsidies

Protect Freight Railroad Interests

Involves host freight railroads through market-driven access negotiations

Create and Protect Jobs

Creates private sector jobs

Provides hiring preference to any displaced Amtrak employees

Click here for a press packet on the “ Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act .”

Click here for a section by section summary of the proposal.

The Committee expects to post complete legislative text later today at http://transportation.house.gov

NEWS RELEASE

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Congressman John L. Mica, Chairman

2165 Rayburn H.O.B. Washington, D.C. 20515 202.225.9446 transportation.house.gov

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

8 Responses

  1. Frank says:

    Amazing that I was 12 years old when Amtrak started.in 71 I obviously knew nothing about Amtrak besides. my divorced parent, now long dead, I never had the equal enjoyment of the end of Great Northern Empire Builder. 1967 and 68 was the last year, except, I was drafted and discriminated attending summer camp, which I won’t mention likely not legal.it’s a shame that we are short of Railway Cars and People running the old famous names. such as the Broadway Limited, North Coast Limited, so forth and so on. Now I hear different that the Union Employed BNSF, UP and so on. is for Amtrak. and before Amtrak was bad performance and bad attitudes. now the stupid Airline attendants are as bad as before Amtrak. we still 60 years have anti Amtrak Train to Indy taking 5-6 hours .while. the Builder can make it to Chicago in 7 hours. it makes no sense to me. the Twin Cites are fair better vs Indy for it’s Amtrak Trains. besides the Airport fan freaks can ride on their Stupid Airplanes, Post 911 Airport hassle. and walk a mile to their Stupid Plane wasting more time commuting vs on the Stupid Airplane. so, to fixed this Ridiculous Post War 2 Train is an Non Stop Amtrak-Bus. making it in about 3.5 hours, give and take Traffic in Chicago and Indy, Obviously Lafayette will need a brief stop. just off I-65.
    Indy can server their Trains their south of Union Station.
    Silly to have a Ridiculous monster station for 2 Trains Daily. that’s why their that over price silly Hotel Train.
    It makes me wonder if we will catch up to i.e. the TVG Train in France. well the answer is simple. maybe not in my life time. I’m 53 and was 13 when Amtrak was started, Performance and Attitude change. yet, not enough service. and by the way, BNSF was going as fast as they could to fixed the Tracks out in Ugly North Dakota west of Grand Forks.

  2. Note that Mica trots out the usual crap about the Sunset Limited. He was successful in shutting in down east of NewOrleans, thus disenfranchising a whole train load 3 times a week, both ways (it always ran at 90% or higher of capacity). The guy will not stop till he gets the whole Sunset Route stopped, and then he will attack your route next——.

    I read as true a statement as I have seen in a paper in years this week, when I read that “we all all conservatives until our particular program is attacked”.

  3. patlynch says:

    Jerry, believe me when I say that I have no illusions about the Texas Eagle. The Republican plan is to enforce as much of their program as quickly as possible. that is across the board in all aspects of the federal government. That would effectively nullify any future elections because it is damn near impossible to put abandoned programs back in place – and that is especially true about passenger trains, as you know well.

  4. Woody says:

    Not sure I’m mad at Mica at this point. The crazies are so crazy that they were talking about pulling the plug on all of Amtrak. So Mica may not be crazy to talk about privatizing it instead. That could buy time, and prevent, or at least postpone, more abandoned routes.

    After all, Mica and Shuster can argue that if they want to sell off Amtrak, any business would want to buy it as a going concern, not as so much scrap metal.

    If that talk will get us past the next election, well, in this matter “Not now” is a very desirable answer. Also, I’m optimistic that things will look much better when the stimulus projects get completed: H(er)SR on Raleigh-Charlotte, St Louis-Chicago, and Chicago-Detroit, as well as incremental improvements here, there, and yonder. In October 2012 the first cars from the order of 125, or 130 iirc, will come online, adding sleepers, dining cars, baggage cars, etc. to bring in a bit more revenue on the l.d. trains.

  5. Steve A says:

    Wouldn’t a simple auction for Amtrak assets settle things while there are enough assets for someone to want to make it a going concern rather than another government slush project? Even with the current subsidies, long distance Amtrak travel is unaffordable in comparison with any other mode. Perhaps it is not only the Republicans that are being dishonest. At least their dishonesty is cheaper.

  6. patlynch says:

    In an indirect sort of way, you raise some good points.

    Who exactly would buy a bunch of mostly worn out passenger equipment? Perhaps VIA Rail Canada.

    Since highways are not profitable, I see no reason to hold Amtrak to that lofty standard. Setting aside the possible questions about Amtrak’s bookkeeping, you make a good observation about Amtrak versus air fares. Little Rock to Dallas is cheap by Southwest and I am sure it beats the rail fare. But what about Longview, Arkadelphia, Walnut Ridge and a bunch of other towns between Dallas and St. Louis with no commercial air service?

    With the most inconvenient schedules and bare-bones service, 30,000 people a year use Amtrak in Little Rock.

    I realize that the only interests that will ever be heard from are airlines and highway interests, but one might expect a little more honesty that demonstrated by the Mica proposal. I also want to say that many fine Americans have devoted a lot of personal time and energy lobbying for and volunteering to keep passenger trains running in the vain hope of a change in national priorities. I think that deserves some respect.

    I do appreciate your comments and I do not intend to suggest that your remarks were offensive.Thanks for reading TFA.
    Pat Lynch

  7. Woody says:

    Steve, It’s not exactly a simple thing to say that Amtrak’s fares are unaffordable in comparison with any other mode. For some people there is no other mode.

    People suffering from severe claustrophobia can’t, or wont, fly, even if plane tickets were given away. Many remote towns and small cities face airfares that reflect the absence of competition. If you want to go from North Dakota to Montana, first fly to Minneapolis or Denver to change planes — and pay for the privilege. I’ve read that the train fare is cheaper than the airfare for Albany, NY-D.C., and the flights offered can include flying out to St Louis and back, so you pay with time to get a cheap fare taking either mode.

    Amtrak’s riders skew older than the population at large because as people age, they often want to avoid driving out of town — it’s tiring, their sight and hearing are fading, they’re afraid of getting lost at the second spaghetti bowl interchange, etc., and they certainly don’t want to make a long drive alone. A ticket price that seems outrageous for a family of four may be a bargain for a single traveler and not a bad deal for a couple. And a trip time that seems wastefully long to a hurried businessperson is not a problem for retirees, many students, and tourists.

    Amtrak also tries to do yield management, and price according to demand. So if you want to travel tomorrow, you may pay a high price, just like most airline walk-up fares. If you can book two or three weeks ahead, you can get a nice discount.

    Whatever the fares, some segment of the public is willing to pay, and Amtrak’s trains are usually pretty full, at least for parts of every route. The California Zephyr may have lots of empty seats overnight from Omaha to Denver, I dunno. But at Denver it’s usually sold out thru the scenic Rocky Mountains. If you haven’t reserved your space already, you will not be making that trip until mid-September or maybe October.

    The main limitation on Amtrak is the crippling shortage of equipment. There are no ‘spare’ coaches, or sleepers, etc., while most of the fleet is growing obsolete. Even states that want to pay for “corridor service” between city pairs like St Louis-Kansas City simply can’t get the equipment to do it. If Amtrak had more gear, it could add another coach and sleeper to its most popular routes and pick up added revenue on most runs. Some days the added cars would not be so full, and fares might be reduced on those days.

    With more equipment, Amtrak could even add another train between Chicago and the East Coast, with a schedule different from the current service. That way trains could stop in Toledo (bus connection to Detroit), Cleveland, Buffalo, etc during the daylight. With today’s schedule, the train is always in Cleveland between midnight and dawn.

    Amtrak has not been treated like a normal business by Congress or the Administrations for 20 or 30 years at least. A normal business tries to grow into success. That means investing and improving, refining the product, broadening the product range, entering new markets, etc. Instead it has had to retrench time and gain, abandoning service and reducing convenience for would-be customers.

    With Amtrak, that normal investment and growth have not happened, not at all. Only with the Obama-Biden-LaHood team that’s friendly toward rail have we begun to see the beginnings of new investment and future growth. I’d hate to give up and quit now.

  8. patlynch says:

    Woody, well said.

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