Saturday, February 18, 2006

Amtrak and Historical Perspective

Please read THIS ARTICLE, which appears in the online edition of The Ithaca Journal.

Never mind that the author, Raju Chebium, is relatively young and has no easily uncovered background in railroading. He could have gained his perspective by studying history. (Scary enough, his alma mater currently requires only one history course for a BS in Journalsim that we can see, and that is in African-American History. Not likely to give one a perspective in railroad history unless one is studying the Pullman Company.) Yours truly gained his historical perspective in railroading by reading literally hundreds of railroad books over the past 40 years.

So now we have our credentials established.

Chebium's first demi-quote from Jeff Rosen, member of Amtrak's board, is about the board wanting Amtrak to "wean" itself from taxpayer subsidies. Mr. Rosen also wants the states to pay more. What does he think state funding is? Chopped liver? With the exception of a very few states, like New Mexico, where funding may be able to come from depletion taxes paid for mineral extraction, state funding IS taxpayer funding.

Mr. Rosen has no historical perspective. Passenger railroading has never been a break-even proposition and never will be. Even in the glory days, it was only slick accounting tricks that made it seem so, for the benefit of stockholders. Freight subsidized passengers.

It may be that Mr. Chebium thinks he has struck some kind of balance in this article when he quotes an Amtrak passenger. The passenger just wants the government to leave her trains the way they are. In fact, the balance would be to ask other passenger modes to express their opinions as to how well they could function without government subsidy of some kind. These other eager "participants in the economy" as Mr. Rosen terms it, are easy to find. They are bus companies, airlines, and the driving public.

Mr. Airline would have to admit that he/she is already bankrupt and couldn't lift a shovel to build another control tower or flight service center without the help of government. Mr. Bus and Mr. Driver wouldn't be able to afford the maintenance on their vehicles, because without government subsidy, they would be driving them on dirt. Unpaved, ungraded dirt.

We did not arrive where we are today without a flawed transportation policy that favored political decisions over practical ones.

To try to pretend that Amtrak, or any other reasonable passenger rail network, could pay for itself is ludicrous, given any amount of historical perspective. To try to write a balanced article about how the Bush Administration doesn't hate Amtrak any more, without looking at what the Bush Administration is doing for other transportation modes, is just plain stupid.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com



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