Thursday, September 07, 2006

Critique Conservatives on Passenger Rail

Usually, when we pick on a point of view - usually somebody else's - we will mention an article or two that needs to be jabbed a bit about the writer's position on this or that subject. This time, we want to particularly critique an article published on-line for The Heritage Foundation. The article is called Will The Senate Raid The Treasury for Amtrak?, and is thoughtfully written by Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D.

First off, Mr. Utt is not a railroader or a businessman. He is a conservative economist steeped in research in a science that many still consider a pseudo-science.

We agree with Mr. Utt, however, on many points. None of this means that we agree with some of his assertions regarding how different modes of transport are subsidized by the public. We also disagree with his assertion that Amtrak's financial failings are the result of squandering its resources.

In fact, this is the same argument the railroads used to justify the demise Passenger Rail back in the 1960s. Let the system go to pot by denying it a fair share of your operating budget, then cry all over the tracks about how its not making money. People won't pay the good money he wants Amtrak to make if they can't ride some good trains. They won't pay any money at all if they have to ride what Amtrak has to offer for much longer.

Then Mr. Utt brings up the old cry about Amtrak breaking Federal Law (caps are mine) by not breaking even on food and beverage service. Various Amtrak boards and managers have fallen on that sword over the years, and it just doesn't die. The truth is that we have never given Amtrak a budget with enough in it to make the food and beverage service the premier experience that it truly could be. When it becomes that, it will also become break-even, or profitable.

OK, Mr. Utt, we get it. You want to eliminate sleepers and diners and possibly go back to stopping for a 12.5 minute Fred Harvey belch-o-rama at the next station, in the name of reducing the government subsidy to Amtrak. Let's turn all transportation into riding in uncomfortable chairs face forward in a metal tube that contains no incentive to get up and walk around for, God knows, you may fall over in the aisle and increase the cost of liability insurance.

We get worked up like this and start to be ashamed of being politically conservative.

Ok, Mr. Utt, we also get it that you think Amtrak should cut off its left nut by eliminating unprofitable long-distance routes. (By the way, they are all unprofitable, so that reduces Amtrak to another commuter agency.)

Next time, we critique Mr. Utt's suggested solutions, and let you know if the White House has invited him to dinner yet.

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


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