Amtrak Kicks Ass, Republicans Kick Amtrak


yeah i love how all those bankruptcy filings get overlooked.
Neumatic tubes, I say! Leave those filthy claptrap machines for the even filthier hoi polloi to cram themselves into. Now where did I tether my derigible? Hurrumph, hurrumph, hurrumph.
But, but, airplanes are modern or something, and trains are european, or socialist, or some-other thing.
The whole reason Amtrak was nationalized to begin with is private companies couldn't make money on passenger rail, anymore. Privatizing it pretty much means shutting it down.
the nationalized rail is doomed for mediocrity - what we need is rails made of Reardon metal!
Sounds like an economically stimulating investment in productive infrastructure to me. And I'm not just saying that because the tracks between here and Vancouver BC are rough and rickety and regularly get covered by mudslides.
To say nothing of how much federal, state, and local money is spent every year on roads. You know, to make driving "free".
@4 That is the Republican goal. For some reason, as @3 says, Republicans see rail as a symbol of European socialism, whereas cars and planes are pure Americana.
The reason rail works in Europe is that everything is (relatively) close to each other, or rather, it's a population density issue. Amtrak on the east coast is a no-brainer, maybe to Chicago, the west coast is probably feasible too. But in Flyover, USA there is too much land and too little people to make sense. If Amtrak would get out of the tourist business (on most routes) and focus on high(ish) density lines then maybe something could come of it.
Subsidies for their Comrades in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and shipping our oil and coal to Red China.

Gee, who are the commies again?

There's a reason why they are Red States ...
@9 the I-5 corridor is pretty dense. We could run passenger lines to the empty states next to highways.
Thanks, Goldy, for pointing this out. I see this argument all the time, while people choose to ignore that all forms of transportation are subsidized in different ways, with private firms obtaining profit on the back of public investment. This is part of the "you didn't build that" argument. All businesses rely on infrastructure that is paid for by governments at some level (local, state, federal) through a combination of general fund taxes, consumption fees (gas), use fees (tolls), and even private contributions (for certain kinds of road improvements, in which a business may chip in often significant amounts).

Airport authorities seem to get a pass because they are operated sometimes as what seem to be private businesses (port authorities) that are actually essentially or completely government agencies with bond-issuing capability. Because airport authorities levy fees against passengers, concessionaires, and airlines, it hides more of the subsidy that the government chips in for security, air-traffic control, and plain-out subsidies. The use of bond power reduces a municipality or other organizations ability to raise money for other purposes, as well.

I've looked for and never found an analysis that looks at all the dollars that subsidize different forms of transportation and compares those on a per-passenger mile or per-destination basis, and also calculate true cost.

The Washington State Ferry system is a great example. The state wouldn't function well at all without it, but many passengers I believe think that the fare they pay covers the cost of operation, as opposed to covering just a fraction of it.
Have you ever seen those signs on the back of 18-wheeled trucks that say "I paid $2,000 in taxes last year"? Those are the highway taxes that a truck has to pay to use the roads. What the truck drivers don't realize is that $2,000 covers about 5% of the damage that those 18-wheeled trucks do to the roads. Take trucks off of the highways and they'd have to be re-paved about once every 50 years (and then mostly because of weathering effects). Keep trucks on the road and they have to be repaved every 5 to 7 years.
@11. True, probably going to be too many coal trains on the existing lines anyway. Where's that coal going again?
@7--Exactly. Funny how no one ever seems to complain that highways don't pay for themselves.
PNW is pretty rad, too-- I use it to go from Seattle to Portland all the time. It's super cheap (typically $50 or so each way), pretty efficient and the seats are roomy as shit. Plus, you can take your own damn beer/wine/liquor.
I have to use this opportunity to sing Amtrak Express Shipping's praises. I'm in the middle of moving from Seattle across the country. I just dropped my stuff off at Amtrak yesterday and it was so easy! And so cheap! $600 to ship an apartment's worth of stuff across the country and all I have to do is pick it up on the other side. I want to marry Amtrak.

<3 you, Amtrak.
Haven't these Republican assholes seen the Atlas Shrugged movie?! Rail is the FUTURE. Rail is AMERICAN.

One argument is that since our economy basically depends on the highways, they have paid for themselves many times over.

What the 'publicans don't get is that their wet dream fantasies of a free market are 100% bullshit: the market needs the state just as much as the state needs the market. It's okay to subsidize highways and rail travel -- Republicans' fevered ideology requires them to adopt such tortured and easily defeated anti-subsidy positions.
I am on an airplane at 39,000 feet right now. All of my belongings, though, are on an Amtrak heading to DC. If you ever move across the country*, use Amrtraks amazing Express freight service. $500 for 1000 pounds of stuff! And it'll be there Monday!

*Carebear and I are doing that right now. I'll miss you, Slog.
When they came for the Post Office, I was silent...
If they take my Amtrak, I'm moving to Canada.
Here's something for all you kiddies out there who don't remember US airlines before deregulation. They were a joy to experience and flying was a real treat. Only after deregulation did they become Greyhounds-in-the-sky. A ticket from Memphis to Savannah was $480, for instance, no matter which airline you chose to patronize (excluding, of course, only the airlines that didn't provide service to Memphis or Savannah). Therefore, there was no price competition and the only way airlines could get you and keep you was to win you over with customer service and amenities. Even coach was very pleasant. Can you imagine such a thing?

Keep that in you memory when those forked-tongued devils start telling you that privatization (profits) and the marketplace (price competition) is the way to go.

Where once air travel was almost as nice as the trip's destination, now I don't fly unless I have absolutely have no other choice. Might be different if I had my own plane with its own staff. Oh wait.
Then there is the rare opportunity to buy a $16 hamburger for only $9.50.…
@22 Canada has almost no domestic passenger rail service, by the way. You can take the train up here, but it will be Amtrak that you take.
Air travel: Screw around looking for the best deal weeks in advance and then figure out if they're going to charge you for your luggage. Drive or take a cab out of the city to an airport. Arrive 90minutes or more before your scheduled departure time. Remove your shoes and step into the cancer box/porno scanner (but you can always get your privates groped instead!). Get crammed into the smallest space possible. Realize you haven't even left yet.
Rail: The station is in town so you don't have to make a trip to start your trip. You can buy a ticket there. You can show up a few minutes before departure. No cancer box/porno scanners (yet). Arrive downtown at your destination and not an hour outside the city in a swamp or equally useless place.
The real downside to rail is that it's kinda slow for long haul in this country. I've taken bullet trains all over Japan and love love love them! Tokyo to Osaka at 150+mph. Amtrak Acella is what, 85mph?
They've run trains in tests up to 350mph, and 250mph is totally doable with current tech. Think about that...Seattle to Portland downtown in less than an hour. Right now that's 3 hours in a car if there's no traffic (ha! right!).
Remember people, republicans aren't working for the common good, or for the citizens. They're working for their corporate lords.

Any time a republican says or does something confusing or inconsistent or contradictory, they're doing it because their CEO billionaire masters commanded them to.

It's not supposed to make sense to normal people.
What's striking is that Acela is as dominant as it is in that corridor despite its being a sorry imitation of high-speed rail. That $151 billion investment is to make it into true high-speed rail like they have in Europe and Japan.

The line that Jerry Brown (and Schwarzenegger before him) is trying to build in California would be the real deal from the get-go. I don't have a sense of the routing compromises they're having to make in CA, but considering the success that the patchwork that is Acela is enjoying, you've got to think the CA line would take a huge portion of existing LA-SF travel and even create a sizable number of new trips.
@17, @20: I had no idea Amtrak offered this kind of shipping service. I wonder what Mayflower would have charged for shipping your stuff. I'm guessing several thousands.
stinky @24: Then there is the rare opportunity to buy a $16 hamburger for only $9.50.

So what is your point in referring to a column by Mitt Romney adviser John Sununu, the same fellow who couldn't get his story straight when asked the last few days to distinguish between the Ryan budget and a possibly Romney budget?

Tell you what, I'd be just fine seeing Amtrak replaced by a rail system where you have private operators running trains on rail lines into which the government has invested many billions of dollars--you know, kinda like what we have now in our air transport system. Of course, that's not what John Sununu wants. If only passenger rail consumed vast quantities of petroleum, the GOP might be singing a different tune. (See Urgutha Forka @27.)
Republicans are incapable of governing, so they go after low-hanging fruit like Amtrak, that they can bully and micro-manage so that their idiot followers think they're doing something. The only reason Richard Nixon (R) formed Amtrak in the first place was because the private railroads couldn't make a go of it after they lost the post office subsidies. How do they expect anything to be different now?

As for the right-wing talking point that "America is too big for trains" : the long-haul trains are not designed or operated to take people from the big city on one end of the route to the big city on the other end of the route. They are there for the cities and towns along the route, and they do a very good job at serving those places, many of which lack other forms of public transport, now that Greyhound is down to a skeleton system.

As for that article about the $16 burger, that's the same GOP BS they come up with every few years. Each time they try to improve it, the party of other people's business justs makes it worse. They tried handing food and beverage over to Subway, only to have Subway pull out because - Suprise! - they lost money on it, and the passengers hated it. Now, the GOP (none of whom seem to know how businesses are supposed to run) are saying that it should be privatized, with the private company guaranteed to make a profit by the US taxpayers. It would end up costing far more, for less quality, and next to no oversight, for the private vendor would not have to answer to the Amtrak Inspector General.

All of this nit-picking and hand-wringing while billions of dollars are still unaccounted for in Iraq, and we continue to pour money into that welfare program we ironically call "national defense"

I suspect that what is at the heart of this latest GOP drama fit is a desire to raid the railroad retirement fund which, unlike Social Security, has never been meddled with.

I still don't understand why we don't run high speed rail right down the middle of the damn highways. I swear I've seen this somewhere around Baltimore but my google-fu is weak today. Looks like this:

rail in highway median.

Amtrak could be a candidate, justifiably, for Baining.

The reason is that the high traffic corridors like BosNewWash tend towards profitability, whereas routes like the Empire Builder...come on, 2000 miles of track for one train a day? You can figure it out.

But instead of whining about "republicans" (oh, sorry -- that's SLOG's JOB!) why aren't you castigating our state leadership for not doing the obvious and creating MSR (moderate speed rail) along the main corridors here.

They now have some Michigan cooridors up to 110 mph for the Detroit-Minneapolis's only 13 miles of track, but heck, it's only 30 miles from Seattle to Tacoma.

30 miles -- 110 mph? That means Seattlites could get to the Tacoma Dome for an NBA game in 20 minutes!

Supreme Ruler, I would love to spend a few hours in your head - just as long as I had a clear exit strategy.

Amtrak owns the rails between Boston and Washington DC. They were given them after years of neglect by two private railroads who had a merger that was such an incredible failure that they teach about it in business school. They also own that stretch on Michigan that you cite, but that's about it. The rest of the system is ran on private railroad's tracks, where Amtrak trains are one of many each day.

Amtrak has gradually rehabbed the lines they own, which was an incredibly complex undertaking, particularly since they were originally owned by fierce competitors who had entirely different electrical systems and operating voltages (part of the reason for their spectacular failure as a merged company) They also electrified the system all the way from New Haven (I think) to Boston, which was a massive undertaking.

And that is part of the reason that Acela will never be as good as the trains in (name drop location here). To lay the kind of direct lines that true HSR requires would take mass condemnations of land in some of the most expensive, densely populated areas of the planet. After all, we did not have the "benefit" of having our rail infrastructure and our major cities demolished and rebuilt seventy years ago. We still have the original layout.

And now that we the taxpayers have made that massive investment in infrastructure, we should privatize it? So that when the new company fails, we will be stuck with it again?
@23 I'm old enough to remember what flying was like before deregulation—back in the days when they treated passengers like customers, rather than potential terrorists or just those things they pack in the space above the cargo hold—and the best part of that old system was that your ticket from one airline was essentially good on all of them. If you missed your flight because of weather or mechanical problems, or just because you were late, the airline would book you on the next flight out. Not the next flight with an available seat on their own airline, but the next flight on any airline. At the same price. No rebooking fee. It made flying so less stressful.

Nowadays, if your flight is canceled due to weather anywhere in the country, you're fucked. They'll get you out whenever they bother.
@5 ... I caught that.

Back when $480 was a whole paycheck for a lot of people.......
Yeah, the airlines were great when a flight across country cost as much as a good used car. And almost no one flew. The reason flying sucks now? LCD, lowest common denominator. Deregulation turned flying into bus service, and frankly it's not as bad as it's made out, and INCREDIBLY CHEAP.

But yes, I am fairly sure that the American airline industry has turned a net loss since its inception -- almost a hundred years of negative profits on average. Of course, a hell of a lot of people were employed in that time. I doubt your average Alaska pilot or Boeing machinist thinks of those years as a loss.
@27 Someone finally pointed out the obvious. None of this Congressional skullduggery has anything to do with the merits of passenger rail. It's about the aerospace lobby, the transportation logistics lobby, the petroleum lobby, the automaker lobby, and so on.
The 75% market share figure has been debunked - it's only 75% if you don't include cars, buses, and/or regional rail combinations. Basically it's just a comparison to flying. Given that the train is cheaper and mostly faster, it's really no comparison at all. What's the breakdown of SEA->PDX flying vs train?
@23 In 1977, the year before airline deregulation, $480 was equivalent to $1,814.69 in 2012 dollars, according to the US inflation calculator here:

So you and Goldy can go back to those wonderful days and get that great service and sit next to Mitt on the plane. I'd rather be able to fly every now and again. Deregulation was almost certainly in the best interest of consumers in this case. Airlines would LOVE to turn back the clock and compete again on service rather than on price. Regulation was great for them, bad for us.
Both air and ground transportation should be subsidized for economic and security reasons, just like the interstate highway system was originally put up for security reasons (and was a huge boon to the economy).
@33: The irony is a lot of the same people who argue that Amtrak should be privatized would fight tooth and nail against eliminating the unprofitable passenger rail corridors that run through their rural states.
@43 nails it.
Commercial air travel is quite profitable... it's just that Boeing and Airbus have managed to arrange things such that they pocket all the profits.
When airlines go bankrupt, it's shareholders and employees who suffer. The CEOs and hedge fund types make money all over the board: initial funding rounds, IPO, consulting fees, new share issuing, shorting the shares, bankruptcy reorganization, floating new shares, ample taxpayer subsidies hidden in things like wars-for-oil and airports. Repeat.

So airlines can go bankrupt over and over and over and still make money for the 0.01%. Warren Buffet is a real investor who seeks long term value, but most of Wall Street could care less.

Trains don't lend themselves to multiple independent companies running the same routes on the same rails -- there are a few players in the freight business but not passenger -- so for passenger service it's a series of geographically non-overlapping government controlled monopolies. In England where trains were privatized, companies were still given monopoly geographic access on most routes -- apparently too complicated or simply doesn't work to allocate time "slots" to multiple companies to serve the same stations on the same rails.

Bottom line, no chance for Wall Street for cash in, so the Republicans are against trains. But as with many services, a government-run monopoly is actually a very good investment of taxpayer resources -- factoring the cost of tax subsidies all around, train routes are highly competitive compared with air, car, etc.
@32: "I still don't understand why we don't run high speed rail right down the middle of the damn highways."

Not efficient + too expense: most highways in the USA really snake around if you look on the map, not very smooth / straight so not ideal for high speed rail. They have many places where the two sides are close together (so you'd have to elevate the train). I've seen auto accidents where cars go clear across to the other side, cars at highway speeds have a lot of kinetic energy and could damage a train / rails seriously. So you'd have to build much stronger barriers the entire length (or again, elevate the trains even when there is space for parallel tracks).

Cheaper to work with existing rail lines, unless you're in a country in Asia where they still have the willpower for massive infrastructure projects funded by government and don't mind building new high speed lines. Not all the Asian high speed rails are brand new first time projects. Japan, South Korea, China -- all had slower intercity rail networks for decades, *then* upgraded or built entirely new modern high speed lines. So it can be done, even in a high wage country like Japan or South Korea.
@41: Yep. You had to save up for a trip to be sure, but the punch line is that it was worth it. Now only people like Mitt can afford what almost everyone was treated to back then for the price of a ticket.

Deregulation turned a fresh, lightly-sherried, beautifully seasoned bowl of tomato bisque into Campbell's cream of tomato soup. Enjoy.