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Amtrak Gets Government Handout

Amtrak just got handed a whole barrel of pork.

Amtrak has never been profitable. Not once in its existence has it taken in enough ticket fare to offset its expenses, yet time and again politicians tell us that a national rail service is "neccessary" for our contry's continued economic health and growth.

I'm why such a vital rail system can't turn a profit in a nation of citizens that doesn't mind shelling out four or five dollars for one cup of coffee.

Rob Port owns and operates Say Anything.


Comments (13)

One reason rail is unprofit... (Below threshold)
John:

One reason rail is unprofittable is because it can't compete with trucking. Here's the thing about trucking. My tax dollars are taken to constantly repair freeways that deteriorate largely due to heavy truck use. In other words, I'm subsidizing trucking by paying for the freeways and what seems to be their constant upkeep.

Every mass transit system i... (Below threshold)

Every mass transit system is subsidized. 90% of the interstate highway system funding is from the feds (well--from you). Amtrak could be run a lot better than it is, but every transportation system I'm aware of that moves large numbers of people from one place to another requires some kind of national funding.

The single largest carrier between New York and Washington isn't US Airways or Delta, it's Amtrak.

Highways are one thing, air... (Below threshold)
Rob:

Highways are one thing, airlines and rail systems are quite another.

But I'm not sure that Amtrak, being a passenger service, neccessarily competes with the trucking industry...

As I understand it, Amtrak ... (Below threshold)

As I understand it, Amtrak and the Post Office have a similar problem. Cut back on expenses to be profitable? Sure, go ahead. Save money by closing a station/post office in Congressman X's district? Over Congressman X's dead body!

--|PW|--

Airlines fly through the ai... (Below threshold)
joe:

Airlines fly through the airspace, controlled by the government, and use airports controlled and mostly funded by the government. Trucks and cars use roads maintained and controlled by various levels of government. Ships and boats use waterways maintained and controlled by various levels of the government (we're staying in the States here).

Only rail has these private lines, some amazingly small (the Ann Arbor Railroad goes from Ann Arbor to Toledo, and that's about it!). And Amtrak owns very few of these tracks. That means the cargo trains get first priority; they're on their own rails! So Amtrak's often off schedule for reasons that aren't their fault.

Would it be better if the government owned the rails and then maintained them as a unified network, with priority given in operation to passenger trains? The cargo lines would be like truck lines, using the rails as needed with reasonable government controls to avoid problems (just as airlines use air routes and trucks use roads). Would this work? I don't know, but it's worth discussing.

One needs to first establis... (Below threshold)
McCain:

One needs to first establish that rail travel serves a useful purpose, that is, that the benefits outweigh the costs. If so, then yes, of course government has a legitimate role in providing public goods. The problem is that in a monopoly like Amtrak, there is no objective way to measure the importance of one line over another. In other words, just because a particular line serves some public good does not mean it is worthwhile to provide it. So drastic cuts in Amtrak may be completely consistent with the legitmate role of government subsidizing this public good where it is warranted.

No mention of rail service ... (Below threshold)
epador:

No mention of rail service in the EU?

Amtrack is a system crippled by its regressive structure as mentioned above. A vital and active rail system that supported both commercial shipping AND people transport might be an interesting answer to the CO2 output, high cost of fossil fuel relative to people/tonnage transported, and even provide an answer to inner city blight/decrease the suburbanization of our farmland and forests. In our time of finite resources, though, it would mean decreasing support for air/highway or water transport.

Joe:Admittedly it'... (Below threshold)
fatman:

Joe:

Admittedly it's been a couple of decades since I've had any contact with railroaders, but when I did, I remember being told that passenger trains had priority over freight trains. And woe to the yardmaster who caused a passenger train to be late for any reason other than a wreck. Am I mis-remembering that, or have the rules changed?

No disrepect meant epador, ... (Below threshold)
fatman:

No disrepect meant epador, but where I live (Pittsburgh), most neighborhoods that have rail lines running through or near them are considered blighted because of the close proximity of the lines. In fact, the reason for the suburbanization (is that a word???) of Pittsburgh was to get away from the noise and smell of heavy industry, including railroads. And even if we went to electric locomotives rather than diesel, we would still have to produce the extra electricity to power them. Which until wind, solar or geothermal power become realities, rather than wishful thinking, means coal or oil fired generators.

Unless, of course, nuclear power somehow rises up from the grave and makes a comeback. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting on that, though.

Our country was built by th... (Below threshold)
Ron:

Our country was built by the railroads. That infrastructure has been there for over a century. Right now, it is a backup. As gas prices begin to rise and we see our consumer goods become more expensive in turn, the RR may be the best alternative.

For mass shipping, there is no cleaner way. How many shipping containers can you fit on a train? How many can you fit on a truck? Neither are eco-friendly, but which has the last overall impact?

I think that truck drivers are generally the safest drivers on the road. But their vehicles have limitations. Trains have their own highway, a most importantly have the right of way all of the time.

With all of these advantages, I believe that the railroad infrastructure will alway be necessary, especially if you do not want to pay $10 instead of $5 for $.50 worth of coffee.

Some Facts To Consider... (Below threshold)
Jim:

Some Facts To Consider

1. Amtrak gets priorty on amtrak owned rails - for instance the northeast corridor. Frieght get priority on frieght owned lines = most other rail.

2. Amtrak's northeast corridor could turn a profit if the infrastructure maintenece was brought up to date. The whole line is deteriorating as bridges and track fall into disrepair. There is a northeast corridor swing bridge in CT that may get stuck open or closed at any time. Amtrak know about this and doesn't have the funds to fix it. Stuck open - no train service north of New Haven, stuck closed - no boat traffic up the river.

3. Amtrak is forced to run every other unprofitable line in the country in order not offend congressman.

4. Airline and Highway subsidies go up every year while Amtrak's subsidy remains the same.

Privatizing Amtrak is the s... (Below threshold)
penny:

Privatizing Amtrak is the solution. The unprofitable parts would be sold off and someone could invest in better service with the parts remaining.

AMTRAK wants the same thing... (Below threshold)
Tullimoredu:

AMTRAK wants the same thing that the airlines and the truckers get: they want the government to pay for the 'highway' they drive on. How many billions per year do we spend on the air traffic control system? How many billions per year do we spend our highways? If the government would offer this same subsidy to them, they will be profitable, or at least as profitable as the airlines.




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