What's Amtrak Up To?

Posted by David Lester
on Sunday, September 9, 2018

The news coming from Amtrak lately has not been good.  Calls for reduced-quality food service on long-distance trains, removal of amenities such as fresh flowers and newspapers for first-class passengers, and the ridiculous proposal of making the Southwest Chief an all-coach train by busing passengers during the overnight portion of the trip are absurd.  These efforts are, supposedly, put forth in the name of cost saving, but the reality is that these changes are not going to save that much money, and certainly won't make Amtrak profitable.  They're just going to drive passengers away.

While I cannot prove this, is it possible that Amtrak is deliberately trying to make long-distance trains miserable so they can point to significantly declining passenger trips and revenue and call for the total elimination of long-distance passenger trains?  Moreover, are they hoping to privatize the Northeast Corridor once all of the “nuisance” trains have been eliminated, and get the federal government out of the rail passenger business altogether?  How about some regional corridors that look promising?  While there are a few good examples, is the state and federal money required to operate those going to be forthcoming in the long term?  Does Amtrak want to privatize them, too?  

The notion of Amtrak trying to destroy itself may be a little far-fetched, and this would certainly be "unprecedented."  Remember, though, we've seen a lot of bizarre things in our country since January 20, 2017.  This discussion is even more mind-numbing when one considers that this is the same conversation we have been having about Amtrak since its founding on May 1, 1971 – the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and now the 2010s.  Frankly, I’m sick of it.   

Amtrak has problems, for sure.  But, the current leadership reflects the theory that if an "executive" has been successful in one industry, he'll surely be successful in any other.  Amtrak needs an experienced, professional railroader who is enthusiastic about the business to be its chief executive.  Congress needs to provide consistent financial support, too. Either quit making a mockery of the system, and go home and tell your constituents that you’re going to vote to shut it down, or support a comprehensive system, (assuming you are not only interested in keeping trains running in your state), and tell the Amtrak Board of Directors to replace Anderson with someone who gives a damn. 

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