Going Off the Rails on a Crazy Train
The news this week that Amtrak lost $833 million dollars in the past 10 years on their food and beverage service had me shaking my head. This just might be the only outfit that loses money on lousy $9.50 cheeseburgers. Only a government subsidized company can manage this. Although Amtrak employs over 20,000 people and served over 30 million people in 2011, I think it is time for the government to rethink this venture. Amtrak does not even claim the goal is to break-even or profit. Instead, as proponents claim, they should be receiving more subsidies because the rail service gets less taxpayer money than air traffic control, airports and highways. While critics will say that taxes collected on gas and toll collections offset the costs. Either way, should taxpayers continue footing the bill for an entity that has never made a profit?
There are so many expenditures that keep Amtrak from being profitable that if I were to address them all, you would probably fall asleep before getting through the list. Labor and Pension Costs, anyone? Now, I am not advocating cutting off taxpayer money to Amtrak, shutting it down, or even trying to sell it to a private company. One thing that we could change that has been advocated many times over the years is to simply shut down routes that practically no one uses. Should be a simple decision, that.
I do have a lot of love for Amtrak. As many folks from the East Coast will tell you – it really is a vital and reliable and competitively priced way to move between the tightly packed cities on this coast of the U.S. It is reasonable, and pretty quick, to take train jaunts connecting from Boston to NYC to Philly to Baltimore to Washington, D.C. These cities are close enough to each other that a train ride is more convenient, and faster, than flying, when you factor in getting to and from (and through) airports. They even have wifi available on the newer Acela trains. Don’t get me started about having wifi available everywhere! I have taken the trip from Penn Station in NY to 30th Street Station in Philly hundreds of times in my life – always efficient and almost always a pretty pleasant way to travel. The Amtrak ride out to Albany from NYC is also handy, plus it’s a beautiful cruise, tracking the Hudson River as it winds west, past West Point, to the State Capitol.
But just because Amtrak receives billions in taxpayer money every year, it shouldn’t mean it needs to maintain and service lines all over the country at significant losses, apparently trying to bring train service to every single taxpayer. By my count, there are 48 Amtrak routes. From what I’ve read, of those 48, 6 are profitable and one breaks even. Again, only SEVEN out of 48 routes break even or are profitable. Out of the 16 Long Distance routes, NONE make any money. In fact, the one that loses the least amount of money lost $15.1 Million in fiscal year 2008. To see the list, click here.
So many of these routes are so long and so costly that it makes no sense for a consumer to choose the train over flying or driving. Do you know of anyone who would take a train from Chicago to Albuquerque to Los Angeles? They’ll need 43 hours to spare. How about Chicago to Denver to San Francisco in a mere 52 hours? By the way, that line lost $59.4 million dollars in 2008. Does this make sense to anyone besides politicians who love their “pork”? Is it time to start shutting certain routes down and stop throwing taxpayer dollars away like this?
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