GOP: Amtrak really needs to get out of the commuter rail business

posted at 8:01 pm on September 11, 2012 by Erika Johnsen

Heartily seconded, Chairman Mica. Via The Hill:

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a report Tuesday arguing that Amtrak should privatize more of its rail service, which has been a longtime Republican goal.

“We already know that Amtrak’s losses in food and beverage service are a staggering $833 million over the last decade,” Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said in a statement.

“Now we know that Amtrak wastes the taxpayers’ money bidding on commuter rail contracts that it cannot win, and that hundreds of millions of dollars in savings can be realized if the private sector is given a chance to compete with Amtrak in commuter rail and passenger rail service,” he continued. …

Mica has frequently referred to Amtrak as a “Soviet-style operation.” Amtrak, which was founded by Congress in 1971 to replace a network of private railways, receives an approximately $1 billion subsidy from the federal government every year.

Republicans were also sure not to overlook the black hole of federal funds that is Amtrak, including its privatization in the convention platform:

The platform Republicans adopted at their convention included a call for full privatization and an end to subsidies for the nation’s passenger rail operator, which gobbled up almost $1.5 billion in federal funds last year.

“It is long past time for the federal government to get out of the way and allow private ventures to provide passenger service,” the platform said, arguing that taxpayers dole out almost $50 for every Amtrak ticket.

Long a political cudgel in the halls of Congress, Amtrak is among a number of transportation functions Republicans say should be turned over to the private sector — including airport security, also on the chopping block in the GOP platform. At its core, the debate juxtaposes differing visions about what role government should play in ensuring public access to services — even if they’re losing money hand over fist.

Amtrak has been plagued by operational and financial problems almost since its inception, and all of the government “help” it receives gives it almost monopoly-like power, cutting the efficiency/productivity/innovation of free-market competition off at the knees and contributing to how expensive, clunky, and wasteful of a service it really is. Of course, the Amtrak debate is a longstanding political football, and I severely doubt this Senate will be on board with the GOP on this one.

What possible excuse the transportation sector could possibly merit for deserving special government help as opposed to other economic sectors, I’ll never know. (Oh wait, I don’t suppose unions could have anything to do with it, could they?) To anyone with oh-so-fond memories of the conveniences and efficiencies of riding an Amtrak train — or any government-operated transit system, for that matter — I’m sure you’re looking forward to the implementation of ObamaCare with equal pleasure.


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What possible excuse the transportation sector could possibly merit for deserving special government help as opposed to other economic sectors, I’ll never know.

Well, until 2008, Joe Biden used to ride it back and forth from DC and Wilmington. No doubt he’s had ahand in keeping the subsidies flowing to unions and to Delaware.

Wethal on September 11, 2012 at 8:06 PM

Joe Biden isn’t going to like this idea. :-(

Punchenko on September 11, 2012 at 8:06 PM

Amtrak needs to survive on it’s on merits! If it has none, let it DIE!

GarandFan on September 11, 2012 at 8:06 PM

Good! let those riders between DC and Boston pay what their ticket actually costs for once. Suddenly they’d be driving or flying.

Akzed on September 11, 2012 at 8:06 PM

Typical.

Bmore on September 11, 2012 at 8:07 PM

Simple then GOP House don’t fund them and don’t cave. There problem solved.

bgibbs1000 on September 11, 2012 at 8:08 PM

Nice thing about appropriations bills is that they can’t be filibustered. 218, 51 and sign.

Wethal on September 11, 2012 at 8:10 PM

Amtrak really needs to get out of the commuter rail business…and sell Chevy Volts

KOOLAID2 on September 11, 2012 at 8:12 PM

Joe Biden isn’t going to like this idea. :-(

Punchenko on September 11, 2012 at 8:06 PM

Which makes it all the better. But, of course, after January, stupid Joe will not have any need to make the commute from DE to DC since he will be completely out of public office!!!

Happy Nomad on September 11, 2012 at 8:12 PM

As probably the only Amtrak supporting Republican who posts here (I am a northeastern guy who does not drive and does not like to fly, as well as being a life-long rail buff) I support the notion that Amtrak should get out of the commuter business. In the NYC area, the only commuter service Amtrak runs is the Shore Line East route in eastern Connecticut. While the rolling stock belongs to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, Amtrak runs the service, because they will not allow CDOT employees to operate trains on their trackage.

TheLastBrainLeft on September 11, 2012 at 8:12 PM

Wait! Wouldn’t this be inconsistent with the Administration’s support of high-speed rail? I mean, if Congress starts turning over chunks of Amtrak to the private sector, the next thing you know California will have to… pay… for its own… Browndoggle and… oh. I see.

de rigueur on September 11, 2012 at 8:13 PM

As George Will explained a while ago, socialists love trains.

Wethal on September 11, 2012 at 8:15 PM

OT: Gov. Palin is knocking it out of the park on Bill O’ right now!!

annoyinglittletwerp on September 11, 2012 at 8:17 PM

This is way too logical to survive.

SouthernGent on September 11, 2012 at 8:17 PM

I’ve used them a few times to go back and forth between Jacksonville and Pittsburgh. It wasn’t my worst traveling experience but flying is so much cheaper and faster. Plus the airlines don’t have DMV-grade customer service.

joekenha on September 11, 2012 at 8:17 PM

Joe Biden hardest hit.

Philly on September 11, 2012 at 8:18 PM

To add: Amtrak’s existence is critical, and it will never be able to operate without government subsidy, even if some of it’s operations are privatized. One can still support Amtrak and demand it be more efficient. We already subsidize road and air transport considerably more than Amtrak’s annual subsidy. The NEC service between DC and Boston actually turns an operational profit, and many other services Amtrak provides are subsidized, in part or in whole by local governments. The Keystone service (between New York and Harrisburg PA) and the Pennsylvanian route (NY-Pittsburgh) are paid for by the state of PA to the tune of 75% of it’s operating costs.

TheLastBrainLeft on September 11, 2012 at 8:21 PM

We need Taggart Transcontinental.

aunursa on September 11, 2012 at 8:21 PM

As George Will explained a while ago, socialists love trains.

Not true. I am a conservative train lover.

TheLastBrainLeft on September 11, 2012 at 8:22 PM

Amtrak really needs to get out of the commuter rail business…and sell Chevy Volts

KOOLAID2 on September 11, 2012 at 8:12 PM

Well, you know $1B would buy 22,000 Chevy Volts. How many people ride AMTRAK? Make it Chevy Cruzes and you could buy about 66,000 Cruzes. In one year

AZfederalist on September 11, 2012 at 8:26 PM

C’mon and take a free subsidized ride! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

H/T: Edgar Winter

predator on September 11, 2012 at 8:26 PM

As George Will explained a while ago, socialists love trains.
Not true. I am a conservative train lover.

TheLastBrainLeft on September 11, 2012 at 8:22 PM

So am I, but (sorry didn’t mention this), Will also explained socilialuists love trains as a replacement for the auto; the auto gives the people to much liberty to go where and when they want to.

Having trains almost exclusively allows the state to control the destination, the route and the time, not to mention those parts of country (cities, for example) to which it wants to concentrate the populace, by making is the only area easily accessible to homes and jobs.

Wethal on September 11, 2012 at 8:28 PM

“We already know that Amtrak’s losses in food and beverage service are a staggering $833 million over the last decade,” Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said in a statement.

Amtrak loses a fortune selling hamburgers for $10 which cost taxpayers $16 each. There’s an ad for the greedy union movement if ever you could do one.

slickwillie2001 on September 11, 2012 at 8:29 PM

Somebody needs to do a photoshop starring Joe Biden… And chains er, I mean trains.

Key West Reader on September 11, 2012 at 8:33 PM

Good! let those riders between DC and Boston pay what their ticket actually costs for once. Suddenly they’d be driving or flying.

Akzed

No, no, Akzed, you have it all wrong, the Eastern corridor is so profitable it props up crazy trips to flyover country, that no one wants to ride on. And the Eastern corridor could be run efficiently by a private company, pay good wages and get rid of union folks, and keep the best employees. You don’t need a union member to collect tickets, for god’s sake.

These people would not be driving or flying, the traffic slows down your progress, what you WOULD have is an Acela train that actually could go fast instead of being prohibited, and more competition. More trains when the holidays come, more cars on trains that have high ridership. They don’t run it to its maximum potential, they have no incentive.

Fleuries on September 11, 2012 at 8:33 PM

Republicans were also sure not to overlook the black hole of federal funds that is Amtrak, including its privatization in the convention platform:
==========

That black hole would be,Hopey’s Abyss!!

canopfor on September 11, 2012 at 8:34 PM

Why do the republicans hate commuters?

PappyD61 on September 11, 2012 at 8:37 PM

Then the TSA. Then the post office.

AshleyTKing on September 11, 2012 at 8:37 PM

TheLastBrainLeft on September 11, 2012 at 8:21 PM

We do not “subsidize” car transportation — we pay for roads by way of a gas tax (much of which gets siphoned off into other projects).
It would be nice to move to a privatized road and highway system, but that will have to wait until all cars can be tracked so that drivers can be charged for the roads they drive by the people that own them.

Count to 10 on September 11, 2012 at 8:40 PM

Amtrak really needs to get out of the commuter rail business

Taxpayers really need to get out of the Amtrack business.

farsighted on September 11, 2012 at 8:40 PM

Amtrak sucks and not just the commuter rail. Interstate rail journeys should piggyback freight trains and since they are so slow be the supercheap way of moving from state to state. Right now its really not possible the cross the US without spending a few hundred $$$. Eventually the most popular routes can be augmented by higher and higher speed trains and transform the rail network for the 21st century.

Daikokuco on September 11, 2012 at 8:41 PM

Amtrack has been protected by Biden for years – so appropriate that he would drain the taxpayer’s purse so that he would have cheap and comfortable rides home. We could have gotten him a personal limo for a lot cheaper than well over a billion in subsidies.

Amtrak’s existence is critical, and it will never be able to operate without government subsidy,

TheLastBrainLeft on September 11, 2012 at 8:21 PM

If Amtrack is producing a service for which its users would not be willing to pay fair market, unsubsidized prices, then it is by definition a convenience for which alternatives would be found in its absence. Amtrack has been a Biden boondoggle for decades. Not another dime . . .

Wolf Howling on September 11, 2012 at 8:43 PM

When looking for alternatives to having to deal with the TSA, I toyed with the idea of taking AMTRAK from Tucson to Dallas. When I looked, there was only one day a week the train for Dallas runs and it was going to take 3 days to get to Dallas. I can drive in 2 days and that is staying somewhere overnight. $1B per year for nostalgia is pretty pricey. … and it’s not that nostalgic; trains were much more efficient back when they really were used for transportation.

AZfederalist on September 11, 2012 at 8:51 PM

Oh come on, what’s not to love? Filthy cars, crap service, and regular derailments. They’re subsidized; they will remain Am(ateur)trak.

M240H on September 11, 2012 at 8:54 PM

Keep AMTRAK in the PROFITABLE NorthEast corridor… we don’t need it anywhere else…

Khun Joe on September 11, 2012 at 8:57 PM

But why? Why would the ever privatize this? I count on the constant Amtrak overhead wire equipment and track snafus that end up delaying my NJ Transit trains a half hour (on a good day) while we sit for them to clean up their act. Seriously GOP will would I do without my daily shot of mediocrity and frustration on my morning commute? You tell me. It’s like my coffee

CreatedOrSaved on September 11, 2012 at 8:57 PM

I say sell off the profitable northeast lines and spin off the rest into several port authority style multi-state authorities.

The Feds should have nothing to do with it.

Amphipolis on September 11, 2012 at 9:01 PM

Why do the republicans hate commuters?

PappyD61 on September 11, 2012 at 8:37 PM

PappyD61:

I’ll take a stab at this Pappy,”Puts on Liberal ProgTard Hat”,

well,they want to step on the commuters,to get to the other side!!
(snark)—:)

canopfor on September 11, 2012 at 9:02 PM

Oh and stop them from gouging every local municipality that needs to do bridge work over them.

I know of projects where the payments to Amtrak are more than the cost of the bridge work.

Amphipolis on September 11, 2012 at 9:03 PM

It costs me 100+ dollars for a train round trip from Albany, NY to NY Penn station. And then parking and local travel costs about 20 additional dollars.

If I drive by car it costs me 11 gal of GAS(39 dollars) + 20 dollar of toll + parking in NYC (16 bucks.)

I save 50 bucks and I have the convenience of starting whenever I want. It is a little tiring to drive back n forth… but Amtrak is NOT cost effective.

Shut the thing down.

antisocial on September 11, 2012 at 9:05 PM

Amtrak’s existence is critical, and it will never be able to operate without government subsidy, even if some of it’s operations are privatized.

TheLastBrainLeft on September 11, 2012 at 8:21 PM

It’s critical but cannot exist unless the government pays for it? Sounds like the Navy.

Since it is not part of national defense who exactly is it “critical” to and why? And why should all taxpayers in the country pay for it?

If it is so “critical”, why couldn’t the private sector profitably run it? How critical can it be if the people using it cannot afford to pay for it?

farsighted on September 11, 2012 at 9:05 PM

Slamtrack .. they seem to have had their share of accidents haven’t they?

MrMoe on September 11, 2012 at 9:06 PM

Right now its really not possible the cross the US without spending a few hundred $$$.

Daikokuco on September 11, 2012 at 8:41 PM

Should it be possible? If so, why?

Where else in the world is it possible to travel over 2000 miles overland without spending a few hundred dollars?

farsighted on September 11, 2012 at 9:10 PM

Eastern corridor is so profitable it props up crazy trips to flyover country, that no one wants to ride on. And the Eastern corridor could be run efficiently by a private company, pay good wages and get rid of union folks, and keep the best employees. You don’t need a union member to collect tickets, for god’s sake.

These people would not be driving or flying, the traffic slows down your progress, what you WOULD have is an Acela train that actually could go fast instead of being prohibited, and more competition. More trains when the holidays come, more cars on trains that have high ridership. They don’t run it to its maximum potential, they have no incentive.

Fleuries on September 11, 2012 at 8:33 PM

The biggest (and getting bigger) obstacle to Amtrak is freight rail. For one, they have to share the tracks with freight which disallows the really speedy trains. Two, freight rail is investing billions of private monies to upgrade an already efficient system and spending millions on very effective advertising.

bettycooper on September 11, 2012 at 9:12 PM

canopfor on September 11, 2012 at 9:02 PM

ProgTard? Haha. Good Post canop.

SparkPlug on September 11, 2012 at 9:25 PM

They need to look at Canadiuan National’s experience. They privatized, expanded, and are profitable. They have some passenger service, mostly GO trains, commuters, and tours.
But the cross-country from Toronto to Edmonton was a real experience and much nicer than anything Amtrak has offered. It was pricey but the cabin replaced a motel so it wasn’t that much more than flying. And seeing the country was worth it.

Deanna on September 11, 2012 at 9:37 PM

“They gon put ya’ll back in trains!” -Joe Biden

cep on September 11, 2012 at 9:40 PM

Amtrak is going to be OK. Just learned that a bunch of Postal employees are heading over there to run things.

jukin3 on September 11, 2012 at 9:44 PM

Part of Amtrak’s problem, at least in California, is that there’s no line that connects Bakersfield to Los Angeles. Folks have to pack themselves like sardines inside the buses.

eaglescout_1998 on September 11, 2012 at 9:59 PM

The platform Republicans adopted at their convention included a call for full privatization and an end to subsidies for the nation’s passenger rail operator, which gobbled up almost $1.5 billion in federal funds last year.

Whither the US Post Office?

Odysseus on September 11, 2012 at 10:13 PM

AmTrak is a business?

locomotivebreath1901 on September 11, 2012 at 10:15 PM

Amtrak = Post Office on wheels.

ooonaughtykitty on September 11, 2012 at 10:40 PM

Uh, Amtrak DOES COMPETE WITH THE PRIVATE SECTOR for those commuter contracts. Firms like Keolis, Herzog, and Mass Bay Commuter Rail are also bidding for those contracts.

Otto Zilch on September 11, 2012 at 10:40 PM

Most of the Amtrak system won’t be privatized because most of it cannot be run profitably. Passenger rail outside the Boston/NYC/Washington corrider in the US is no longer commercially viable.

Steven Den Beste on September 11, 2012 at 10:54 PM

Amtrak’s existence is critical, and it will never be able to operate without government subsidy,

TheLastBrainLeft on September 11, 2012 at 8:21 PM

On the contrary, Amtrak CAN be modestly profitable, IF they follow a common sense private business practice.

For instance, why hasn’t Amtrak built or increased rail service across the country? We’re talking TARP levels of cash transferred over the last 30 years alone that if invested SANELY, could have had the entire system up and maybe even generated a profit to allow it to KEEP running like the Post Office USED to be able to do.

$9 hamburgers & $7 beers? If that was at my local MLB or Football Stadium, the fans would either watching at home, or in some cities, calling for heads to roll…But here? Not a peep.

The main reason WHY Amtrak is always in the red year after year IS because the bureaucrats are behind the wheel.

BTW don’t let them fool you with this “quasi agency” crap (like the Post Office or Freddie/Fannie)…its code for “unelected G-xxx rated Federal Manager(s)pulling in 2 paychecks”.

BlaxPac on September 11, 2012 at 11:13 PM

My fondest memory of AMTRAK was a trip from Philly to Orlando where the toilet was broken and the stench had filled the car. The conductor would not allow us to open the doors between cars to air it out and kept demanding we return to our seats from the club car. I think at least a couple of people were physically ill from the stench. Made for a great start of a vacation.

As much as I hate airports these days, I will NOT travel by train for more than 2 hours ever again.

OBQuiet on September 11, 2012 at 11:37 PM

As George Will explained a while ago, socialists love trains.

.
Not true. I am a conservative train lover.

TheLastBrainLeft on September 11, 2012 at 8:22 PM

.
Well (expletive), so am I !

But my appreciation for railroad transportation is more “pointed”:

FREIGHT.

Freight rail transportation makes money in the strictest capitalist sense.

Passenger rail cannot.
It is this business of PASSENGER rail transportation that socialists are so obsessed with.

listens2glenn on September 11, 2012 at 11:49 PM

To add: Amtrak’s existence is critical . . . . .

TheLastBrainLeft on September 11, 2012 at 8:21 PM

.
To what ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
.
If Amtrak were to altogether SHUTDOWN today, the United States would keep on working without batting an eyelash.

listens2glenn on September 11, 2012 at 11:57 PM

AMTRAK – … the taxpayers toy train in “standard” gauge.

listens2glenn on September 11, 2012 at 11:59 PM

Uh, Amtrak DOES COMPETE WITH THE PRIVATE SECTOR for those commuter contracts. Firms like Keolis, Herzog, and Mass Bay Commuter Rail are also bidding for those contracts.

Otto Zilch on September 11, 2012 at 10:40 PM

.
AAAAUUGGHHHHHHHHH ! ! ! (banging head against the wall)
.
Firms like Keolis, Herzog, and Mass Bay Commuter Rail are not subsidized by the Federal Government.
If State and local governments want to subsidize LOCAL area commuter rail, I’m OK with that.

listens2glenn on September 12, 2012 at 12:07 AM

Most of the Amtrak system won’t be privatized because most of it cannot be run profitably. Passenger rail outside the Boston/NYC/Washington corrider in the US is no longer commercially viable.

Steven Den Beste on September 11, 2012 at 10:54 PM

.
I would insist it’s not commercially viable inside the NYC – DC corridor, either.

A product or service is only viable when it is 100% customer payed for.

listens2glenn on September 12, 2012 at 12:11 AM

GOP: Amtrak really needs to get out of the commuter rail business

Me: Government really needs to get out of the rail business

Steve Eggleston on September 12, 2012 at 1:25 AM

I have no problem with the Government being in the rail business any more than I have problems with them being in the highway business. After all, we built a transcontinental railroad in which most of the money for the ways was provided by the Government — including land the railroads sold around their stations to make cities and towns.

What Caesar giveth, Caesar can taketh away.

unclesmrgol on September 12, 2012 at 1:37 AM

Odd this is a topic tonight… 11 years ago today, I was preparing for my first long distance train excursion up the west coast. And that was planned long before the events of 9/11. My experience was very enjoyable but that’s because the journey was an experience in and of itself. I felt that dinner in the dining car was very good. And I was travelling coach.

Maybe my expectations were low because I wasn’t nor am I now much of a traveller. My biggest gripe was arriving 9 hours late to my destination but that could be explained by the 33% increase in ridership due to all flights being cancelled until my Sunday return to So Cal.

NTropy on September 12, 2012 at 2:42 AM

The national rail road companies got out of the passenger service because it was no longer profitable. The govt started Amtrac so they could keep the union happy. See how this works. Same with GM, buy a car company, make them produce a highly subsidized product and watch the company go out of business. Wait til they get their fangs into our health care.

Kissmygrits on September 12, 2012 at 10:17 AM

As probably the only Amtrak supporting Republican who posts here (I am a northeastern guy who does not drive and does not like to fly, as well as being a life-long rail buff) I support the notion that Amtrak should get out of the commuter business. In the NYC area, the only commuter service Amtrak runs is the Shore Line East route in eastern Connecticut. While the rolling stock belongs to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, Amtrak runs the service, because they will not allow CDOT employees to operate trains on their trackage.

TheLastBrainLeft on September 11, 2012 at 8:12 PM

Something definitely needs to be done. At Union Station in Hartford, there is only one track in the station for the north-south line between New Haven CT and St. Johnsbury VT, so that northbound and southbound trains must alternate feeding into the station. Although there is a parallel roadbed in the station, there is no second track, and part of the nearby bridge has collapsed. This probably causes delays due to switching of trains to avoid them colliding head-on.

Gee, with billions of Gubmint subsidies, ya think somebody could build a second track through Hartford?

Steve Z on September 12, 2012 at 11:25 AM

Most of the Amtrak system won’t be privatized because most of it cannot be run profitably. Passenger rail outside the Boston/NYC/Washington corrider in the US is no longer commercially viable.

Steven Den Beste on September 11, 2012 at 10:54 PM

Amtrak might have trouble finding buyers outside the Boston / NYC / Philly / Washington corridor, but why not sell that to somebody who can run it profitably?

Many other rail lines are not commercially viable for passenger service only, but private rail companies can still make profit on FREIGHT. What’s wrong with selling some Amtrak lines to private companies who would run passenger service during rush hours, and freight service over the same tracks during the middle of the day and at night?

Steve Z on September 12, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Just checked the cost of one adult, coach from Orlando to Atlanta.
For $321 you go from Orlando, to D.C. and then from D.C. to Atlanta. 13h 43m

For $175 you go from Orlando, to Raleigh, from Raleigh to Charlotte, then from Charlotte to Atlanta. 5h 28 m

So, the shorter ride is almost half the fare of the longer ride that takes you clear up to D.C. and then back down again.

I guess you’re basically paying for the time on the train and meals, but to offer such a convoluted route doesn’t make sense.

To fly Southwest, it’s $480, nonstop. 4h 15m

Looks like paying twice as much for the Raleigh route would still be a better deal than flying and only about an hour longer. Of course, there could be better fares than Southwest, but still, the profitability in commuter rail sounds plausible.

Dr. ZhivBlago on September 12, 2012 at 5:50 PM

Amtrak might have trouble finding buyers outside the Boston / NYC / Philly / Washington corridor, but why not sell that to somebody who can run it profitably?

Many other rail lines are not commercially viable for passenger service only, but private rail companies can still make profit on FREIGHT. What’s wrong with selling some Amtrak lines to private companies who would run passenger service during rush hours, and freight service over the same tracks during the middle of the day and at night?

Steve Z on September 12, 2012 at 11:34 AM

.
Not criticizing you Steve’.

The PRR (who built the “Corridor”) ran more freights all times of the day, than they did passenger/commuter trains.
If they could do it then, it can be done now.

listens2glenn on September 12, 2012 at 5:56 PM