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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