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The Official Blog of National Taxpayers Union

Guess who else wants a bailout?

Posted by Andrew Moylan - December 23, 2008

Amtrak! I eat breakfast and watch Washington Journal on C-SPAN every morning (yes, I'm that much of a nerd), and today's guest is Joseph Boardman, Amtrak's President and CEO. One quote stood out to me...(I'm paraphrasing after quickly scribbling this down)
"We need billions, maybe even beyond billions, to move people in an economy that will be very different by 2025."
Wait, so you mean to tell me that Amtrak, a company that has been hemorrhaging money for decades and is incapable of operation without boatloads of taxpayer dollars, might need billions or TRILLIONS of our hard-earned money in the future?

I found it miraculous that a man who heads up a such a failure of an entity would talk in such glowing terms about the importance and future of passenger rail in this country. Despite his sunny disposition, Americans have made it quite clear that passenger rail is NOT going to be a big part of our present or, in all likelihood, our future either. Except for the area between Boston and Washington, DC on the East coast, there simply isn't the kind of population density that makes rail useful.

For example, I just went online to search for comparable plane and train tickets to my home town of Detroit for a hypothetical long weekend from January 8th to the 11th. For $139, I could fly a major airline from Reagan National Airport to Detroit Metro Airport with my choice of dozens of schedules for the 1.5 hour flight. I could arrive in Detroit on the 8th on a non-stop flight as early as 7:42am or as late as late as 11:03pm, depending on my preference.

How'd Amtrak do? Well, there are exactly two choices. One leaves DC at 4:05pm on the 8th and arrives in scenic Toledo, OH at 4:56am. That's 4:56 in the morning. Then I'd get the pleasure of riding a bus from Toledo up to Detroit for a little over an hour, ultimately arriving at 7:35am. I don't know if you've ever driven on that section of I-75, but it's hardly fit for cars, much less buses. That would take a total of 15.5 hours and cost me $68.

What if I didn't want to take a bus? The other option available is to take a train that leaves DC at 4:05pm on the 8th and arrives in Chicago at 8:40am, then hop on another train taking me back East to Detroit, ultimately arriving at 6:45pm on the 9th. This route takes 26.5 hours and costs a total of $131.

Maybe I'm nuts, but I'd rather pay the extra $8 and take a 1.5 hour direct flight that gets me home whenever I want. Sorry, Mr. Boardman. Until that calculus changes, Amtrak's going to continue to fail.

Thoughts?   Add Comment -

Maximus N said on Dec 31 2008 at 1:19am
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