The state of Amtrak

Discussion in 'The Real Thing- North America' started by Austinio, Aug 2, 2006.

  1. Austinio

    Austinio New Member

    Ever since President Nixon nationalized passenger rail service into Amtrak in 1971, it has never been the priority it should be, but not under the threat it is now. I recently became aware of how under threat is has become recently. While past administrations both Democrats and Republicans have not realized the great use of a good passenger rail service across the country, ever since Bush came to office in 2001 Amtrak has been under greatest threats. He has cut it and cut it and is pretty much working to do away with it. I will explore a few realities here.

    What has happened to Amtrak to ruin it in the past five years.

    1. Amtrak director David Gunn was working hard to get funding for Amtrak and to improve it. It was under him that Acela was launched. Then he criticized Bush's policy toward Amtrak and so he got fired.

    2. The board of directors the fired Gunn was made of of people who Bush appointed during recess without Senate confirmation, he did this again and again. His directors have no experience in railroading and one admitted to Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) that hed had never ridden Amtrak. The only thing that "qualifies" them for Bush is that they have each given hundreds of thousands to Bush and the RNC's campaigns.

    3. Under the tenure of the so-called "Amtrak Reform Board" the Amtrak has cut much of its overnight service and was also cutting short distance trains. The Grand Rapids-Chicago run that makes a stop in my hometown on the way was almost cut but a few local politicians thankfully stepped in.

    My theory about why they want to cut Amtrak.

    I believe the reason Bush is working to cut Amtrak is not because he wants to save money, considering that he has given the green light to nonstop pork barrel spending the past, but because he wants to help his interests. If we actually had a working national rail passenger service (or even several regional ones) like countries in Europe have people would be driving and flying less. Since Amtrak is a public company, there is no reason to worry about profit, but car companies and airlines, as well as oil companies who supply fuel, have something to lose. It has been proven that people in countries with good rail service drive and fly less, using less oil, less cars, and less planes. These companies want Amtrak cut because they don't want to compete with something like that.

    Why we need Amtrak today more than ever.

    1. Increased use of Amtrak would mean less people out on the roads and that would mean fewer fatalities. We could save perhaps thousands of lives with a good passenger rail system.

    2. Increased use of Amtrak (especially electrified trains) would mean that there would be less fossil fuels going off and it would mean that there would be less pollution.

    3. For those who still drive, Amtrak would help too because it would relieve a lot of the congestion.

    4. For frequent flyers, more use of Amtrak would mean that the airports would be less congested and there would be fewer flight delays.

    What I want to see done with Amtrak.

    I believe that Amtrak needs full funding and it needs to operate efficiently. Though this would cost more there are other areas of the Federal budget that we certainly could cut leaving room for Amtrak. My goal is to eventually see high-speed passenger service become as common in America as in Europe. I want to see several regional lines like in the Northeast, the Midwest, the South, California, and the Pacific Northwest. I want to see efficient trans-national passenger service.

    Now that I have commented on Amtrak's state I want to hear what you think about it. I don't want to see this evolve into a broader political debate because I do not see this as a liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican, us vs. them type of issue, I see it as an Administration vs. passengers and railfans issue. I believe it has national importance and I think that in an election year, this SHOULD be an issue out with all the others. For more info see
  2. MilesWestern

    MilesWestern Active Member

    .....can We Vote For You In '08? :) ( I Whole-heartedly Agree!)
  3. Austinio

    Austinio New Member

    No, I am not running for anything then. That is actually the first time I will even be old enough to vote. Maybe a few years later, but probably for some smaller office. I just don't think there are many politicians in Washington who see the value of Amtrak and that is a shame.
  4. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Same thing has happened here with VIA rail.

    The argument seems circular - no one is riding, so it should be cut - but if it is cut, no one will ride. :rolleyes:

    You would think that two countries with huge geography like Canada and the US, trains would be much more of a priority than they are. But airlines and the roads are tough competition... Remember what happened with the canals versus trains debate in the early 1800s...;)

  5. Austinio

    Austinio New Member

    The thing is that Japan has only 130 million people but 400 BILLION passengers a year, you do the math. We in the USA on the other hand have 300 million people but only 25 million riders. Japan has the busiest rail system in the world, but other European countries number in the billions of riders. The US actually probably has the least used passenger system in the civilized world.
  6. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    Its called "political philosophy". In this case it goes against reality. but that's what Bush and his buddies want. Don't blame me. I didn't vote for him.
  7. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member


    You're right in one respect. A certain level of funding and size is required for Amtrak to be reasonably efficient, no matter what the ridership is.

    That said, how many Amtrak tickets have you bought or are willing to buy on a regular basis? If you work (or when you start working - I know you are still a teenager), what percentage of your income are willing to give to subsidize Amtrak? Especially if you live in an area that Amtrak doesn't even serve? And do you think this way because you're a minority train nut (and never saw a train you didn't like), or because you really believe the country needs (and should pay for) an alternative to the mostly functional airline system? These are the questions the politicians and leaders ask, or at least should ask.

    I am a frequent business traveler - I've been hitting the road for at least once a month since the mid '80s. I have used Amtrak on occasion (probably about 15-20 trips total). Not a single Amtrak ticket was used on business. Why?

    1) Corporate and government travel departments look askance at itineraries using Amtrak. They figure you are trying to pull a boondoggle of some kind because Amtrak schedules are generally (there are exceptions, especially in the Northeast) inconvenient, and the fares are about the same as corporate discounts on airlines.

    2) Amtrak service doesn't go where you think it does unless you spend time studying the routes and schedules. If I'm going to Norfolk or Elizabeth City, NC from Washington DC and back - it's a nasty drive in heavy traffic. Air fares are too high and airports are too time consuming (check-in and security). But guess what? Amtrak stops at Newport News and then you take an Amtrak bus to Norfolk or Virginia Beach. Same thing on the West Coast. Amtrak stops at Oakland; you have to take an Amtrak bus or other local transportation to get to San Francisco. I travel Oakland to San Diego and back at least monthly. But there is no one train - I have to switch trains somewhere to make the trip via rail.

    Granted the Northeast Corridor Amtrak works well - and makes money. So does the Coaster from San Diego to LA, and the trains from Sacramento to Oakland, and the trains from Harpers Ferry to Washington DC. But these are commuter routes.

    The long distance trains are the pits. I took the Washington to Chicago run to expose my kids to trains. Didn't spring the extra $$ for a Pullman, and boy was I sorry. Sleeping in a coach is only for teenagers. I'd like to take the California Zephyr from Oakland to Denver because of the beautiful scenery, and again expose the family to trains. It's a 26 hour trip each way. But I can't tell from the schedule what scenery I'm going to miss due to darkness, and the sleeper fares are higher than the air fare, so I'm reluctant to spend the money.

    my experiences and thoughts, yours may vary
  8. Dave Flinn

    Dave Flinn Member

    Several nails have been hit on the head here. I agree, generally, with what was said at the beginning of this thread, and pretty much what has followed. Now for some additional comments. I ride Amtrak when I have the time and it goes where I want to go. Therein lies the problem. I don't usually have the luxury of time when I go somewhere and thus can't take the train. Also, unless you're going to a major city, Amtrak probably doesn't go there. Of course, it's the vicious circle again. Amtrak doesn't provide the service because people don't ride, and people don't ride because the service isn't provided. I don't know the answer to this dilemman; but it sure would be nice if someone did. The first step toward a solution is probably adequate federal funding; and that doesn't look very likely with the present administration.

    What can we do about it? We can ride whenever and wherever it suits our plans. We can be in touch with our Federal legislators. We can vote the "bad" ones out of office and vote in the "good" ones. It's not going to happen overnight, but we've got to keep working on it.
  9. Jac's Lines

    Jac's Lines Member

    I know this is heresy, but...

    For $150, you can buy a seat on an Amtrak train from New York City to Chicago. It will take 18 hours with one transfer in Albany.

    For $180, you can buy a seat on AirTran from NYC to Chicago. It will take 2 hours, nonstop.

    For about $70, you can buy two tanks of gas and drive from NYC to Chicago. It will take 12-14 hours depending on traffic.

    I think there are a lot of factors in Europe and Japan that make rail more attractive: a more compressed geography, the cost of buying and insuring a car, gas prices (gas is the equivalent to $5.50/gallon in the UK right now vs. around $3.00 in the US), and huge government subsidies. Our politicians may be able to do something about the last factor, but the other three are beyond reach. I also can sympathize with the complaints of someone in a state or region that isn't served by Amtrak whose tax dollars subsidize a service that is more regional in character (e.g. the Boston-NYC-Philly-Washington corridor, which does actually get decent Amtrak ridership).

    If tax dollars are going to be spent on passenger rail, I would personally like to see investment in commuter light rail rather than a national rail system -- either in terms of start up subsidies or attractive tax breaks for people who chose to take rail rather than drive to work. I have some doubts as to whether we in America would culturally be willing to walk from a light rail station to our place of employment (at least until gas prices hit a certain critical mass), but even so I think that if there's a future for passenger rail here, it's in shorter, more regional lines.

    I heard at one time that Amtrak trains are always accorded lowest priority on rail networks -- so if an Amtrak train is delayed and misses its window, it basically sits on sidings while scheduled freight takes priority. Does anyone know if this is true or not? My in-laws do a fair amount of travel by rail, and about 30% of the time they end up with huge delays (e.g. a scheduled 12 hour trip from Chicago to Rochester, NY took in excess of 24 hours last year).
  10. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I think the problem for Amtrak is the size of this country. Amtrak works in the Northeast corridor because of population density. It works in the other areas Fred mentioned because all of those areas have a huge dense population. It is too bad, but it will never work in Montana or Wyoming, or other large western states with small populations. Passenger rail works in Europe and Japan because in Europe you have countries whose land mass is no bigger than a typical western state. With the EU, the problems associated with border crossings are pretty much minimized. In every place where passenger train service is successful, the trains are subsidised by the government. If we look at Europe again, the land mass of Western Europe is not a lot greater than the USA or Canada. The problem is that in the USA or Canada, you have one government entity to subsidise passenger travel. The cost to subsidise passenger travel throughout the USA to match Europe would be staggering. In Europe each country contributes to subsidising inter city rail service. The only way such a system would work in this country is if each state were to subsidise the rail service in their state, but most states don't have a strong enough economy to compete with a country. World wide all transportation systems are subsidised. In fact it could be argued that the difference between a first world country and a third world country is most apparant in the nation's transportation subsidies. Third world countries don't have fast modern rail service, they don't have anything like our interstate highway system, and they don't have our system of international airports. The USA has chosen to make air travel the national priority. If you think airlines are not federally subsidised, think again. What the airlines pay for the use of the airports is probably less than 1/2 the cost of operation of the airports, and probably closer to 10% when you factor in the cost of air traffic control. If the federal government didn't pay for the interstate highway system, we would still travel coast to coast on back roads.
  11. pennman

    pennman Member


    Well guys I can tell you this it would be nice to see passenger service extended. I was in the military for 16 years and traveled back and fourth to Asia and Europe as well as going up and down the east coast and when avalible I traveled by train. Loved going east to west.
    I will admit the fly time is faster, but you couldnt replace the relaxation on the train or the food. Yes you pay more for a pullman but your meals are included in the package. The east coast runs where coach and even then the runs where comfortable and still farely cheap.
    I do agree with the above statements to a point the west is laid out to far apart for any type of commuter rail service and company Itinaries are cut to tight to allow rail travel, its a high speed world out there now. But I do belive a line running from Chicago thru Nashville- Atlanta to either penscola or mobile would be a good deal and others like it.
    If its built they will ride!! You need to look at the higher density areas and make decisions from there. Planes are to much a hassle anymore between security congestion and just plain unrelyable.Rail service would also decrease use of fuel and energy verses a plain if done right.
    The ultimate decision needs to be with the railroads and the people, the Goverment needs to stay out of trying to run buisness, they have proven time and time again that they have no real idea on how to make a buisness run in the black. For years we have funded the airlines and kept them from going bankrupt due to miss mangment adn pocket lining.
    The bottom line on it all is WHO LOBBIES THE BEST GETS THE MONEY! besides the politicians cant take a train to the BAHMAS for free. We due need a passanger system in place to relieve some of the crowding on our highways and to conserver and release some of our dependence on oil. We need it run by railraods and not the govt.
  12. LoudMusic

    LoudMusic Member

    Hmmm ...

    Our (North American) trains are best at moving bulk cargo long distances with little overhead. This is how they've been designed. This speaks nothing of time or convenience, because it's simply not a consideration with modern NA rail.

    In order for us to have 'useful' trains on this side of the world we would have to build new infrastructure for long distance train travel. We simply don't have the right kind of trains.

  13. McFortner

    McFortner Member

    Don't forget that Amtrak is the Red-Headed Step-Child of American Rail. Their trails don't have priority on the rails, and often get stopped on sidings so dozens of freight trains can go by. Stations are closed down in all but the major cities now, and to get from Atlanta to Denver takes several days and a convoluted path from Atlanta to DC to Chicago to Denver. As long as the railroads have no interest in the passenger traffic, nothing will be done to rectify this situation. If it does not bring the money in, they don't care.

    And lets not forget that the highway system and airports are government funded. The rails are not. We should either end the subsidies that the airlines and highways get or start making it in the railroads best interest to assist Amtrak making schedules on fast and on time. Until then, there is just no reason for all but the most diehard fans to ride the trains.

  14. Hodgy

    Hodgy New Member

    I love riding trains,but I don't see our national mentality changing away from personal vehicles to mass transit. Also our rail system is gauged towards freight and not high speed. But sign me up for that bond issue. That is a spending bill I would wholeheartedly support. RIDE ON !!!!!!!!!!!!!
  15. Compare gas prices with those in the rest of the world. I paid the equivalent of $450 for a gallon today
    If taxation was used to bring them up to a comparable level, then ths money was invested in the railroads, similarly route user charges for the airlines, then there might be a change in the user profile Unfortunately only in the long term
    And not likely to happen whilst Dubya, or similar, remains in office.
  16. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Many North American railroads began with a lot (A LOT!!) of public money, some of which was obtained using "business practices" that today would be considered questionable at best. They were the "dot com" of the mid-1800s -it was often far more profitable to build a road than to run it!

    Many roads began abandoning or reducing passenger service as early as the 1910s, not long after some routes were constructed. The decline was halted somewhat by WW2 and the massive movements of troops and materiel required, but troop movement might not be considered real passenger-miles from the railroad's point of view.

    I think that the future lies in commuter rail, and in high-speed intercity service. This is where the railroads (or the public, as the case may be) have a decent chance of making some return on the investment. There is no money to be made by stopping at every little town to pick up two or three people.

    For those of you in southern Ontario, imagine high-speed trains between Barrie or London or Kitchener/Waterloo and downtown Toronto. Lots of people already drive that far to work. What if you could ride it in 45 minutes or less? How about high-speed between Washington DC or Boston or Buffalo and New York? How would that change the way people live and work?

    Unfortunately, this would require a huge investment, along the lines of France's creation of the TGV - a whole separate system capable of supporting, and dedicated to high-speed. The current freight dominated lines cannot even support the top speeds of the diesels that regularly use them, let alone something 3-4 times faster.

    Interesting debate though...!


    PS - Badyin - I hope you meant $4.50, not $450 for a gallon!! ;)
  17. Oops , inflation's not quite that bad. Yes $4.50 per gallon
  18. toolman

    toolman Member

    It is a shame, goverment looking out for goverment, not the people.
    It is a ashame to let a railroad like Amtrk go to hell.
    It is just like our so called elected officals, just be cause they do not like to ride on trains, so Amtrk is not going to get the funding, and to hell with the people who need the train and to those want to relax and enjoy riding the trains.
  19. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    Currently regular gas is CAN$1.10 / litre where I live. That's US$3.69/US gal.

    When I went to England in 1990, I remember paying the equivalent of about CAN$1.80 per litre. The Canadian dollar was worth less then, but a real quick and dirty conversion leads me to believe that I was looking at something around US$5+ per US gallon at that time...! :eek:

  20. pennman

    pennman Member

    Gov Funding

    Well lets look at it like this, Ive lived in Tn Nashville area for almost 20yrs. I have watched Nashville and its suburbs and sourounding area quadruple in size and the Gov subidizes mass transit and interstate projects around the area. this increases traffic polution and conjestion. The local Gov answer is to build more roads and increase buses. The biggest problem is most people now live either north or south of Nashville. Rutherford and Mongomery counties have tripled in population with no viable transit system to move people from the out liying areas to the city and none propsed. A rail system would cost millions to install, the right aways are still there from the old L&N, but the fed Gov will not support a commuter rail system.Its easier to pour good money after bad into roads and buses( DOT reg A commuter bus can only be in service for 5-7yrs before retirement). roads need to be repaved and cleared ,accidents ect no need to go on... Roads support multiple employment ops and so on. keeping an economy growing. railroads seem not to draw that type of attention. Speaking for me and some others I know we would be more than happy to commut by rail than drive daily

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