Sunday, July 15

Amtrak- The Company that Wants to Die


       I love trains, but I have a problem with the cheap ass, inefficient excuse for passenger rail service in this country. The US ranks number one in freight rail and 22nd in passenger service, gee I wonder why.
       First the track is owned by Union Pacific which certainly cares more about moving it's profitable freight than people.
       Amtrak is like the show" Whose Line is it Anyway?" where everything is made up and the points don't matter. Travel points that is. If I rack up thousands of points ( you get 2 points for every dollar spent) I'll be able to buy an overpriced blanket with an Amtrak logo. Worse than frequent flyer miles and who ever travels thousands of miles regularly on a train is a masochist.
      Time schedules are mostly hypothetical, delays are common because freight gets first dibs on the track. while I was on the Lame Shore, er Lake Shore Limited already running 3 hours late, the train stopped and went in reverse onto a side track to allow freight by. I guess we went making up too much time. The food used to be good but has declined because management decided the passengers weren't suffering enough.
      Amtrak has a revolving door of  CEOs, 13 since 1971, and is currently run by a former executive of Delta Airlines which gives you a good idea how much faith the US Government has in rail. That's right our incompetent government runs Amtrak and is slowly running it right into the ground at the taxpayers expense because they don't know how to just pull the plug and lit it die already.
       Passenger service sucks mostly because-reasons, but the truth is, no one is interested in it. Private rail declined in the fifties due to air travel. Fly on an airline subsidized by Uncle Sam, drive your car on the extensive hiway system paid for by federal funding, stay at tacky motels and deal with your bored kids.
       Trains are so European and who wants to be like them? China, Japan and Korea do. They invested heavily in fast, efficient trains, while we puddle along in outdated cars that can barely keep up with auto traffic.
        Amtrak has been promising fast trains for 30 years only to have a new service in the Pacific Northwest promptly derail on its maiden trip because the speed safety system was not operating. A system that was rejected by a penny pinching congressional transportation committee, a day after an earlier derailment.
       US Railroads- and it's barons- used to be the gold standard.  The US expanded with the building of the Transcontinental railroad in the 19th century, a major engineering feat at the time. Today, I think Amtrak might still be using the same equipment.
      What happened? Like I said, nobody cares about trains when we got cars and planes. Let's compare them, shall we.
       If accidents are measured by journey rather than mileage, airplanes are the 2nd most dangerous way to travel after motorcycles. More people die from plane crashes due to their high speed while than trains usually just fall off the track at a considerably lower altitude. Between 1971 and the present, there have been 112 deaths and 1,325 injuries from train derailments.
       Fuel studies have shown that planes and cars discharge roughly the same amount of CO2  but planes are used more frequently and for longer periods. Diesel trains cut CO2 in half per capita emission and are 30-40 % more efficient than planes and cars.
       Airlines enjoy all kinds of  handouts from the government, most notably after 9/11 when Congress gave them huge loans with no strings attached and little pressure to repay them. Kind like the bank bail outs- our tax money disappears forever. I always point this out when people bitch about our government subsiding  rail service. Yeah, the paltry amount it gets every year and has to beg for more.
       An article in Politico noted a key problem with Amtrak funding  "the rail system chronically operates in the red. A pattern has emerged: Congress overrides cutbacks demanded by the White House and appropriates enough funds to keep Amtrak from plunging into insolvency. But, advocates say, that is not enough to fix the system's woes."
       If you enjoy long travel times to and from the airport, check in and security theatre by TSA petty tyrants, by all means fly the not so friendly over crowded skies. Getting on board the train is as easy as getting on a bus.
       The one advantage airlines have is booking. Call a travel agent and they can do it no problem. Call Amtrak and you get the "Julie Experience" an cheerful automated agent with the intelligence of a doorknob. Some of us don't have the patience or time to figure out the byzantine system Amtrak uses.
       Did I mention this was the company that wants to die?            
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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice job Alisa... you always do a great job of intelligent tongue lashing.

I'm not sure Amtrak has control over the money they get to support their mission. Is the Transportation Dept the funding for their funds?
Thanks, Martha