Saturday, May 16, 2015

Amtrak. A Microcosm of Statist Government

With the horrible crash of the Amtrak train in Philadelphia this week and the subsequent politicization of the crash by big government statist types, I have been compelled to explain why Amtrak is a complete and total failure.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, ostensibly a non-partisan group, the federal government covers almost every bit of the capital cost of Amtrak. The feds also subsidize the day to day operations at ten cents on the dollar. In other words, ridership doesn't pay enough for Amtrak to actually operate. To date, the federal government has spent at least $45 billion, with some estimates as high as $66 billion, on Amtrak and really has nothing to show for it. The only part of the country that truly benefits from Amtrak operations is the Washington DC to Boston corridor. Most parts of the central and western U.S. aren't served by Amtrak and where Amtrak does run through "flyover country", it does so at inopportune times and at inhospitable places. For example, a Cornhusker who wanted to travel by Amtrak from Hastings, Nebraska to Denver, Colorado would have to board around 1:30 A.M. and would arrive in Denver almost seven hours later. It only takes six hours to make the drive from Hastings to Denver and if more than one person were traveling, it would be cheaper to drive as well. Add in the cost of renting a car once you arrived Denver and that form of travel makes no sense. In the picture below, the green lines denote bus lines that Amtrak contracts with. You read that right, bus lines!

Arrogant North-easterners harp that Amtrak needs more funding. I respond to that by suggesting that they pay their own way. Amtrak should either should be privatized or charge enough for fares to cover the actual costs of operating and maintaining its equipment. If it is not financially viable in the hands of a private company or paying its own way, so be it.

Case in point, the crown jewel of Amtrak, the northeast corridor's Acela "High Speed" line is typically more expensive than flying. A first class, round trip fare is over $600, even the standard fare will run over $300 per person. With a reasonably fuel efficient car, you can drive that same route, round trip, for about $80 in gas. Add in depreciation at the auto industry standard of $0.25 per mile and the 880 mile round trip still only costs $300. With forethought, a round trip airline ticket is as cheap as $190. I know I just used evidence and logic and that will be framed as "hate speech" or some such nonsense by those that want big government choo choo trains but numbers don't lie. Government does little to care about the customer because they have no competition. Without competition, Amtrak will continue to waste taxpayer dollars and flounder as the bloated, Soviet style bureaucratic screw up that it is.

I am more amenable to allowing individual states and municipalities to operate their own transit systems. I don't have to pay for them if I don't live there. Amtrak, on the other hand is a useless and outdated mode of travel and should be made to stand or fall on its own. The greenie weenie, mass transit types could always make sure their bicycles and padded lycra shorts are in good shape.

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