Skip to comments.Panel:Amtrak Should be Broken Up (Dukakis Disagrees)
Posted on 02/07/2002 12:08:55 PM PST by Clemenza
Panel: Amtrak Should Be Broken Up By LAURENCE ARNOLD, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - A congressionally appointed panel said Thursday that Amtrak is irreversibly flawed and should be broken up to give the free market an opportunity to improve the nation's passenger train system.
Amtrak, created to relieve freight railways of the burden of carrying passengers, should be replaced at least in part by private operators working under franchise, the Amtrak Reform Council said.
The council's report, sent to Congress, says Amtrak should be relieved of policy-making duties and landownership. After a transition period, private operators would be allowed to compete for contracts to run specific routes.
If enacted, the change would be dramatic. Amtrak, formed in 1971, is the nation's sole provider of intercity passenger train travel.
``The council believes that passenger rail service will never achieve its potential as provided and managed by Amtrak,'' the report says.
The council voted 9-1 in a mail ballot this week to approve the report, which was released Thursday. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta (news - web sites), the Bush administration's representative on the panel, abstained. Charles Moneypenny, who represented rail labor, cast the only ``no'' vote.
The next step is up to Congress, due to vote this year on whether to authorize Amtrak's continued existence. The House Transportation Committee has scheduled a Feb. 14 hearing on the report.
White House budget director Mitchell Daniels said this week the Bush administration plans to study the council's plan before deciding on a course for Amtrak and passenger rail.
The plan faces a hostile reception from Amtrak supporters on and off Capitol Hill.
``I think this report should be rejected out of hand,'' said Amtrak chairman Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate. He called decentralization ``a prescription for bureaucratic paralysis.''
Dukakis said the real issue is money.
Amtrak says it has a $5.8 billion backlog in work needed on its trains, tracks, rail yards and stations. The Transportation Department's inspector general, Kenneth Mead, reported last month that Amtrak needs at least $1 billion a year to stave off deterioration of its assets, most of which are in the Northeast.
Last week, Amtrak said it will cancel long-distance routes unless it receives $1.2 billion in the 2003 budget year, which begins in October. President Bush (news - web sites) has proposed $521 million for Amtrak, the same amount as the last three years.
In its report, the reform council endorses ``adequate and secure sources of funding for intercity passenger rail service'' but specifies no amount.
The reform council's chairman, Gilbert Carmichael, said Thursday that Amtrak's problems do not relate to funding. ``They stem from an organization that is obsolete, can't do all the things it is supposed to do, and has to change,'' he said.
Amtrak, in a statement, agreed that ``the current policy model for passenger rail does not work.'' But it said the reform council sidestepped questions about how big a rail system Americans want, or how much such a system will cost.
Under the council's plan, a new subsidiary of the National Railroad Passenger Corp. - Amtrak's official name - would conduct train operations, ultimately franchising out some or all routes through competitive bidding.
Another subsidiary would own, operate and maintain the tracks, property and stations now under Amtrak's control.
``The council believes that, as is the case throughout our free-market economy, competition would drive down costs and improve service quality and customer satisfaction,'' the executive summary says.
Congress created the council as part of an overhaul that gave Amtrak until Dec. 2, 2002, to begin operating without government subsidies. The council voted 6-5 in November that Amtrak will not achieve that goal, a finding that gave the panel 90 days to come up with a restructuring plan.
Amtrak President George Warrington said the council's November vote cost Amtrak $52 million because it forced some pending business deals to fall apart.
The rail labor division of the AFL-CIO's transportation trades department failed last week to persuade a federal judge to block release of the council's report.
Hey, there's a shocker!
But what else would you expect from the guy who had the state issue phony ID's to illegal immigrants when he was governor so that they could qualify for welfare?
Trucking companies don't pave and maintain the Interstates. Airlines don't staff and equip airports and air navigation systems. Shipping lines neither build their own ports nor navigate using their own satellites and buoys. And every satellite in orbit flies off a taxpayer-funded launchpad using a booster derived from a taxpayer-funded military program.
We as a nation need high-speed passenger rail. Rail infrastructure is national infrastructure. Just as the federal government created the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, which is used by privately-owned trucking companies and motor coach lines, the federal government should fund, construct, and maintain a National System of Interstate and Defense Railways, to be used by privately-owned freight and passenger railroads.
Please note: I am not advocating a National Rail Corporation any more than I'd advocate a National Trucking Corporation or a Federal Bus Line. I'm simply advocating a national high-speed rail infrastructure -- an "Interstate of Rails" -- as part of our total national transport strategy.
Trucks don't pay for the roads they use -- why should trains pay for theirs? What's sauce for the eighteen-wheeler goose is sauce for the eighteen-coach special.
High-speed ground transportation (HSGT)-- a family of technologies ranging from upgraded existing railroads to magnetically levitated vehicles-- is a passenger transportation option that can best link cities lying about 100-500 miles apart. Common in Europe ( http://mercurio.iet.unipi.it/home.htm) and Japan (http://www.japanrail.com),HSGT in the United States already exists in the Northeast Corridor (http://www.amtrak.com/news/pr/atk9936.html) between New York and Washington, D.C. and will soon serve travelers between New York and Boston.
HSGT is self-guided intercity passenger ground transportation that is time competitive with air and/or auto on a door-to-door basis for trips in the approximate range of 100 to 500 miles. This is market-based, not a speed based definition. It recognizes that the opportunities and requirements for HSGT differ markedly among different pairs of cities. High-speed ground transportation (HSGT) is a family of technologies ranging from upgraded steel-wheel-on-rail railroads to magnetically levitated vehicles.The Federal Railroad Administration has designated a variety of high density transportation corridors within our nation for development of HSGT:
For more information, please visit the Federal Railroad Administrations (FRAs) High Speed Ground Transportation Website
High-speed rail and maglev offer the perfect alternative to augment & supplement our highway and air transportation infrastructure. For regional trips between 150 and 350 miles, it is faster than automobile and not that much slower than air. Yet offers the potential to alleviate both congested highways and air corridors!
In light of current economic conditions, construction of this vital transportation infrastructure should be accelerated.
Two problems with this:
Your premises are incorrect, and the Government still has no business in any of the aforementioned industries.
Thanks for offering to spend everybody else's money.
Actually, one of Maglev's major advantages is a small "footprint" that enables it to be built along existing rights-of-way (Interstate or state highways, existing rail lines, etc.)
Nope. Not even close. Federal, state, and local governments invest around $50 billion each year on capital outlays (highway construction, engineering, and right-of-way expenditures) for our nation's highways, roads, bridges, and streets. Maintenance and traffic services provided by Federal, state, and local governments together come to about $27.5 billion annually. In addition, the Federal Highway Administration pays about $19 billion annually to the states for maintenance/traffic work. Federal funds cover more than 50 percent of state capital outlays and about 40 percent of total highway capital outlays. Other highway costs include administration and research, law enforcement and safety, and interest and other debt-related expenses.
Total nationwide disbursements for highways are approximately $106 billion per year.
Now, what percentage of the highway system is paid for by the user? In1997, total "user" fees and taxes, including the federal and state tax on each gallon of gasoline, were $89.5 billion.
$106B in expenditures less $89.5B in user fees leaves a difference of $16.5B. Who picks up the difference? You and I do, through state highway bond proceeds ($5.6 billion) and local financial participation ($1.4 billion), with the remainder coming as a free gift from the taxpayers.
And keep in mind that the original capital outlay for the Interstate System -- and other public roads -- was covered by Uncle Sam as well.
Users don't pay for the highway system -- the taxpayers do. The same is true for the airline industry (the Feds and local governments cover the costs of airports and aids to navigation, not to mention post-911 federal cash bailouts) sea and river transport (ports, canals, buoys, satellites) space launch services, and other forms of transportation infrastructure. So why shouldn't rail get the same kind of sweet deal?
Trains, in most areas of the nation, do pay for their own infrastructure - in the sense that the train companies (CSX, Northern, etc) OWN and MAINTAIN their railroad track networks (which they lease out to Amtrak).
So what? All that proves is that railroads labor under a burden shared with no other form of transportation and still manage to turn a profit, thus supporting my point. The trucking industry gets a $16.5 billion dollar check from Uncle Sam every year to maintain its roads; the railroads have to pay for and maintain their own.
Your premises are incorrect, and the Government still has no business in any of the aforementioned industries.
Get back to me when the trucking industry starts paying for the highway system on its own. Until then, it's your premises that are flawed.
The Trans-Texas Corrodor SystemThis is what we need.
"Governor Rick Perry today unveiled the "Trans Texas Corridor" plan, a fiscally responsible and innovative transportation blueprint that will improve our state's transportation needs, move the transport of hazardous materials out of urban population centers, reduce air pollution and significantly improve opportunities for economic development and job creation in Texas.
The Trans Texas Corridor incorporates toll and non-toll roads, high-speed freight and commuter rail, water lines, oil and gas pipelines, electric transmission lines, broadband and other telecommunications infrastructure in the same corridors.
With population projections showing that Texas could grow from 21 million residents today to 50 million over the next few decades, Perry stated that planning for tomorrow's transportation needs is essential.
'We need a transportation system that meets the needs of tomorrow, not one that struggles to keep up with the needs of yesterday,' Perry said. 'The Trans Texas Corridor will map out a brighter future for Texas. It is a plan to ease traffic congestion and increase the safety and security of Texans living in crowded cities and suburbs, near congested border crossings, and in our smallest communities in rural Texas.'
The Trans Texas Corridor plan utilizes innovative and fiscally sound funding methods that will allow the state to construct the system with a minimal expenditure of public money. Those measures were approved by the Texas Legislature and by Texas voters last year. Through Exclusive Development Agreement authority, Toll Equity, Regional Mobility Authorities and the Texas Mobility Fund, Texas can use increasingly tight state and federal funds to partner with public and private entities to design, build, operate and manage the innovative system - without new taxes.
'The Trans Texas Corridor plan also will help Texas reduce air pollution and lead to better stewardship of our natural resources,' Perry said. "Improved infrastructure will provide unprecedented opportunities for economic growth, creating jobs and luring businesses to Texas because of a superior, safe and efficient transportation system.'" [Source]
"The Corridor will link with existing interstate systems, three existing regional transportation systems, as well as major ports of entry in Laredo, El Paso, Brownsville, Corpus Christi and Houston. [Gov. Perry] has asked Texas Transportation Commissioners to finalize a plan by this summer.
The corridors will consist of six highway vehicle lanes - three in each direction - and six rail lines - three in each direction. One rail line will be dedicated to high speed commuter rail, one to high speed freight rail and one dedicated to short haul regional rail, which could serve as the backbone of a local commuter rail system serving all Texans. The governor emphasized that his Trans Texas Corridor plan will involve the construction of rail lines at the same time roads are built.
The corridors also will have easements for petroleum, natural gas, electric and telecommunications lines. By locating the infrastructure in the corridors, industries will be able to increase public safety by gradually moving their lines away from neighborhoods and population centers. At the same time, Texas businesses, citizens and residents of rural communities will have increased access to water utility lines, petroleum pipelines, natural gas pipelines, electric lines, communication lines and other public resources.
When all segments are completed, the system will provide approximately 4,000 miles of roads, rail, water lines and lift stations to transport water from border to border, broadband, oil and gas pipelines, and electric utilities. Perry said construction could begin as early as this year. Construction of the entire plan, which will extend all across Texas, is expected to take at least 25 years to complete.
The Trans Texas Corridor also improves the state's ability to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks or other disasters by creating hazardous material routes outside major cities, and by providing transportation alternatives that make it more difficult to paralyze the state's infrastructure." [Source]
The infrastructure is estimated at $40 million per mile.
It would be an additional 250 miles to complete the route to Philly.
Your numbers don't take into consideration the huge sums raised by highway fees which are diverted from highway uses to hideous boondogles such as mass transit. The money diverted from highway user fees to non-highway uses far exceeds the non-highway taxes diverted to highway uses.
I don't know how to post a link, but try the following:
Since it seems you suffer from a serious form of ADD, I'll repeat this for you:
"Additional segments of the system would be financed by private and public partnerships. The system operating costs must be proven to be sufficient to support the investment costs and associated profit while in operation."Federal funding is used to develop and prove the initial segment of this system. Subsequent segments are expected to receive a greater proportion of private investment once the costs are proven in commercial operation.
I directly answered your statement regarding rights-of-way. Most of your statement is simply pure, fallacious, obtructionist balderdash. Here is a map of the various alternative routes under consideration in Pittsburgh:
The majority of these routes travel primarily along existing rights-of-way. Public meetings are currently being conducted to determine which is most suitable.
More likely the govt will build the initial segment, and then excuse its failing by stating that it will only succeed if the longer distance is built, and since we've already invested heavily in the technology, might as well build more. Its a ploy to get the foot in the door, put forth by Adtranz and Specter. When the private sector won't support it, get the Feds to do it.
Private sector shareholders in MAGLEV, Inc. include the following:
Michael Baker CorporationIs there any more misinformation that you wish to spout?
United States Steel
Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation
Don't these same people, the DEM UNIONS, demand to see info on Cheney's private meetings and they have the nerve to attempt to block info on this???? SHEESH
What....billions in new taxes and a sytem that loses money?
What $500 tickets?
For planning purposes, fares for this initial 47-mile segment are set at $5 at each stop. That would be $15 to ride the entire length from Greensburg to Pittsburgh Airport, $30 round trip. Much cheaper than cab, or driving and leaving your car in airport parking.
Who do you expect to invest in this venture, doofus?
I should point out that since downtown Pittsburgh would be one of the intermediary stops, the fares to get there would be only $5 or $10 one-way, depending where you got on. Once again, cheaper than a cab, & factor in the cost of downtown parking to compare to driving.
"But America needs airlines! We can't let them go bankrupt!" people say. "Really?" I asnswer. "Why not? Which industry does the nation need most to survive?
Answer: If the airlines disappeared tomorrow, it'd be a nightmare, but we'd pull through. That was proved during the post-911 period when air travel was banned; things were inconvenient, but we survived. But without trains, America dies: coal and oil, spare parts, machinery, foodstuffs in bulk, industrial chemicals, and more are all delivered by rail. There aren't enough eighteen-wheelers in the world to take up the slack. Airlines cannot fly coal to powerplants. In any rational reckoning of worth, the rail industry is vastly more important to the survival of this nation than are passenger airlines.
Yet the airlines get the federal bailout, and rail gets told to go get stuffed.
Infrastructure is the province of government. From seaports to canals to roads to railroads to interstates to airports to space launch facilities, government has always shouldered the capital outlay and maintenance costs of basic transportation infrastructure in this country. It is a practice as American as apple pie. Just as they did with the Interstate System fifty years ago, federal, state, and local government should now build and maintain a nationwide network of interconnected regional high-speed rail systems.
Nobody cares if Uncle Sam covers the airlines' tab; if the airline industry were forced to own and operate their own airports, navigation aids, and other infrastructure they wouldn't make a dime of profit. But let anyone propose that the railroads get the same sweet deal and suddenly we're operating on the strict free-market system again.
Which just goes to show that, when it comes to the airline industry, some people like to serve up their free-market capitalism a lot hotter than they like to eat it.
You can call me all the childish names you want, but its a pretty basic distinction from capitalism 101. Socialism might rewrite the definition of investoring to include those who put forth only lobbying exenses, but not Wall Street.
Back in the '50s, when the federal government was a little more aware of what its functions were, the Eisenhower administration justified the interstate highway system for defense purposes. The same justification is just as valid for the rail system.
I just can't phanthom the logic of the government not doing everything possible to increase train travel, as it is obvious that passenger air travel is totally overwhelmed with security and safety issues. And, PS: when I travelled by train, there were a lot of citizens who were wonderful employees in good paying jobs working for AMTRAK.
Well, your ADD is flairing up again, so I'll repeat for you a second time:
"Additional segments of the system would be financed by private and public partnerships. The system operating costs must be proven to be sufficient to support the investment costs and associated profit while in operation."In other words, if the 47 mile pilot segment doesn't prove itself financially viable in operation, the rest of the system doesn't get built. Considering the long-term promise of 300 mph high-speed ground passenger service, $900 million is a very small amount of federal funds to prove the technology.
Furthermore, it is far and away less than government spends on other transportation infrastructure, highways, airports, etc.
All that being said: I don't think the federal government has the ability or the constitutional right to directly operate a passenger railroad service. In other words, I'm against AMTRAK. However, I am most definitely for the proposition that our federal, state, and local governments should cooperate to build and maintain the physical infrastructure of a linked network of regional high-speed rail transportation systems. In other words, I support the establishment of a national system of interstate and defense railroads -- the rail equivalent of the Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.
Just as the Interstate Highways are taxpayer-funded, the rail system I'm advocating would be built and maintained with public funds. Each state would operate its own regional rail network, just as they build and maintain their own sections of the Interstate highways. The difference is that on the national rail system there would be no traffic jams, no weather closures, and no billboards. There would also be no 55 mile-per-hour speed limit; trains would regularly operate at 150 to 190 miles per hour on the longer runs. These trains would be owned and operated by private, for-profit railroads; the government would no more run these trains than they run the trucking companies or motor coach (bus) operators today. The majority of funds for upkeep and improvement of the infrastructure would come from taxes levied on the carriers, just as trucking companies and bus lines pay for much of the highway system's operating costs today.
And finally travelers would have a choice! Instead of gulping down greaseburgers or attempting to digest the latest offering from Stuckey's or Perkins, travelers on these improved railroads could enjoy fine meals, served in a clean, comfortable dining car on real china with cloth napkins by a uniformed steward -- or they could eat home-cooked or other picnic foods in the Club Car. Unlike travelers in buses or private cars, rail travels could enjoy wine, beer, or liquor during their trips. Unlike airline travelers, their luggage would stay with them the entire time, they could "move about the cabin" to their hearts' content, there would always be an open restroom, and passengers who desired to could even -- gasp! -- enjoy a cigar or pipe in the Smoking Car or Lounge.
The trains would depart and arrive from convenent city-center terminals. That would sure beat sitting in traffic for an hour to get to the concrete bunker of the airport. And the pre-boarding rectal exam and underwear inspection would be a thing of the past.
Those who worry that the federal goverment has no right to build roads (or canals or airports) need not worry. Not only is such construction constitutional (Art. I, Sec. 8), but there is a substantial body of case law supporting its constitutionality (the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, among many others). To argue otherwise is to argue against the existence of ports, airports, and the Panama Canal -- all of which required (and require) big honking heaps of taxpayer dollars to build and maintain.
I'm generally not a supporter of big government. In this case, however, I'm of the opinion that it is the duty of our governments to build and maintain a national high-speed rail system -- not to operate the service, but to create the infrastructure that will allow that service to exist.