U.S., When It Comes To Amtrak, Settle For More, Not Less. Demand More.

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; March 16, 2021

Settle For More is a dynamic book by journalist Megyn Kelly. The book is not about politics; it is about encouraging us to not settle for what someone else is offering, or settling for whatever comes along. It is about allowing yourself to seek better for yourself and your family.

“Settle For More” desperately needs to be the watchwords for supporters of passenger rail in the United States. These three words should be a clarion call for people who want to ride passenger trains to stop settling for the half-a-century of myriad excuses as to all the things Amtrak can’t do instead of doing the right things to expand passenger rail.

We have heard the endless whine about Congress not providing enough money to maintain or expand Amtrak.

We have heard dozens of reasons why Amtrak has attempted to cut its way to prosperity, a theme which has been disproved countless times in the real world.

We know Amtrak is ignoring the mandate it received a half a century ago when created: build and operate a national system. That means ALL of the states.

We know Amtrak fervently believes the Northeast Corridor – at the expense of the national/inter-regional system – is the most important stretch of track in all of America, which is why NEC actually stands for Nothing Else Counts.

We know Amtrak’s tireless and incorrect claims the NEC “makes a profit” is false because Amtrak’s financial reporting system does not fully include all of the capital costs of maintaining the NEC.

We know the long distance/inter-regional system creates the greatest social and financial benefit of all Amtrak operations because it generates the highest transportation output in the form of passenger miles and requires the least amount of subsidy. The future of passenger trains is overnight sleeper trains and long distance/inter-regional trains in multiple frequencies, not just short, daylight corridors.

We know the true measure of success for common carriers is load factor, not ridership as Amtrak primarily reports.

We know Amtrak employs a flawed, non-generally-accepted accounting practice called APT to assign costs to its trains. Reports tell us highlights of this system include assigning snow removal costs to its Miami, Florida facilities.

We hope with Amtrak’s recent statements about food service that dining cars – open to all, not just sleeping car passengers – will once again regain their rightful place in the pantheon of passenger train operations.

Major non-Amtrak projects are underway in Florida, Texas and Nevada/California, as well as the California High Speed Rail line now under construction. Somebody, somewhere sees something that Amtrak doesn’t; America has great potential for passenger rail, just not Amtrak’s brand of passenger rail.

For 50 years too many people have merely accepted the plaintive cry that if Amtrak isn’t “protected” at any cost that all passenger train service in the country will disappear. Brightline in Florida and Nevada/California, Texas Central Partners and the California High Speed Rail project have ended that argument.

Amtrak can do better; it must do better. Accepting anything less merely guarantees an ongoing political organization which lives as a beneficiary of the generosity of others versus a robust, self-sustaining company charting it own course for the benefit of American travelers. It’s a matter of competent – non-political – leadership with a vision to follow the law and a determination to prove its single largest annual effort is not the annual billion-dollar-plus subsidy request from Congress and the several states where it operates subsidized corridor trains.

Passenger trains were in private operation from 1830 to 1971, 141 years before Amtrak came into being. Students of history know there is much good and bad to be learned from the past. The history is there, to be learned and analyzed, and used when appropriate. The singular, narrowly-focused ideas of bureaucrats today are not the only way to accomplish goals.

For all of those supporting passenger rail, settle for more, not less. Demand more.

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