Not Good News: Amtrak again starved of funds to invest in improvements
Okay, now for the Not Good News part of this.
Right at the top, the funding levels for Amtrak in this bill are just that: level. As happens time and again, Amtrak gets enough to survive, but not enough to truly invest in improvements. And that level funding, when you allow for inflation, means a cut in actual ability to invest, improve, and maintain. For one specific example, it is going to make it difficult for Amtrak to update its aging rolling stock. Which is likely to hurt ridership in the longer run - after all, who wants to ride in an old, worn-out train - which I expect will be used as ammunition by the train-haters in the next assault on passenger rail.
Another and perhaps more important issue is that the bill achieves a long term goal of the train-haters, who have been angling for this since sometime during the Bush years: It separates Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service, which runs between Boston and Washington, from its long-distance routes around the rest of the country.
Why is that important? Because the Northeast Corridor is the only Amtrak line that makes a profit - which is unusual in itself because very few passenger rail lines anywhere in the world make a profit even when you limit the calculation to "above the rails," that is, to operating costs and don't include infrastructure costs such as for maintaining the rails and railbed and so on.
In the past, Amtrak has used the profits from the Northeast Corridor to subsidize some of the other lines. But the new bill blocks that: Any profits from the Northeast Corridor must be spent on improving service in the Northeast Corridor, starving every other line of needed support, the results of which will I guarantee will be used to fill another ammo box for the train-haters, whose entire attitude comes down to "well, I don't ride the train, so screw 'em."
By the way, would it surprise you to know that the Northeast Corridor is also the Amtrak route most often used by corporate executives and members of Congress, particularly between DC and New York? Probably not.
Making a virtue of necessity, the Midwest High Speed Rail Network said the clause about the Northeast Corridor could actually help in the longer term by boosting pressure to increase spending nationally.
I sincerely doubt that will happen but here's hoping that on this, their instincts are better than mine.
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