Published Response to Washington Post Op-Ed, May 10, 2005

Link to origional op-ed piece on Washington Post website (registration may be required)

Amtrak Benefits All Areas
Washington Post Letters to the Editor
Tuesday, May 10, 2005; Page A20
© 2005 The Washington Post Company

The Post advocates allowing the government to give a private company a monopoly on a passenger rail route, but that is unlikely because most tracks are owned by private railroads that believe—because of safety requirements and the integrated nature of railroading—Amtrak should be the sole intercity passenger provider.

The editorial cited two examples of competition. In one, North Carolina owns some tracks, but Norfolk Southern controls the tracks, and there has been no competition among passenger carriers. The Post’s other example involved local commuter rail in Boston and thus involves different rules. There is, however, no evidence that Boston’s service has improved since Amtrak ceased providing it.

We are not “spraying billions” at long-distance trains. Amtrak says eliminating such trains would save at most $300 million a year, and only several years after service ends. Elimination also would leave 26 states without passenger trains. We would have four isolated mini-networks serving 21 states—probably not enough to generate support in Congress for funding anything. Moreover, long-distance trains are heavily used; last year they averaged about 364 passengers per run, and subsidy per passenger-mile is almost identical for long-distance trains and for short-distance trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

The biggest expense Amtrak faces is restoring the Northeast Corridor to good condition. In the past three years Amtrak has ramped up that effort to a level unprecedented in recent decades. Bashing previous Amtrak managements for not making such progress, bashing long-distance trains and advocating impractical forms of competition is not helpful.

Executive Director
National Association of Railroad Passengers