Published Response to Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, July 7, 2005

Response to “The Little Engine That Shouldn’t” op-ed in the Wall Street Journal July 7, 2005. Capon response published July 21.

Americans Still Want to Ride Those Rails
21 July 2005 - Wall Street Journal

To argue that $15 billion spent on Amtrak over the past 20-plus years “have gone up in smoke” (“The Little Engine That Shouldn’t,” Review & Outlook, July 7) is to ignore the tangible benefits that money produced. This includes electrification all the way to Boston, and elimination of the long waits to change locomotives in New Haven. More generally, we have a nationwide system with growing ridership making an important contribution to transportation capacity and national security—the latter both due to energy efficiency and usefulness as a transportation alternative.

You say “there`s no law of economics that train service has to lose money.” True in the abstract, but not in the U.S., where government involvement with and support of highways and aviation has been pervasive. Nonetheless, Americans—through polls, ticket purchases and political action—have shown they want the choice to travel by rail. Maintaining and improving that choice means using public funds to operate and improve the nation`s rail service. Profitability is not a reasonable demand, but efficiency is—and Amtrak is addressing it. Costs have stabilized the past three years under President & CEO David L. Gunn, while revenues and yield (average fare paid per passenger-mile) have risen.

Ross B. Capon
Executive Director
National Association of Railroad Passengers