Author Peter Richmond insisted in his November 4 Parade magazine article, “A Better Way to Travel?” that with Americans stuck in traffic jams and airport security lines and made to suffer through flight delays, another government program could save the day: Amtrak.
“One solution is staring us in the face,” Richmond asserted. “Many transportation experts insist that the best answer to transportation gridlock is efficient intercity rail travel.”
Richmond boasted that Amtrak commuter numbers were “up for the fifth year in a row, reaching record levels,” and in the Northeast, where Amtrak introduced faster trains, the number of commuters between Washington, D.C., and New York City has increased by 9 percent.
Amtrak’s CEO Alex Kummant said he was “amazed” at the animosity surrounding Amtrak’s cost, exclaiming, “they are so small,” and “It costs about $1.50 for every man, woman and child to sustain [Amtrak] – one cup of coffee per person. Look at highway congestion, environmental issues, the capacity of airline travel. For city-to-city transportation, we need passenger rail.”
James RePass, principal executive of the National Corridors Initiative, told Richmond “The game is rigged against rail” in favor of highway spending. The National Corridors Initiative is a nonprofit that pushes for an “integrated national transportation system” and says “the goal of Federal, state, regional and local governments … should be to provide infrastructure systems that serve the maximum number of people.”
Richmond did say that the private sector could get involved, but buried it at the end of the article, suggesting private industry could bid on routes and private luxury trains could be a possibility.
The Heritage Foundation’s Ronald D. Utt pointed out September 20 that Amtrak's monthly rider numbers do not support their optimistic press announcements, “but instead reveal a still-troubled system losing market share and riders in its key service areas.”
Although Amtrak's numbers have increased in 2007, 2006 was not a good year for the train system and makes for a faulty comparison. In fact, 2007’s numbers are barely higher than 2005’s – making Richmond’s assertion that there were a record-level number of riders questionable.
Even the high-speed trains in the Northeast haven’t increased commuter numbers in the optimistic way Richmond or Amtrak says it has. A chart in Utt’s report reveals 2007’s numbers in the Northeast are still below 2004 and 2005’s numbers.
The Reason Foundation’s Michael W. Lynch found in 2002 that Amtrak cost $3.37 for every $1 it took from passengers. In the second half of 2005, Reason’s Adam Summers said, for every $1 Amtrak receives in revenue, it spends $1.61.
“When a private company gets caught lying and cheating, it pays. At Enron, voluntary investors and employees take the hit when the company turned out to be a poorly managed product of slick PR and questionable, perhaps criminal, accounting,” said Lynch. “While Amtrak deserves to come crashing down, it never does. Taxpayers are forced to pay billions in bills to keep the employees in their jobs and the politicians happy.”