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Amtrak Loses Money Every Time It Serves You Lunch

We already knew that Amtrak was losing money on its basic services, but now it seems it’s also losing money when it serves snacks:

A day after publicly pressing the General Services Administration over its travel and conference spending, a House panel turned its focus on Amtrak, charging that the national rail service regularly loses millions each year on its food service for passengers and has done little to rein in those costs.

“They’ve lost $833 million over the last ten years serving food and beverages,” said Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who labeled those numbers “staggering.”

“We have to end these unbelievable losses to the taxpayers,” Mica added.

At a hearing, Mica went over the simple tally of how much you pay for food, and how much it really costs the taxpayer.

“It costs passengers $9.50 to buy a cheeseburger on Amtrak, but the cost to taxpayers is $16.15,” said Mica. “Riders pay $2.00 for a Pepsi, but each of these sodas costs the U.S. Treasury $3.40.”

To some on the panel like Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), whose family is in the restaurant business, the figures were hard to swallow.

“Obviously the business model here is not working,” said Barletta, who joined the grumbling over why Amtrak can’t just recover their costs on food and beverage service aboard trains.

Barletta made clear that technically, Amtrak is breaking the law, because Congress approved a plan many years ago that said the railroad must at least break even on food and beverage service.

The President of Amtrak, Joseph Boardman, told lawmakers that Amtrak has been improving its financial results in recent years; in 2011, he said the railroad recovered 59% of its food and beverage costs, as he rejected the idea of ending such sales on trains.

“If we were to eliminate food and beverage service, we would actually lose more money, because of the loss of associated ticket revenue,” said Boardman.

Well, if you don’t want to end the food service Mr. Boardman, then in the business world you’ve got two choices. You can find a way to cut your costs, or you can raise your prices. Losing money on every cheeseburger and Pepsi is not a sustainable business model, and it’s long past time for Amtrak to stop relying on Congress to bail it out every time they make a stupid business decision.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. bluepen9uin says:

    The fact it costs $3.40 for them to sell a pepsi shows how out of wack the costs are. I would be interested to see how they get to the $3.40 costs (assume it is salaries, lost revenue from seats that could take up the car, cost of the snack car, etc.).

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  2. Daniel Adams says:

    I typically think some of the stories about government waste or procurement are overblown or are missing some key details.

    However, how does a cheeseburger cost Amtrak $16.15? A can or larger bottle of Pepsi $340? I haven’t had any food on an Amtrak train in a long time, but it was never close to $16 cheeserburger good.

    There has to be a missing piece of information here that either gets to the $16.15 cost for a cheeseburger or that really is horrible cost management.

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  3. Daniel Adams says:

    @bluepen9uin: Ditto… see my comment below.

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  4. We should start by noting that rail is the most energy efficient land transportation technology. Nothing moves a ton with less fuel. For that reason, a crowded train is the most efficient passenger transportation in the world. The British and Japanese (and of course Indians) rank above us in rail efficiency because they pack them in.

    Our system prefers freight to passengers, which it probably should. It is much easier to stack containers and get freight density than to sell out an unpopular Amtrack route. Though some routes are popular, for instance many people use the Pacific coast routes for business and pleasure.

    Now, getting around to cheeseburgers … airlines “give away” meals, right? If you totaled them up they’d be a “loss” to the airlines. Should they be stopped?

    Well, the airlines do a per-passenger analysis of profit and loss. They aren’t idiots, and don’t account a flight from LA to NY as a dinner.

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  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    I actually laughed out loud at this part of that article:

    in 2011, [Boardman] said the railroad recovered 59% of its food and beverage costs

    You could put a crack addict in charge of a dive bar in the worst part of a bad town and they’d be able to recover more than 59% of their food and beverage costs. I mean, come on, that’s so absurd it falls below the level of fully retarded.

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  6. @bluepen9uin, @Daniel Adams:

    I suggest in my comment that per-burger is wrong anyway. The profit-or-loss should be accounted per passenger, or possibly per route.

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  7. @Tsar Nicholas:

    But airlines “recover” even less, right? They don’t even charge you for that soggy chicken.

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  8. You know, in the past I’ve had a tendency to defend Amtrack, as a reaction to the irrational hate the Right feels for it. They don’t really make efficiency or capacity or strategic arguments, they just hate government running trains.

    Thinking about problems in 2012 though, and given my understanding that rail routes are crowded, I’m fine with abandoning more passenger service in favor of freight.

    … the thing is, if gas ever hits $10/gal, airlines are charging a $200 fuel premium, and you want a cheaper train ticket you might be out of luck. What you’ve said is that there is no strategic reason to keep US passenger rail in place.

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  9. Boyd says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: This reminds me of the whore house the government seized in Nevada, and then failed to turn a profit operating it.

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  10. Murray says:

    “…and it’s long past time for Amtrak to stop relying on Congress to bail it out every time they make a stupid business decision”

    Agree on principle but would be more convinced by outrage if Amtrack (and Postal Service) critics were as keen on going after airline and oil subsidies.

    Note that airline CEOs never have to testify before Congress to get their share of the pie, lobbying is so much more discrete and efficient.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  11. There is lots of information on per-passenger loss here.

    As I said up above, it varies most by route and occupancy. The worst route, “the Sunset Limited, which runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles—carried just 72,000 passengers in FY2008, at a cost to the federal government of $462 per passenger.”

    But overall the loss was just $32 Per Passenger in 2008.

    If you care about having passenger rail there, for the next oil shock or whatever, that might not be such a high price.

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  12. James H says:

    How does it cost $16.15 to sell a Cheeseburger??!!

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  13. @James H:

    Well, how many restaurants run at 50 miles per hour? How many need to have delivery scheduled in multiple cities? How many are off-grid and use bottled gas?

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  14. If you want to keep Amtrack and reduce subsidies it looks like you don’t need to cut cheeseburgers.

    You just need to drop all of the “family vacation” routes, retaining business commuter routes.

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  15. JTorres says:

    Why haven’t we upgraded our beloved Amtrak trains with new air dynamic bullet trains with all the new state of the art technology? Then, maybe you wouldn’t be needing food service at all because everyone would get to their destination quicker! Another thing I would also recommend placing railroad stations in better locations where there is a lot of people traffic and a great tourist destination with shops and restaurants all in the same place! I seriously think it’s time for young minds to push aside these old idiots that are running down to the ground the train service and let us young innovative people like my self make some real profits without ever needing for the government to give us a penny to stay alive!!! Last week I rode the Amtrak train from West Palm Beach to Orlando and I took almost 4hrs, I love the train but the time it takes is to slow for you to get to your destination and sometimes the prices are outrages, therefor most people would prefer to drive their cars or fly because it’s quicker and cheaper. We really do need an overhaul of our old and decapitated train system!

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  16. @JTorres:

    I’m pretty sure the slow times are related to freight traffic and system capacity, rather than the speed of an individual train. After all, if you want to go 200mph, you need a clear track.

    In terms of infrastructure, we could do with a lot more double-tracks, to allow full time two way transportation. There are many places where trains must still wait for someone coming the other way to clear the track.

    The drive to build more 2-way is called “low-speed rail” by proponents, who position it as an alternative to “high-speed rail.”

    I’m probably a low-speed rail guy.

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  17. JKB says:

    @JTorres: …therefor most people would prefer to drive their cars or fly because it’s quicker and cheaper.

    That “quicker and cheaper” is has been the demise of many an antiquated technology. Throw in “can’t make a profit” and things really get bad. But still we should support trains for strategic reasons. Just in case we want to move people like it’s 1939. Of course, we’d be moving those people after they drove to where no one wants to be to catch the train to where no one wants to go where they’ll rent a car or hire a taxi to take them someplace people want to be. On the upside you can pay $9.50 for a cheeseburger that cost $16.15 to make and sell while trudging past hundreds of McDonald’s and other places where you can get a whole meal deal for $6.00 or so.

    Or you can have my experience when I thought I would take the train from San Diego to San Francisco. It would take 3 days, cost twice as much as the 2 hour air travel time. Oh and the best part, I wouldn’t end up in San Francisco but Oakland where they would bus people to San Francisco. In the end, I had lunch, caught a plane, and had dinner at nice restaurant in my hotel on the cost savings.

    Passenger travel by train has never been profitable, you gotta carry freight.

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  18. @john personna:

    For that reason, a crowded train is the most efficient passenger transportation in the world.

    If you’re talking about commuter rail, this is true, but when you get to inter-city travel that ceases to be the case. If you’re going from New York to Los Angeles, you can get there in a plane in six hours, so people are willing to put up with being packed into the plane with minimal ammenities. The same trip by rail takes almost three days, which means you now need to bring along sleeping rooms, showers, and a whole lot more food, etc. That’s also not counting the oppurtunity cost of the additional travel time.

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  19. grumpy realist says:

    @JKB: I’m quite sure there are corridors in the US that would be much more efficient with train than with cars.

    It’s too bad we’ll never get bullet trains in the US, but we don’t have the density of population to really make it work. Japan’s Shinkansen really only makes a profit on the Tokyo-Osaka axis. Every other link just breaks even or loses money.

    One thing that standard US rail often doesn’t do very well (surprisingly enough) is link up to the next stage of transport. You really do need your terminals in the downtowns of cities or linking up to the local light rail, or whatever. (And not “downtown” as “dumping you off in the red-light district”) Some cities are better at this than others…

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  20. @grumpy realist:

    (And not “downtown” as “dumping you off in the red-light district”)

    Anywhere you put a rail terminal is going to become the red light district, because no one is going to want to live near a busy train yard unless they have no other choice.

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  21. @grumpy realist:

    It’s too bad we’ll never get bullet trains in the US, but we don’t have the density of population to really make it work.

    Even if we had a bullet train that went non-stop from New York to Los Angeles on a perfectly straight route, we’re still talking a 15 hour trip.

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  22. @JKB:

    It looks like Amtrack has dropped the San Diego to San Francisco route already, JKB.

    I played with it, and their schedules take 13 hours, and always route you train and bus.

    Really your complaint shows the contradiction. Do you want trains to go anywhere you want, and be cheap? It doesn’t work that way.

    Efficient train travel requires high passenger load, which limits them to business commuter routes.

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  23. @Stormy Dragon:

    I was talking energy efficiency. That is still true for high capacity long distance travel. But when you name cross country routes in the US they start to look less like packed trains in India or the USSR. They start to look like family vacation experiences. They start to lose both energy efficiency and money because they are empty (by world standards).

    Remember the freight priority is a feedback here.

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  24. (What I’m saying is that, no, you don’t “need” sleepers. Those have always been first class travel.)

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  25. @john personna:

    … the thing is, if gas ever hits $10/gal, airlines are charging a $200 fuel premium, and you want a cheaper train ticket you might be out of luck. What you’ve said is that there is no strategic reason to keep US passenger rail in place.

    Just by coincidence, I was pricing what a train ride from Philadelphia to Seattle would cost, and if you take a roomette (thier lowest level of sleeping accomodations), the trip is $600 each way. Meanwhile I can get a round trip flight for around $500. So even with your $200 fuel premium, the train would be $500 more than flying and take three times as long.

    The only ways to make trains competetive with plains is to limit the trains to the same sort of seating. If I don’t take a sleeping room, just a normal seat, I can make the trip for about $300 each way. Note at current pices that’s STILL more than a comparable flight. But do you really expect people to confine themselves to a seat for three days with no access to bed or showers?

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  26. @john personna:

    (What I’m saying is that, no, you don’t “need” sleepers. Those have always been first class travel.)

    Okay yes, if Americans are willing to live in third world conditions, we could save a lot of energy on travel.

    We’re not.

    If that’s what it takes to make Amtrak sustainable, then Amtrak is not going to be sustained.

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  27. @Stormy Dragon:

    Did you follow the link on per-passenger subsidies? You should read it.

    I did, and my take-away is that there is a big difference between vacation routes and business routes.

    So I have two questions for you:

    1) was Philadelphia to Seattle a vacation?
    2) why the hell are you demanding of me that vacationers go 3rd world?

    I’ve already said above that if you want to keep Amtrack and reduce subsides, drop the vacations.

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  28. Hey, I’ve done it too, said “I want to go X to Y, I should price out a train.”

    The thing I’ve realized is that there is no reason, just because I want to go X to Y, that X to Y should be a good and efficient route. That demands many, many, other people going X to Y, and to willing to do it in recliners.

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  29. @john personna:

    why the hell are you demanding of me that vacationers go 3rd world?

    When you’re using trains in India and Russia as a model for US travel, that’s essentially what you’re calling for. I had the misfortunate back in the 90’s to take a train from Berline to Moscow, and it was frankly one of the most horrendous experiences in my entire life. There’s not many Americans that are going to agree to travel like that unless there’s a massive collapse of the US standard of living, so it’s not really a good starting point for a discussion of how to fix Amtrak intercity rail service.

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  30. @john personna:

    How many are off-grid and use bottled gas?

    Every food truck that’s ever existed?

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  31. @Stormy Dragon:

    You are misrepresenting what I’ve said, completely.

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  32. “I’ve already said above that if you want to keep Amtrack and reduce subsides, drop the vacations.”

    An honest person would address that, and not misdirect to Amtrack being equal, everywhere.

    You wouldn’t make it my problem that for long-distance travel to be efficient, it can’t be done in luxury.

    What the heck was your point? Did you want the long distance luxury with more subsidy? Or did you want to drop east coast commuter routes because long distance needs sleepers?

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  33. JKB says:

    @john personna: Do you want trains to go anywhere you want, and be cheap? It doesn’t work that way.

    And that is the problem, trains don’t go where people want. Sure a central terminal in Manhattan might work but where do you put a terminal in LA where most passengers won’t have to immediately get a different transport method? If they got to catch a cab, they can do that at the airport. Or take the brilliant idea of high speed trains in Atlanta. You can’t do business in at Atlanta without a car, cabs would cost to much. They wanted to run the train to Chattanooga, a distance your grandma can drive in 2 hours. Also, another disperse city with little reason for people to go downtown except for government and tourism.

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  34. @JKB:

    Are you telling us there are no popular or profitable routes, at all?

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  35. Herb says:

    Just saying….Amtrak will never make money as long as a hostile Congress is interested in micromanaging it to death.

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  36. JKB says:

    @john personna:

    Actually, I was commenting on this fool idea of high speed trains or even renewed passenger travel. Trains are not efficient for passenger travel without freight carrying the load. Popular doesn’t matter. Is there a profitable inter-city passenger rail route? If so, then run that, shut down the rest.

    But building high speed rail or even more low speed parallel tracks is typical lefty solution to dump the costs on the rubes in the rural and suburbs while passing them by in a self-righteous huff.

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  37. @JKB:

    I agree that high-speed rail is not a profitable idea. I agree that for low-speed rail the profitability of the route should be what matters.

    The parallel track thing is for freight though, and lowers the energy intensity of the economy as a whole. It is a public good.

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  38. BTW, do you know that there are interstate highways that run at a loss?

    If you account them by the cars that use them, and the gas tax collected by those cars over them, it’s a loss.

    Should they be abandoned?

    If we are going to apply the same rules, they should.

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  39. @john personna:

    Are you telling us there are no popular or profitable routes, at all?

    Boston-New York-Philadelphia,Baltimore-DC is the only profitable intercity rail route in the entire country.

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  40. @Stormy Dragon:

    OK fine, start lopping off the unprofitable then.

    If we make a conscious decision to drop ALL intercity rail which is unprofitable with the 2012 cost mix, I’m actually fine with that.

    But you know, having the Coastliner there is a little like having the Mount Evans Scenic Byway (Colorado).

    If we start paring rail, should we start paring non-economic roads?

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  41. Do you suppose the Natchez Trace Parkway (Mississippi & Tennessee) carries enough freight to justify maintenance?

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  42. Boyd says:

    john and Stormy: Not all value is measured in dollars, so I suppose we could use similar criteria in “calculating” the value of some train routes as we use for the Natchez Trace Parkway.

    I’m not advocating a particular approach, mostly because I’m insufficiently familiar with enough details to form a worthwhile opinion, but it does seem that we waste a lot of money on Amtrak, and many Amtrak operations continue through inertia rather than any intrinsic or other, “softer” values.

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  43. Boyd says:

    And btw, john, I can’t imagine any justification for investing $16 of cost into a hamburger served on a train. Either the figure isn’t valid (perhaps by being loaded for other expenses), or it’s another bureaucratic boondoggle, IMHO.

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  44. @Boyd:

    FWIW:

    In 2010, Amtrak received $563 million in operating subsidies and $1 billion in capital and debt service grants while carrying passengers a total of 6.52 billion passenger miles, for a direct subsidy of 24¢ ppm. Meanwhile, in 2007 roads received a $94.6 billion (49% of $193 billion) subsidy to carry automobile passengers (including drivers) 4.24 trillion miles for a direct subsidy of 2¢ per passenger mile.

    I think to get “big numbers” out of Amtrak you have to do the “over so many years” trick.

    Amtrak: 40 Years, $40 Billion

    LOL, over 40 years? Such a deal.

    In 40 years Amtrak received half the subsidy autos get in one year.

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  45. @Boyd:

    Would you agree that the costing should be like this?

    (ticket price + hamburger price) – (ride cost + hamburger cost) = profit?

    If that hamburger price includes maintaining a restaurant car and hauling it, of course it is going to look high. Stormy cherry-picked that food trucks have gas canisters, but that does not make them workable on a train.

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  46. (At this rate you could only run Amtrak 1000 years before it equaled the price of the Iraq war.)

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  47. Rafer Janders says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Anywhere you put a rail terminal is going to become the red light district, because no one is going to want to live near a busy train yard unless they have no other choice.

    Sure, just like the red light district around Park Avenue at Grand Central Station in NY, or Union Station in DC….oh, wait. None of that’s actually true.

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  48. Rafer Janders says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Even if we had a bullet train that went non-stop from New York to Los Angeles on a perfectly straight route, we’re still talking a 15 hour trip.

    Um, it’s taken me 15 hours plus to fly from LA to NY before, when you consider times that I’ve had to switch planes in Chicago or Dallas, or those times when my planes have been delayed due to bad weather, mechanical failure, the plane arriving late, etc. etc. I was once stuck for over a day trying to complete what should have been a relatively simple flight, and would far rather have spent that time in a comfortable seat on a train than on the floor of terminal at LAX.

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  49. @this:

    Yes son, $1B per year for 1000 years does indeed equal $1T

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  50. Boyd says:

    @Rafer Janders: Of course, you can’t travel by train from NY to LA in 15 hours. It takes three days.

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  51. JKB says:

    @john personna:

    Interesting, you are comparing the cost of running a passenger train to maintaining a road. The only dispersing the road costs over the passenger miles in privately funded conveyances. But those same roads are used by commercial vehicles, freight, emergency services and, for the interstate system, were laid out for the rapid deployment of defense forces.

    I will stipulate that Amtrak does own some of its rail lines but they also lease those lines to freight carriers which offsets their required subsidy. Also, Amtrak offers no national defense capabilities as troops would be transported by air and equipment requires the freight carriers.

    As for “unprofitable” roads, well first they were often originally built as part of a “stimulus” program. Secondly, if their gas taxes and freight taxes don’t cover the upkeep, then put in a toll booth and turn them over to private investors. But often upon deep investigation, you discover these “unused” roads have a national defense function that thankfully hasn’t been activated.

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  52. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    Or take the brilliant idea of high speed trains in Atlanta. You can’t do business in at Atlanta without a car, cabs would cost to much.

    Which is also why airplanes don’t fly to Atlanta. Everyone has to drive there, from all over the country, as the airlines won’t let you check your car in as luggage.

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  53. Rafer Janders says:

    @Boyd:

    Hence the “even if….” in the comment I was replying to.

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  54. JKB says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    But that mythical 15 hour bullet train would cut a swath through dozens of states, untold number of communities with an ugly gash since HST requires fenced off tracks to keep out animals and other interlopers. And best of all, a 12 yr old with a sledge hammer could derail the whole thing much less what a terrorist could do at any spot in 3000 miles of track. Best of all, not one person anywhere along the route would get benefit from the train, not in use, not in economic development, not in a peaceful environment. No, instead they get an eyesore, a swath of slum and screaming trains reminding them every day how they don’t matter to the people in Washington.

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  55. @JKB:

    In the beginning rail companies owned both passenger and freight cars. As passenger rail contracted ….

    Amtrak’s origins are traceable to the sustained decline of private passenger rail services in the United States from about 1920 to 1970. In 1970, in response to the decline, Congress and President Richard Nixon created Amtrak, which was to begin operations on May 1, 1971.[13] The Nixon administration secretly agreed with some railroads that Amtrak would be shut down after two years. After Fortune magazine exposed the manufactured mismanagement in 1974, Louis W. Menk, chairman of the Burlington Northern Railroad, remarked that the story was undermining the scheme to dismantle Amtrak.[14]

    So I think it’s fair to look at “total systems cost” for both cars and trains.

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  56. mike s says:

    What disturbs me the most from this hearing is it’s in full committee not sub. Then Mica does his usual rant then vanishes out the door. A perfect example for term limits! I’d like to see the contracted out waste hearings to all these monies that go to the airline/highway industries and then the rails get the smallest slice of whats left of the pie and the T & I expect profits. Also Schuster kept stating that Amtrak is already a private co.,,,but his endorsing of the Ryan budget which would steal the RRB pension(that is 100% funded without 1$ of taxpayer money)is so contradictive it makes any sane human wanna puke!

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  57. mike s says:

    @JKB: FYI as a reminder,,thousands of first responders were brought in by the only transportation in/out of NYC by rail,,mainly AMTRAK after 9/11

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  58. JKB says:

    @mike s:

    That doesn’t even make sense. To bring “first responders” in by passenger train without their trucks or equipment. Especially since the roads, bridges, tunnels, ferries and air space were unaffected. In any case, just because a single crowded island used rail in a single catastrophic event doesn’t rationalize maintaining Amtrak. It would hardly be a reasonable excuse if they’d used the passenger lines to remove the citizens from harms way.

    Poor decisionmaking and planning by urbanistas does not justify the cost of unprofitable passenger rail.

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  59. mike s says:

    I also love how the Chairman and sub-chairman kept stating this isn’t an attack on labor and would create more jobs. Every time a service goes out to a contractor the employees of those cont. get the shaft. Ms. Quinn stated Downeaster employees get $10 hourly with a basic medical package(after employee contributions,they go to the food bank for family groceries)while the contractor reaps the profits…sound familiar. Schuster trying to save face with his constituents touting he’s a labor/for the people proponent.He’s reps over on of the largest Rail populations of active/retired rail employees(Altoona,PA) and every chance he gets he spits in the face of railroader alive! To all you PA residents,,,VOTE this arrogant/phoney out in NOV!

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  60. mike s says:

    @JKB: just stating that there was no other way in/out of the city for bringing in outside emergency personel after what happened. Amtrak /metronorth etc.

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  61. @Boyd:

    Not all value is measured in dollars, so I suppose we could use similar criteria in “calculating” the value of some train routes as we use for the Natchez Trace Parkway.

    Oh I agree. I’m still considering the train to seattle even though it’s expensive just because the route looks like it goes through a lot of neat scenery it would make it a fun trip.

    But I’m not the one arguing that Amtrak can be made to be as efficient as the airlines. That’s an unrealistic goal–Amtrak needs to find some other basis for competition.

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  62. Ha Nguyen says:

    I absolutely love taking the train. My best train trips involved taking the train from Seattle to Sacremento, then from Sacremento to Chicago to Washington DC. Then on the return, I took the one from Chicago to Seattle. Really beautiful scenery on those trains.

    If only my family didn’t require that I spend my vacation with them, I would take a scenic train trip every year as my preferred vacation.

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  63. john personna says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    But I’m not the one arguing that Amtrak can be made to be as efficient as the airlines. That’s an unrealistic goal–Amtrak needs to find some other basis for competition.

    Again, you might be confusing energy efficiency with cost at current price points or whatever. Here it is for you:

    Fuel efficiency in transportation

    Japan achives 0.35 MJ/passenger-km with rail. Amtrak achieves 1.60 MJ/km with less occupied trains. Passenger airplanes averaged 1.4 MJ/passenger-km in 1998.

    So I guess I was right way up top. You can totally beat airplanes for efficiency if you pack them in on the trains, Japanese style.

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  64. @john personna:

    You can totally beat airplanes for efficiency if you pack them in on the trains, Japanese style.

    So again, this is your vision of how inter city travel should be handled in the US:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdAvFLXlJvU

    As I said before, if that’s what it takes to save Amtrak, then it’s not going to be saved, because Americans are not going to stand for that, especially for days on end.

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  65. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    And that is the problem, trains don’t go where people want. Sure a central terminal in Manhattan might work but where do you put a terminal in LA where most passengers won’t have to immediately get a different transport method?

    I know, it’s not like there are taxis, rental cars, Zip cars, subways and buses in LA that a traveller arriving by train could use….

    It’s the same reason why there’s no airports in Los Angeles. Where do you put an airport in LA that most passengers won’t have to immediately get a different transport method?

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  66. Jon says:

    @mike s: Bartstar, is that you?

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  67. Ernieyeball says:

    @john personna: In terms of infrastructure, we could do with a lot more double-tracks, to allow full time two way transportation. There are many places where trains must still wait for someone coming the other way to clear the track.

    The parallel track thing is for freight though, and lowers the energy intensity of the economy as a whole. It is a public good

    About 20 years ago the then Illinois Central RR, today the Canadian National, decided to “single track” the mainline from Chicago to New Orleans to save money on maintainence.
    A story in the local paper at the time mentioned new switching technology and a computer controlled signaling system enabling the scheme.
    Couldn’t find that item but the internet gave up these two pages on the matter.
    ———
    So as 1990 dawned, the Illinois Central was drawing up plans to remove nearly half of its mainline.
    http://alongtherails.wordpress.com/2010/01/31/single-tracking-the-illinois-central/

    Moyers, to the dismay of IC’s old guard, immediately transformed IC into a streamlined money machine. Moyers accomplished the spectacular feat through a series of innovative moves that, in retrospect, appeared quite simple. First, he fired all the department heads except one and replaced them with under-40 managers– Next, Moyers removed one of the side-by-side tracks that connected Chicago and Illinois for northbound and southbound traffic. Every 12 miles he left a 3.4-mile siding where a train could move off of the track while an oncoming train passed. He sold the withdrawn rails and fittings for $50 million and used the remaining materials to cut IC’s supply budget by $70 million over four years. He also installed a $20 million automated signaling and scheduling system that saved IC about $100 million.
    http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/illinois-central-corporation-history/
    ————
    I also checked the stock price history of CNI. Sold for about $12.00 ten years ago. Closed at $88.82 today. They must be doing somethimg right.

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  68. Ernieyeball says:

    So again, this is your vision of how inter city travel should be handled in the US:

    If only the TSA would offer such a useful service…

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  69. anjin-san says:

    Or you can have my experience when I thought I would take the train from San Diego to San Francisco. It would take 3 days, cost twice as much as the 2 hour air travel time.

    Or we could pull our heads out of our asses and have rail travel more like they have in almost all of the developed world. Fast, reliable, and generally a pleasure to travel on.

    But JKB and the rest of the “America can’t do the job” crowd don’t want to hear about it.

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  70. Ernieyeball says:

    But JKB and the rest of the “America can’t do the job” crowd don’t want to hear about it.

    I’ve been hearing about it for years. Let private capital build it, provide a service that travellers want and I will still drive from the Midwest to California and back even if gas is $10 a gallon.

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  71. anjin-san says:

    Anywhere you put a rail terminal is going to become the red light district, because no one is going to want to live near a busy train yard unless they have no other choice.

    Funny, I walked right by an Amtrak station today. It is adjacent to a nice little park, and a relatively prosperous downtown area. There are million dollar homes within walking distance of it. We are a few miles away, but I hear the train whistles at night, a sound I have always loved.

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  72. anjin-san says:

    I will still drive from the Midwest to California and back even if gas is $10 a gallon.

    I am a California boy, love to drive and I have a nice sports car. That being said, I have been on several train trips that provided memories I treasure. Hope there are more of them waiting for me over the horizon.

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  73. Ernieyeball says:

    Some of the best parties I have ever attended were on the Illinois Central between Chicago and Carbondale IL returning to school after a semester break. That was 40+ years ago before Amtrak.
    I have also travelled the Coast Starlight from LA to Oakland (the connecting bus to The City across the bay pretty much drained the charm of the train ride right out of me).
    I’ve driven California Route 1 along the Pacific Ocean at least once in each direction.
    Flew on a PG+E private jet one time from SFO to San Luis Obisbo for a tour of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
    In January of 1971 I hitchhiked from San Francisco to St. Louis just to see if I could do it. Two really good rides…made it in three days.
    Trains, Planes, Automobiles, Thumb…take your pick.
    I won’t be flying as long as the TSA is in business. Now I hear they want to screen rail travellers too.
    Give me the open road. I’ll pay the price as long as I can stop when I want. Go when I want and bring anything with me I want.
    Maybe if I wasn’t supporting Amtrak with my tax money every April I might have a
    few more $$$ for gas.

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  74. azure says:

    Did the airlines ever make money serving meals? How much does it cost to buy a meal on US airline in coach these days–if any is offered?

    Typically, for a transportation service, like the airlines or passenger rail, food & beverage (except for perhaps alcohol) isn’t a money marker. Perhaps people, including Mica, should talk to people who worked at/ran the private RRs in the days when the private RRs providing passenger service.

    Anyone notice that yet another subsidized US airline has filed for bankruptcy protection? I say subsidized because the airlines don’t build & maintain the airports, taxpayers do or Port Authorities (sometimes backed by taxpayers on their bonds), taxpayers pay for the mass transit spurs or roads that travel to the airports–often a road will go only to an airport, and so on. How many airlines pay for training? How many airlines hire pilots that have either paid for their own training (at taxpayer subsidized general aviation airports and most are gov’t subsidized–the one near me would not exist if it weren’t for subsidies at the local, state and federal gov’t levels) or hired pilots after they’ve been discharged from the military? The former military pilots were trained courtesy of the taxpayer.

    So, heavily subsidized.

    Before you criticise Amtrak, compare it to other transport services.

    I am so tired of this endless conservative/fundie/TP attack on Amtrak, or anything that benefits people who aren’t wealthy. Amtrak ridership has increased strongly for the past 3-4 years, yet the GOPers seek to destroy it. Doesn’t anyone ever wonder why that is?

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  75. Ernieyeball says:

    citizen blue sez: I am so tired of this endless conservative/fundie/TP attack on Amtrak, or anything that benefits people who aren’t wealthy.

    The last year I worked a full time job, 2009, I grossed $49,000. It was the most I had made on an annual basis in 50 years of working. Starting with a paper route when I was 13.
    Followed the lay off with 99 weeks of unemployment. Thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act cash money was added to my weekly benefit amount. The ARRA also subsidized almost 60% of my COBRA extention health ins. premiums reducing them from over $600/mo. (for me alone) to under $200/mo. An amount I was able to pay.
    THANK YOU PRESIDENT OBAMA!
    There have been down times in my life when I qualified for Food Stamps and winter heating assistance. I took ‘em both.
    I am currently drawing Social Security plus a few meager pensions and will sign on to Medicare in January.
    I am not conservative/fundie/TP. I am far from wealthy…and I appreciate the federal and state money that has filled my pockets since I first filed for Unemployment Benefits almost 40 years ago.
    I just don’t see how the state and federal funding for Amtrak benefits much of the economy.
    Like the Post Office it has become entrenched in the quicksand of political featherbedding.
    It’s time to make them both pay for themselves.

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