We keep hearing it and reading it and, no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to correct the misinformation coming from columnists and reporters and politicians about Amtrak’s long-distance trains. There’s a lot they get wrong, but basically it boils down to these two fundamental errors of fact:
The Northeast Corridor is profitable and Amtrak’s long-distance trains lose billions.
Not so. Amtrak’s accounting system shifts a disproportionate amount of operating costs from the Northeast Corridor onto the long-distance trains. Most outside experts agree that if the long-distance trains were evaluated separately and fairly, they would probably show a profit.
In subsidizing Amtrak’s long-distance trains, taxpayers are picking up part of the cost for wealthy people traveling across the country in sleeping car luxury.
Also wrong. Amtrak is no doubt to blame for some of this misperception because that’s how long-distance train travel is portrayed in their marketing effort . . . and should be. But a breakdown of who most of the passengers really are and where they’re going shows something entirely different.
Let’s take a look at just one of the long-distance trains, the Empire Builder. It operates daily over a 2,200 mile route between Chicago and either Portland or Seattle on the West Coast. Typically two-thirds of the passengers are on board for only about 600 miles, which means they’re traveling to or from or between intermediate stops . . . and there are 38 of those. Furthermore, most of the people getting on or off at those stops are coach passengers taking advantage of the only affordable public transportation available to them.
What members of Congress need to understand is that Amtrak’s long-distance trains are NOT losing money . . . not really. And by refusing to fund ANY subsidy for Amtrak, Congress could very likely be causing the shut-down of Amtrak trains serving people across most of the south, the mid-west and the west. According to one knowledgable source, Amtrak’s long-distance trains provide the only affordable public transportation for more than 100 million Americans.
As we speak, Republicans in Congress are trying to convince Trump voters that less health care for fewer Americans is a good thing. For their next act, they can try convincing people in more than 35 states that they should give up their only affordable public transportation so the Trump Administration can save $1.5 billion a year by eliminating Amtrak’s subsidy.
Hey . . . not a problem! Explaining that should be a piece of cake for Sean Spicer.