Maybe We Could Learn Something About Privatizing Rail from the Brits.

Way back when Amtrak was still a new undertaking, a couple of the railroad’s higher-ups were “invited” to appear before Congress.

So … how’s it going?

Everyone knew that Amtrak was operating hand-to-mouth and in serious need of a continuing supply of federal dollars to keep the trains running. So of course they smiled and said that profitability was just around the corner. There was even  “study” floating around – Amtrak’s “Roadmap to Self-Sufficiency”.

As one pro-rail observer said later, “Congress put a gun to Amtrak’s head and said ‘Lie to us!’ ”

And the pro-rail people used the promise of eventual profitability to keep the federal dollars flowing. And the anti-rail people have been beating Amtrak over the head with that ever since.

Here’s the thing: Everyone knows that it’s impossible to run a national passenger rail system without a subsidy.  Sure, specific routes could perhaps be run at a profit, but the entire system? No possible way. Not here. Not anywhere.

They took a shot at privatization in the U.K. back not quite 20 years ago. Want to know how it’s working out?

Well, 30,000 passengers in Great Britain were just surveyed as to their satisfaction on a variety of rail-related issues. One of the questions asked about “delays”.  Result? Down four points from last year … to 40 percent. (One of the railroads “scored” 23 percent.)

The survey company also tallied the number of complaints and requests for compensation the various railroad companies had received. There were a little more than 14,138 such complaints in 2012. Last year? Over 43,282.
Jot those numbers down in case you should run into one of those anti-rail, anti-subsidy ideologues. Not that it will do any good.