There Are Poor Decisions…and Bad Decisions…and Terrible Decisions.

We all know there’s an element in Congress that would be perfectly happy if Amtrak were to stop running tomorrow. In the meantime, they continue to bring relentless pressure on Amtrak for more and more cost cutting in order to reduce the amount of annual subsidy our national passenger rail system needs to continue limping along.
Regulars here know the basic facts: Amtrak has been getting about $1.4 billion a year … a pathetic amount that is a minuscule fraction of one percent of the federal budget. 

 Still Amtrak continues to be harassed by people like Congressman John Mica, who think Amtrak shouldn’t be losing money on its food service and, to make his point, alerts the media, then runs down to the tracks and waves a Big Mac at passing Amtrak trains. 

I think all this badgering has driven a number of key Amtrak executives over the edge. Want an example? I thought you’d never ask!
A friend of mine from boarding school days who now lives in Boulder, Colorado, decided to take a long-distance train ride with his wife and apparently my book and this blog played a small role in that decision. Their itinerary included traveling from Los Angeles to Oakland on the Coast Starlight, and connecting there with the California Zephyr for the ride back to Denver.
Upon boarding the Coast Starlight in Los Angeles, they settled into their seats on the left side of the train, following the advice in my book, because that’s where the wonderful ocean views are for the first five hours or so. Here’s what he said in an email to me after they got home:
“When we got on the train, the car seemed quite dark. Once underway, there appeared to be a mesh over the window … Only about 50 percent of the available light was getting through the window and the view was blurred.When we go off the train [in Oakland], we saw that our car looked for all the world like a rolling billboard … The wrap-around advertising is evidently a perforated vinyl sheet with the message printed on the outside, and it covers the windows of the train!” 
And now, permit me to quote verbatim from the page on Amtrak’s website that talks about the Coast Starlight:
“Widely regarded as one of the most spectacular of all train routes, the Coast Starlight links the greatest cities on the West Coast. The scenery along the Coast Starlight route is unsurpassed.”
But on May 25th, if you happened to be sitting in the next-to-last Superliner coach of Amtrak train 14’s consist, your view of all that unsurpassed scenery was obscured so Amtrak could earn a few bucks and be able to tell people in Congress like John Mica that everything possible is being done to reduce the need for federal subsidies.
That’s really dumb, isn’t it! First, because two people were giving Amtrak a try and came away feeling that Amtrak doesn’t give a damn about them. And second, because John Mica only cares about pandering to his uninformed constituents and really doesn’t give a damn about Amtrak.
I have no idea what Amtrak was paid for that wrap-around ad, but it wasn’t nearly enough.