Amtrak’s Going To The Dogs.
I am often nonplussed by members of Congress who are critical of Amtrak because the railroad operates at a deficit, although that deficit it’s barely a blip on any rational radar screen. The pressure to cut costs is relentless, nevertheless, and has been taken to extremes by Amtrak in an effort to appease those politicians. (My favorite and most ludicrous example, as regulars here know, is the removal of the three olives on a toothpick that garnished each Bloody Mary served in the Pacific Parlour Car on the Coast Starlight.)
So on one hand we have Congress badgering Amtrak to save pennies while, on the other hand we have members passing laws requiring Amtrak to add services that cost Amtrak out-of-pocket, otherwise known in the halls of Congress as “unfunded mandates”.
Case in point: Some time back, Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) wanted to take his bulldog, Lily, with him on a train ride. When he learned that Amtrak did not permit dogs on their trains unless they are working service animals, Denham knew what to do: get his colleagues in Congress to add an amendment to a pending piece of legislation requiring Amtrak to allow passengers to travel with their pets. Of course Amtrak got no additional federal dollars to pay for this new requirement.
I was reminded of this because I was just sent an email from Amtrak announcing a pilot program starting on October 12th that will allow passengers to travel with their pets on trains running in the Northeast Corridor. The Advisory spells out details of the Carry-On-Pet Program for Amtrak employees. And when I say “details”, I mean it goes on and on and on. A total of six pages. I hate to admit it, but I didn’t see anything in there that wasn’t necessary. Clearly, Amtrak has to thoroughly cover all the rules: animals must travel in a carrier that will fit under the passenger’s seat, for instance. Ironically, that means that Congressman Denham still won’t be able to bring his damn bulldog with him on the train. Lily is clearly too big.
Somewhere in the Amtrak bureaucracy there’s an accountant who has figured out what transporting all these pets is going to cost Amtrak. (I guarantee you it’ll be a lot more than those three lousy olives for my Bloody Mary.) Congressman Denham doesn’t care what it costs, of course.
Clearly, this is a case of the tail wagging the . . . Oh, never mind!