TRAINS Says N.E.C. Is a Big Loser.
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived
and dishonest—but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”
– John F. Kennedy
Call it what you will—-a myth, a lie, or just bullshit—-but news stories about Amtrak constantly state that the Northeast Corridor (Washington-New York-Boston) is profitable and that is simply not true. It is, in fact, a whopper, because the N.E.C. operates way, way deep in the red. Unfortunately, the profitability myth doesn’t go away because it’s presented as fact over and over again in the main stream media.
But not in ALL the media. Veteran transportation reporter Don Phillips confronts this myth in the April issue of TRAINS magazine. Here’s how his excellent column begins:
I’m amazed. In fact, I’m dumbfounded that anyone could ever believe that the Northeast Corridor makes a profit. It doesn’t. The Washington–Boston Amtrak route loses many millions of dollars every year.
Unfortunately, the myth-that-won’t-die is without question the biggest single source of frustration for passenger rail advocates struggling to promote and preserve a national system. Here’s why:
No one disputes the fact that Amtrak loses money. But if you believe the Northeast Corridor is profitable, then you have to believe that all of Amtrak’s losses come from everything else … and that means the long-distance trains. There is no other possibility.
Everyone who has studied this issue agrees that the problem is Amtrak’s accounting system, which heaps a grossly disproportionate amount of cost on the long-distance trains. Furthermore, when reporting profit and loss for the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak does not include the cost of repair and maintenance of the infrastructure—and that’s a huge omission with all those 100-year-old bridges and tunnels to replace.
The problem . . . no, the danger . . . is that too many people in Congress will buy into this myth and little by little, by cutting back federal dollars and shoving more and more of the cost onto unwilling states, they will destroy the long-distance network.
So good for Don Phillips. And good for TRAINS. We can only hope that others in the media will take note and start doing their job.