A New Pitch to Congress.
It’s a little before noon on Wednesday as I write this, and a top Amtrak executive is appearing right about now before a Congressional committee. That’s not so unusual. Amtrak people are summoned to appear before our elected representatives regularly as, I suppose, are any organizations receiving support from tax dollars.
But this time was different and interesting and perhaps even significant, because a few days before the hearing, Amtrak’s president and CEO Richard Anderson contacted Jim Mathews, his counterpart at RPA, and ask for suggestions on the message he might bring to the hearing.
This is so interesting! For years, it’s been my impression that the Amtrak leadership has merely gone through the motions when it came to dealing with our organization. That seems to be changing and, if I may say so, it’s about damn time!
Also, a new argument is being developed for presentation to Congress. If I may paraphrase, it goes roughly like this:
For years, you folks in Congress have been bitching about the fact that Amtrak loses money. First of all, that ignores the fact that when Amtrak was created out of the wreckage of the privately owned passenger railroads, no one said diddly-poo about Amtrak having to make money. The whole idea was that Amtrak was needed to provide millions of people with affordable public transportation. Then somewhere along the way over the intervening years, members of Congress began bitching and complaining that Amtrak required a subsidy to stay in business. And they started demanding that Amtrak at least break even.
But that’s not really the point. The fact is, Amtrak is important to the economy even if it loses money. More specifically, the railroad is important to hundreds or thousands of little economies, because countless mom and pop businesses depend on Amtrak for their business–in many cases, for their survival: coffee shops and taxi companies and hotels and B&B’s and museums and rodeos and tour guides and dress shops and drug stores . . . small businesses in small towns and cities all across the country. Amtrak helps support all of these individuals and businesses.
OK, that’s really rough, but you get the idea. Now, I have a half hour to pack up and leave my hotel room, get some lunch and head for King Street Station. Dinner tonight will be aboard the Empire Builder heading for Chicago. My next report will come from there.