For several years now, Amtrak has been in a cost-cutting mode. Any of us who ride regularly, especially in a sleeper on long-distance trains, are well aware of the lengths to which Amtrak has gone in order to save money.
A classic example—one of many, I regret to say—is the complimentary hot coffee for passengers in every sleeping car. For years, it was available from dawn right up ’til midnight. Not any more. By edict from Amtrak’s powers-that-be, sleeping car attendants must now pull the plug on their coffee urns at 9:30 a.m.
As much as we might decry these nit-picky efforts to reduce costs, it does seem to be helping the railroad inch its way toward break-even, if not actual profitability. Consider that Amtrak’s operating loss last year was $230 million. That’s a lot of money, but in the previous decade, annual operating losses have been as much as twice that amount.
And here’s another plus: Amtrak ridership is up. For the most recent year, it has increased by 1.5% to a system-wide total of 31.7 million passengers. And revenue was up, too: an increase of 1.1% to $3.2 billion.
The reality is that Amtrak recovers 95% of its operating costs from ticket sales and other revenue. That makes Amtrak, as one company official told me with a rueful smile a couple of years ago, “the most profitable money-losing national passenger railroad in the world.”
For those who know anything about public transportation, that’s actually a very big deal. Of course the Trump Administration is unimpressed. In fact, the budget they sent to Congress proposed reducing Amtrak’s federal subsidy to zero, pitifully small though it may be. The stated intent was to kill off the national network. Fortunately, it seems unlikely that Congress will go along.
But here’s the REAL problem … the elephant in the room: those numbers don’t include the staggering amount needed for infrastructure improvements and deferred maintenance projects. The cost of all that? In excess of $50 billion. And then, of course, there’s the matter of badly needed new equipment. So, you ask, what about all that campaign talk of a massive multi-billion-dollar effort to bring our infrastructure up to date . . . tunnels, roads, bridges and all the rest? Forget it. Just more Trump B.S.