100 Percent In Favor of Progress … But Not Yet.

Amtrak was created back in the early 70s because railroads operating at the time desperately wanted to get out of the passenger business. Why? Because the money was in freight and most passenger service was a money-losing proposition. So Congress created Amtrak because the lawmakers correctly felt that a national passenger rail system was a necessary part of an integrated transportation system. Also because people living outside the large urban centers needed rail travel as an option.

As I’ve discussed frequently in earlier posts, train travel is making a big comeback due to the high cost of gasoline and the deep cutbacks in flights being offered by the aitlines. As a result, some politicians in Idaho are agitating for Amtrak to restore the Pioneer, a train that operated between Chicago and Seattle and ran through their state. Amtrak stopped running the Pioneer as a cost-saving move in 1997.

Not all politicians are for restoration of the Pioneer, however. Some – and guess which political party they represent! – are complaining that the train lost money and would likely do so again.

Cliff Black , Amtrak’s communications poobah, sees the irony: “It’s a perverse kind of thing,” he says. “Amtrak was created because intercity passenger service was unprofitable, yet our critics use profitability to bludgeon us as a failure.”

The politicians who keep pressing Amtrak to become profitable haven’t a clue. No national passenger rail system anywhere in the world is profitable. And the politicians who want to take high-volume segments of the Amtrak system and privatize them have to be smoking funny cigarettes. Assuming private companies could actually run those routes at a profit – a very doubtful supposition – the net result would just mean Amtrak would no longer have the revenue from those busy routes, resulting in the need for even more federal dollars to support the rest of the system.

What’s so damn hard to understand about that?