Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

This Friday will mark the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, certainly one of the more devastating storms every to strike the mainland United States. The story of the havoc Katrina brought to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast east of that city is well known.

Katrina’s storm surge also undermined miles and miles of train tracks and disrupted rail service – both freight and passenger – all through the area. As a result, service by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, which had been operating three days a week between Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida, was discontinued east of New Orleans.

CSX, the freight railroad that owns the tracks over which the Sunset Limited operated, has long since made the repairs, even aligning some of the track farther inland and away from any future storm surges. But Amtrak has never restored the Sunset’s Florida service, and continues to terminate the train in New Orleans.

Finally, toward the end of last year’s session, Congress told Amtrak to come up with a plan for reinstating the Florida portion of the Sunset’s route. Some weeks ago, Amtrak issued it’s report and three possible options were presented. One was to restore the original tri-weekly service, another was to extend the City of New Orleans (Chicago to New Orleans) on to Orlando, and the third was to create a brand new New Orleans-Orlando train.

But as soon as the report was issued, a great hue and cry arose. Many rail advocates felt that the Amtrak report included ridership and revenue projections that were conservative to an extreme. Furthermore, Amtrak said it would need more than a year and a half to restore the same Sunset Limited service that existed pre-Katrina, and that it would be at least four years before either of the other two options could be implemented.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers has just issued a news release in response to the Amtrak report and has followed that up with NARP’s own recommendations.

But the core of the matter, it seems to me, is pretty simple: People want Amtrak to start telling us why something can be done … not why it can’t be done.

Frank Fasi, the former Mayor of Honolulu (and my old boss), left office with more significant accomplishments than any four or five of the other mayors put together … before or since. Frank knew exactly what it takes to get things done in a big bureaucracy … be it a city government or a large corporation like Amtrak:
“You have to spend 10 percent of the time setting policy,” he said, “and ninety-percent of the time kicking people in the ass to make it happen.”
Yo … Joe Boardman! You want I should have Frank call you?