I Wish They Would at Least Fight Fair!

The battle continues non-stop between those of us who advocate more and better trains and the folks who are anti-Amtrak and anti-rail. But – dammit! – I do wish the other side would stop distorting their figures and misrepresenting their facts. It makes it hard to engage in serious discussions that should be helping people make up their minds. Instead, they deliberately muddy an already complex social issue.

First, there’s the recent story originating with Bloomberg and then circulating throughout the internet media about improvements to the Northeast Corridor. Someone at Bloomberg took the cost of improving a 24-mile stretch of track in New Jersey, divided that by the improved running time over the entire Washington-to-New York route, and came up with a wonderfully sensational headline: The cost to taxpayers for shaving 1:40 off the running time for those trains was $4.5 million a second. You can imagine the outrage that stirred up! Of course, the real benefit will be to several hundred passengers, on board dozens of trains running every day, every week, every year, on into the future. And let’s not forget all the jobs those track improvements will provide. Ah, but what’s all that compared to coming up with a cheap-shot headline to generate snickers from all the shallow-thinkers!

Ticketing and waiting area for Amtrak passengers in the present-day Atlanta station. Trans arrive and depart on a lower level.

Then there’s Randall Utt, who cranks out endless anti-Amtrak op-ed pieces on behalf of the Libertarian-funded Heritage Foundation. His most recent effort is a column that appeared the other day in Atlanta’s daily newspaper, the Constitution Journal. In it, he attacks the plan to build a new Amtrak station for that city as – of course! – a waste of tax dollars. He cites a 16 percent increase in Amtrak passenger traffic and says it’s wasteful to spend $38 million dollars to accommodate just 40 people a day.

See what he’s done? He’s not counting the 308 Amtrak passengers a day who are already using that station. He’s also not counting increased ridership in the future. Utt makes it sound as though just a handful of people would use that new station, but right now, today, the new station facility would serve something like 130,000 people a year. And – oh, yes – Utt also conveniently leaves out the fact that commuter trains will also use the new station.

C’mon, guys … fight fair! Of course, you won’t have much of an argument if you do.