Bigger Boulder; Steeper Mountain.
Back in 1970, the freight railroads made a deal: the federal government would let them get out of the passenger business, if they would contribute money and equipment to jump start a government supported national passenger rail system: Amtrak. And, they further agreed that they would give priority to Amtrak trains operating on their tracks.
Several years ago, one brief sentence was deleted from a federal law and the freight railroads apparently took that to mean the feds now have a much smaller stick when it comes to enforcing that original agreement. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Amtrak’s on-time performance has since dropped precipitously. But the lower court’s ruling causing the deletion of that key sentence has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. (This is a vast over-simplification, but it’s to make a point.)
The National Association of Railroad Passengers is a non-profit advocacy organization and, as most of you know, our 501(c)(3) category does not permit us to undertake any partisan activities. Within those ground rules, however, NARP has put forth a lot of extra time and effort into bringing the problem of late trains to the attention of federal officials and members of Congress.
So, in light of the recent elections, we’re now considering what the chances might be of getting new or revised legislation that could induce or even require the freight railroads to once again run Amtrak trains through their systems at or even close to on-time?
While you ponder that, let me note that RailwayAge, the bible of the industry, has just published some illuminating numbers for this most recent election cycle. They graphically illustrate what NARP is up against when it comes to protecting the interests of Amtrak passengers on trains operating over tracks owned by the freight railroads.
– BNSF contributed a total of $7.3 million to individual candidates, political parties and PACs.
– The total for politically related contributions made by CSX
was $8.4 million.
– Norfolk Southern’s total, including lobbying, was $7 million.
– Union Pacific ponied up $12.4 million.
– The Association of American Railroads spent $11.5 million on lobbyists, most of which ended up as campaign contributions.
– And the short line and regional railroads, the “little guys”, &chipped in with $800,000.
That’s a total of more than $47 million bucks used — I’ll put this in polite terms — to enhance the best interests of the private railroads in a non-presidential election year!
That’s what we’re up against. Any questions? OK, then … let’s get to work!
I’m not up on all the specifics, but I can assure you that the guys back in the DC office are and great care is taken that no one sets over that line. Parenthetically, I feel compelled to note that these rules are obviously ignored when churches engage in heavy-duty political activity.
I believe a 501(c)(3) can spend up to maybe 15 percent of its budget on political activities. Check with a tax lawyer. It’s generally assumed they cannot spend anything.