Is Amtrak Just a “Cross Country Tour Bus”?

Some weeks back in this space I tried to make the point that the folks calling for the privatizing of the Northeast Corridor really don’t know what they’re talking about since Amtrak’s accounting system only considers “above the rails” costs. The billions needed for necessary maintenance and repair are only computed in subsequent equations.
That prompted a comment from a gentleman whom I obviously failed to convince, especially on the subject of the long-distance trains. I’m reprinting his comment here, since the original post was some time back.

Why would you need long distance trains when airplanes get there in a fraction of the time for much less money?  Only people that take those long distance rides are retirees and train enthusiasts who like to enjoy the view.  We don’t need to spend billions of dollars to maintain what is essentially a cross country tour bus.  As long as the train is there for cost effective short distance trips that is economically feasible that serves the need for majority of people who ride the train that is what matters.  Furthermore, this subsidized dinosaur truly breeds the worst in customer service and has the rudest staff I have met in any travel agency.

It’s awfully discouraging when you run into such forceful regurgitation of the crap put out by the anti-rail ideologues. This person is sadly misinformed, and because of the angry tone to the comment, it was probably pointless to respond. Nevertheless I did, point by point. This is how I answered the B.S. that the only people riding the long distance trains are wealthy retirees and train enthusiasts.
“Consider, if you will, a retired couple in their 70’s living in Nebraska. Their daughter lives near Reno, Nevada, with her husband, who is in the military. A new baby has just arrived and the grandparents want to visit their daughter and meet the new grandchild. They could fly, but it’s a two hour drive to the nearest airport and it would involve a change of planes. At their ages, they don’t want to undertake a 1500-mile drive in a 15-year old car. But there’s an Amtrak station in the neighboring town of Hastings and the California Zephyr comes through once a day, and it will take them to Reno. If they travel by coach, the round-trip fare for two seniors would be about $475 or about $120 per person each way.” 
Q: In the face of such a compelling argument, what are the odds I’ve turned this guy around?
A: Right … zero.
The challenge is not getting discouraged in the face of willful ignorance. And there’s sure a lot of it going around, isn’t there!