Amtrak: Problems, But Few Solutions.

I was thinking about Amtrak earlier today and about all the problems they’re facing … problems with solutions not immediately apparent. Consider the following:

  • Amtrak is under a mandate from a meddling Congress to break even on their food service within five years. But degrading the food service will reduce ridership and, in turn, mean less revenue.
  • Some of the maintenance and repairs to the Northeast Corridor infrastructure have been deferred, and the need for new construction—tunnels and bridges—is becoming acute. Cost estimate: $50 billion plus, and Amtrak ain’t got it.
  • Most of Amtrak’s equipment is old, increasingly expensive to repair and refurbish, and there isn’t enough of it anyway. And there’s no money for new stuff.
  • Amtrak’s CEO, Joe Boardman, has announced he’s retiring in four or five months and the search for a replacement is underway. In the meantime, no matter how badly new ideas might be needed, who among upper level management is going to suggest any bold initiatives until the new boss comes aboard?

All of these seemingly insoluble problems reminded me of a story—quite apocryphal, I assure you, but funny—about the head of a big city’s water department reporting to the mayor on the results of a study to determine the quality of the water supply by the year 2050.
“Mr. Mayor,” he says, “the study has some good news and some bad news.”
“Well,” says the mayor, “give me the good news first.”
“The good news,” says the department head, “is that by the year 2050 we’ll all be drinking each other’s sewage.”
The mayor is shocked. “My God!” he says, “if that’s the good news, what’s the bad news?”
“The bad news,” says the head of the water department, “is there ain’t gonna be enough to go around.”
Fixing Amtrak is just a question of money. Getting enough will take vision and resolve on the part of our elected leaders. Those without those qualities? Boot their sorry asses out and elect men and woman who have them. We’re running out of time.