NARP’s Jim Mathews is Pissed!

(NARP has been criticized for years by other organizations claiming to be advocates for passenger rail because we receive about $22,000 per year from Amtrak to cover a portion of the salary of the person who facilitates the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee. This, say the critics, means NARP is unable to publicly criticize Amtrak, an accusation that has cropped up in comments received here in recent days … comments prompting the following email from NARP’s president and CEO, Jim Mathews. Since I share his views regarding this criticism, I asked Jim if I could publish his response. Here it is … enjoy!)

“I’m so tired of this b… s… claiming that Amtrak’s payment to us for ACAC prevents us from ever criticizing Amtrak. That’s just dumb. Furthermore it’s insulting, and I think I’m ready to stop being nice and polite about it.
“The next time someone tells me NARP is Amtrak’s lapdog, I’m going to look him in the eye and say, “And how effective have YOU been as an advocate lately? How much traction have YOU gotten by throwing grenades at Amtrak management? How much service have YOU restored? How many dollars did YOU get allocated for restoration of Gulf Coast service? How much did YOU have to do with getting rail added to the Surface Transportation bill?
“It is naive in the extreme for these armchair quarterbacks to think that just because I call—or even if a bunch of our members call—and complain about losing station agents, that Amtrak is going to change its mind. I meet with Amtrak management regularly and not a single conversation goes by without me saying that eliminating station agents is a mistake, that it penalizes the rural traveler and the disabled passenger disproportionately, and that NARP is strongly opposed to that policy. I said as much in a letter last year to Joe Boardman, and I’ve been saying it out loud ever since.
“And…so what? Amtrak is still laying off station managers. They’re still doing it because Congress says they have to eliminate even the puny 7% shortfall after a 93% farebox recovery (an unheard of recovery figure anywhere in the world). That means when station agents retire or change jobs, Amtrak is going to switch to a caretaker or recruit volunteers to run the station.
“The simple truth is, until Congress changes its break-even-or-else policy, Amtrak is not going to change its behavior. How can they?? That’s why I’m more interested in trying to get Congress off Amtrak’s back, so that they feel less pressure to get rid of wine tastings and dining cars and station agents.
“Here’s a good example of what we’re up against. Today, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system gets more federal dollars for its expansion than Amtrak gets for its entire operation. And these self-proclaimed advocates criticize us for not publicly dumping on Amtrak! That is frustrating beyond belief. I wish they would stop criticizing NARP for a non-issue and start criticizing Congress, which is where the blame properly belongs.”