It’s Time We Stood Up to Amtrak.

I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone who has been around the intelligentsia, the rich, and the powerful throughout his professional career. Furthermore, he’s familiar with and sympathetic to what RPA is trying to accomplish: more trains, better trains, faster trains.
Early in our conversation, I was complaining about the loss of the Pacific Parlour Cars when he interrupted with a question:
“Looking back over the years, what has your organization ever asked for and gotten from Amtrak? Something that has actually improved passenger service.”
“Well,” I said, Amtrak was going to implement a bus bridge on the Southwest Chief and we objected. It looks like we succeeded in stopping that.
“That’s not what I mean,” he said. “You opposed something so stupid it would never have happened anyway. So that doesn’t count. But has Amtrak ever actually given you guys something you’ve asked for? Something that would have improved the national system?”
He waited, while I tried to think of something.
“You’ve asked them to make the Sunset Limited and the Cardinal daily trains,” he said. “Any progress there?”
“No,” I admitted.
“Has Amtrak made a serious effort to get service restored to the Florida Panhandle?”
“No.” I was not enjoying this conversation.
“It seems to me they are constantly “rope-a-doping” you. Taking your concerns “under advisement” or having a study done or blaming the freight railroads, but never delivering for you or your members. And you’ve been lugging their water for 50 years! “
And that, I’m afraid, is the painful truth. We have headed off some bad ideas and we have certainly helped to increase support for Amtrak in Congress. But from this day forward, Amtrak had damn well better start taking RPA seriously. Because we’re on to them. As of today, no more Mr. Nice Guy!
How about this as a start: We want Amtrak to put dining cars back on the Lake Shore Limited and the Capitol Limited. Do it because your passengers want it. And do it because we’re asked.
And if we get the usual run-around, we inform Amtrak that we’re drafting a formal letter to all 575 individual members of Congress—House and Senate both—saying the Rail Passengers Association has reluctantly concluded that Amtrak is not serious about improving the quality of service it provides to our members and the general public. Therefore, RPA recommends that Amtrak receive no further federal assistance until there’s an obvious improvement in the quality of service now provided to the general public.
That sure as hell would get some attention.