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Train Funding

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John Boehner may think discussing Amtrak funding in the wake of the crash is “stupid” but of course it isn’t. Boehner notes that the crash was caused by the train going too fast, not infrastructure. But it’s not like high-speed trains are unknown in the world. Instead, Republicans prefer to attack the terrible national train system we already have because only those urban hippies ride trains, not good truck drivin’ folk. We could invest in super-modern high-speed trains that could zip Americans around the nation. We could also invest in better safety infrastructure so that such train wrecks don’t happen if they are the fault of the conductor. Instead, the rail industry and its Republican friends are pushing for the reduction of train crews on freight trains, which would only cause more crashes.

So Democrats should absolutely push for greater Amtrak funding in the wake of the crash. I don’t expect Boehner or any Republican to take any real heat for opposing this, but at least it makes their moral position on these issues more clear.

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  • Craigo

    It’s the same Republican approach that they take to the IRS or the safety net. Cut funding until something goes terribly wrong, and use that as an excuse to cut funding again.

    • UncleEbeneezer

      Right. Don’t forget the part where they all screech POLITICIZING A TRAGEDY!!1! when Democrats point out that this is exactly the reason that funding is needed. But of course it’s inappropriate to have that conversation now. That conversation needs to wait 6 months or whatever, until the time when nobody actually wants to have it anymore.

      • gratuitous

        Sadly, the Goldilocks Moment (when it’s “just right”) to discuss practical responses to a tragedy can be discerned only in retrospect. Yesterday, it was too early, and politicized the tragedy by pointing out how Republican policies and governance directly set the stage for eight people to be killed. It will remain “too early” until one day when it gets brought up, and John Boehner will tell us it’s now too late to get any legislation in the hopper. When was the time it was just right? We can only tell you that when it’s too late.

        • JR in WV

          Eric,

          I have a couple of photos from a 2013 trip we took to upper Spain and southern France to tour the ancient caves with paintings. By chance I took a couple of photos of train transit, sce I was taking pix of everything, trains were included.

          I have made small files or these two photos which I would be happy to email you for inclusion in this thread. If I had an email address…

          I wish I had a picture of the train passing through the rural village we spent several days in, but it didn’t happen at the right time for a snapshot… you can go everywhere in France on a train.

          One picture is inter city and one is urban transit…

          JR

          • Lee Rudolph

            Did “upper Spain” by any chance include Tito Bustillo? That one, more than any of the others we saw on various trips back in the 1980s, totally blew my mind: it had only been (re)discovered less than 20 years earlier, so perhaps more recent research has changed scholars’ minds, but at the time they believed people had lived there for 12,000 consecutive years before an earthquake closed it off entirely on one fine day 10,000 years before present, entombing some (or all?) of its final inhabitants. (The fact that we saw it in the middle of the week when northern Spain, unannounced at that point by the benevolent European authorities, was getting its share of Chernobyl fallout, only added to the mind-blowing qualities when we found out.)

  • Boehner is, as usual, completely wrong about them being disconnected. Firstly, low funding and ever-higher ridership means that engineers are working longer hours, becoming exhausted and more likely to make mistakes. Secondly, Amtrak’s low funding means that it didn’t have positive train control installed yet, which would have absolutely prevented the crash.

    • Malaclypse

      And positive train control is a capital expense, not a routine repair, so it is precisely the target of the proposed cuts.

    • efgoldman

      We could also invest in better safety infrastructure so that such train wrecks don’t happen if they are the fault of the conductor.

      Firstly, low funding and ever-higher ridership means that conductors are working longer hours

      Umm, train geek pedant here.
      Conductors collect the tickets from the passengers (among other things). The person that drives the train is the engineer, or sometimes in our time, the operator.

      ETA: And Flip yer Whig below beat me to it.

      • Will edit. It doesn’t pay to argue with the trainspotters.

    • Hogan

      Per the NYT, Amtrak has already bought and installed all the necessary hardware for PTC. But the government has refused to provide them with the bandwidth to operate it wirelessly, so Amtrak has been negotiating with private providers for the last four years.

      In conclusion, fuck a bunch of Speaker Boehner.

  • djw

    I wonder if the 30K and change car accident fatalities are a reason to stop spending money on roads…

    • Craigo

      Obviously, we need to spend more money building safer roads.

    • Shantanu Saha

      Given the state of the Highway Trust Fund, the answer would probably be “yes.”

    • sparks

      The freeways in my state should be turned over to private enterprise because locally, 12 people have died in wrong-way driver accidents since January. Private enterprise would know how to keep that from happening.

      • efgoldman

        Private enterprise would know how to keep that from happening.

        By charging $5/mile in tolls, of course.
        How has privatizing worked out for Indiana?

        • wengler

          The Indiana toll roads feel like being trapped in some creepy Sovietized version of the future. There are very few exits punctuated by monopolized fast food courts/gas stations every 25 miles. Of course the service at the food bars are glacial if more than half a dozen people order, but deviation from the toll road into any sort of free market will cost you both on exit and entrance.

  • FlipYrWhig

    We could also invest in better safety infrastructure so that such train wrecks don’t happen if they are the fault of the conductor.

    ITYM the engineer, not the conductor.

  • Owlbear1

    I think Republicans have made it clear for a very long time that God hates moocherspoor people with phones and refrigerators.

    Jesus was quite clear on this when he intoned, “The Flock can fucking walk!”

    • so-in-so

      Did Jesus mention trains favorably, even once?

      I rest my case…

      • efgoldman

        Did Jesus mention trains favorably, even once?

        He never sermonized against them, unless it’s in the apocrypha.

      • FlipYrWhig

        It’s not Jesus who hates rail transit, it’s the Founding Fathers:

        But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government

  • DrDick

    Boehner is right, however, that he would be stupid to talk about rail funding in the wake of the crash.

    • So it’s the NRA argument writ large, which begs the question: when else can we talk about it? We have the people’s attention. Now is the time.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Gun-grabbingcontrol!!!

    • Richard Gadsden

      Funny how Britain’s national response to Ladbroke Grove was “what do we need to do to stop this happening again?”. And we paid what it cost.

  • SgtGymBunny

    Eh… Why our elected congress persons (particularly of the GOP variety) hate rail transport is beyond me, especially with respect to commuter federal transit benefits. Every friggin’ year us MARC (Baltimore-DC)/Metro commuters have to worry if the IRS is going scalp our transit benefit while increasing PARKING benefits… WTF????

    And it’s not like train riders in particular are piss-poor, low-wage, darky urban-dwellers. There are a lot of middle- to upper-class suburban salaried professionals in this group. Politics of said demographics aside, most would probably agree that taking the train into DC or from DC to NY and points in between, is less painful than being parked on the Capitol Beltway every morning and evening. I don’t give flying fuck how many looks of pity I get when I tell people I commute from Baltimore, but anybody who has to enter the Capitol Beltway during rush hour has a commute that is objectively more stressful than mine (I power nap on the train!).

    True story, I was just chatting with a Russian friend of mine last week. He had nothing but crass and derisive jokes about Amtrak: Why does it take over a day to go from Chicago to NY? WTF???? He was talking American rail travel like he was talking about wagon trails.

    • efgoldman

      most would probably agree that taking the train into DC or from DC to NY and points in between, is less painful than being parked on the Capitol Beltway every morning and evening.

      mrs efgoldman and I chose the train to go from RI (but we drive to Route 128) to DC. Yeah, flying is much quicker – although with all the airport bullshit security theater, have to leave the house almost as early. In order to get the discount airfare, we have to take the 6am flight out, which means getting up at 4am. Then when we get tp DC, our hotel room is often not ready.
      In March, it was a good thing we took the train. That lovely DC snowstorm happened the day before we came back; there were no flights (a bunch of trains were cancelled too, but not ours.) We sat in nice big seats, were able to walk around, take a nap….

      • TribalistMeathead

        Traveling DC to NYC for business, when I could expense a car ride to/from National and LaGuardia, was on the Shuttle.

        Traveling NYC to DC for pleasure was the train when I could afford it and, when I couldn’t, the bus.

        I’m joking, of course. Pleasure IS my business.

    • dilan

      Why does it take over a day to go from Chicago to NY? Because the Water Level Route is used for freight as well as passengers, and it would probably cost several trillion dollars to upgrade it to high speed rail. And then you would be talking about 10 hours if we got it to American-style high speed rail, or maybe 6 hours if we got it to Shinkansen-style (which would be a total pipe dream).

      And other than as a red-eye, that’s just not going to be competitive with air travel for business travelers. That’s the basic problem. You need the cities to be big and close together. They have that in Europe. We have that on the east coast and in a few corridors (Chicago-Milwaukee, Chicago-St. Louis, Los Angeles-San Diego, San Francisco area-San Jose and Sacramento, and Seattle-Portland and Vancouver, Orlando-Tampa-Miami, and maybe a couple of others). New York and Chicago are both huge markets, but they are too far away for a train to work, and that’s before you even get to the practical question about displacing all the freight that runs along that route.

      Trains are great. But you need all the ducks to line up in a row for them to work. They don’t line up on NY-Chicago.

      • Richard Gadsden

        A brand-new direct (ie roughly parallel to I-80) NY-Chicago route at 350km/h would be about three and a half hours non-stop. I suspect that would compete pretty well with air travel, especially running between Penn Station and Union Station (and avoiding those long journeys to the airports). Probably 150-200 billion dollars, not trillions, and not unaffordable, in that, unlike the NEC, most of the route is not urban. In practice, you’d have one stop, in the suburbs of Cleveland (running a high-speed train through a city is amazingly expensive, like $25 billion of tunnels and $10bn of station constuction; might make sense for Chicago and New York but not anywhere else. Suburban station or downtown terminus everyhere else).

        From an office in Manhattan to one in central Chicago, the train would be an hour quicker than flying, more comfortable, greater ability to work en route, no security theater. There probably isn’t enough market to pay off the capital cost of construction (unlike Boston-NY-Philadelphia-DC) but you’d certainly have an operating surplus.

      • elm

        I think Dilan is right: there are limited areas where HSR will really work as a competitor to airplane/car travel.

        You could do one in Florida (and they still might, despite Rick Scott refusing the bailout cash to help.) You could do a few out on the West Coast (S. California; N. California; maybe Seattle/Portland, though I don’t know how much traffic exists between the cities.) Texas would be ideal: a triangle between Houston/Dallas/San Antonio with a definite stop in Austin and perhaps in College Station and a couple of other smaller cities in between.

        You could have a few centered on Chicago: Milwaukee, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Detroit are all fairly close, maybe Cleveland as well.

        NY/Chicago is problematic. As Richard says, if it’s direct, it might be competitive, but it won’t be direct. It won’t follow I-80, at least not at the start, because you’ll want to dip south to bring in Philly, and then you’ll want to stop in Pitt and Cleveland, maybe make a brief detour to bring in Detroit, before finishing in Chicago.

  • dilan

    There isn’t a pure 1 to 1 correspondence between Amtrak funding and these sorts of improvements, because so much of Amtrak funding is wasted on long distance trains in an effort to get support from the maximum number of rural state politicians, as well as the foamers who are passionate about trains.

    We probably could have had positive train control on the NE Corridor years ago, if Amtrak were simply allowed to spend the revenues generated by those routes on infrastructure improvements for those routes instead of having to spend a bunch of money on sleepers and diners for retired people who love trains as a hobby. (And I say this as someone who actually likes riding those long distance trains. Nonetheless, they aren’t justifiable as a government expense, except as low cost coach transportation for poor people minus the sleepers and diners.)

    • Rob in CT

      I basically agree with this.

      I wouldn’t be opposed to Amtrack keeping some of the not-egregiously unprofitable routes, and only kill the really bad ones. I remember a really good breakdown of Amtrak’s route costs a few years ago and there were a particular set of routes that were just *awful* on a dollar-per-passenger served basis. Those should go.

    • TribalistMeathead

      “sleepers and diners for retired people who love trains as a hobby”

      This is libertarian horseshit. All those trains stop in a lot of small towns and communities that rely on Amtrak not to get from Chicago to Los Angeles, but to get to a lot of points in between that were long abandoned by long-distance bus lines and aren’t near airports.

      • wjts

        I take Amtrak from Pittsburgh to New York City every few years. There’s only one train a day, but plenty of folks get on or off at Latrobe, Johnstown, Altoona, and the various other middles of nowhere you find in Pennsylvania.

        • djw

          Latrobe sees something like an average of 3.5 on/offs per train. It’s so lighly used it’s been reduced to a flag stop. But at any rate the Pennsylvanian isn’t a great train but it’s not the kind of train Dolan is rightly complaining about. It’s a ~9 hour day train. No outrageous subsidy-per-rider sleepers.

      • dilan

        If you read my post, I said subsidies for low cost transport between cities on the route is fine. That isn’t what is costing so much money.

        But there should be no subsidies for bedrooms or steak dinners in the diner. Via Rail Canada charges closer to cost for sleepers and diners, and it is far more expensive.

        We are paying a ton to subsidize the nostalgic hobby of some people. We can deliver basic service without doing that, and have far more money available for the Northeast Corridor, which is ridden by far, far more people and is a major transportation priority.

        • TribalistMeathead

          If you read my post, I said subsidies for low cost transport between cities on the route is fine.

          And then you go on to say:

          We are paying a ton to subsidize the nostalgic hobby of some people.

          • dilan

            We are. Subsidies for sleepers and diners is exactly that.

        • But there should be no subsidies for bedrooms or steak dinners in the diner. Via Rail Canada charges closer to cost for sleepers and diners, and it is far more expensive.

          1) The average cost of Amtrak sleeper accomodation is comparable to VIA Rail accomodation; Amtrak does a lot more yield management than VIA Rail does,
          so the range of sleeper fares is fairly wide.

          2) if the long haul trains are killed out of spite, that money will not magically go over to the NEC, it will simply go away.

          3) “nostalga hobby”, like “foamer”, are insults that show you’re more interested in kicking hippies than discussing the issue.

          • dilan

            1. Your statement is completely false. In fact, the stark difference between Via and Amtrak sleeper fares has been widely discussed, including on foamer message boards:

            From Trip Advisor:

            “I have priced Via Rail in Canada, and found them to be more expensive then Amtrak.”

            “Yes, you are right about Via Rail in Canada being more expensive.”

            From Amtrak Unlimited:

            “I was doing a price check on Via Rail to see how much a trip on the Canadian would cost. It does make Amtrak’s prices seem like Walmart’s prices in comparison.

            Prices Based On Two People Traveling Together Departing On 11/11/2014

            Amtrak SEA -> Chicago (Empire Builder)
            Low Bucket Bedroom Total: $1735.00

            Canadian Vancouver -> Toronto
            Low Bucket Total: $2721.60 CAD = 2538.33 USD

            Now after doing other random date searches, it looks like Via Rail is much much higher than Amtrak”

            2. Nobody’s saying “kill the long haul trains out of spite”. What we are saying is “don’t subsidize the sleepers and diners– charge full price plus profit for those and only subsidize the low income riders who ride coach and use the snack car”. We can still have long distance trains in such a scenario. Pleasure cruises might be more expensive, but the trains will still serve their actual transportation function of linking small towns.

            Further, your statement that the money saved by not subsidizing sleepers and diners will “go away” is both nonsensical and silly. It’s nonsensical because there is no proof offered that the only subsidies that could possibly be available are for sleepers and diners, and it is silly because we shouldn’t spend one cent subsidizing sleepers and diners– which serve non-needy people– anyway.

            3. “Nostalgia hobby” and “foamers” are accurate. And the point isn’t that anyone shouldn’t have trains as a hobby. As I said, I like trains! It’s that if you have trains as a hobby, you shouldn’t expect the taxpayers to subsidize your fun unless the subsidy helps lower income people have additional transportation options, and you also shouldn’t expect that your fun would be a greater priority than the Northeast Corridor which tens of thousands of people ride and which could use some reinvestment of its operating revenues for things like PTC.

            • Richard Gadsden

              “Foamer”. Really? Why not call them “railfan” like they call themselves? It makes your point perfectly adequately, without gratuitously insulting people.

              • dilan

                1. Many of them call themselves foamers anyway.

                2. They are a problem here because they tend to support subsidizing the wrong sort of passenger rail: the sort their hobby is centered on.

                3. I don’t see why anyone has to treat people who have a bad influence with kid gloves. “Foamer” is no different than “teahadi” and similar.

                • 1. Many of them call themselves foamers anyway.

                  I’m a railfan and I must disagree. Railroad employees call railfans foamers, but railfan employees ≠ railfans, and the railfans I know (including myself) consider it to be a childish insult.

                  2. They are a problem here because they tend to support subsidizing the wrong sort of passenger rail: the sort their hobby is centered on.

                  The railfans that I know who care about passenger trains don’t have any sort of emotional attachment to sleeping cars and are pretty much indifferent to the existance of modern passenger trains except for enginespotting purposes. The people who do have an emotional attachment to sleeping cars are generally older well-off Republicans who have carved out an exception to their pathological hatred of all things government.

                  It seems the height of naïveté to assume that a reduction in service that will only annoy the only Republicans that care /at all/ about Amtrak will result in those subsidies flowing seamlessly into the passenger service you care about.

                • jim, some guy in iowa

                  David Parsons: I’m kind of a casual railfan myself, and from what I see reading captions at RailPicturesdotnet I get the distinct impression Amtrak is considered more than a bit of a joke by a lot of railfans- is that an unfair observation on my part?

                  I’d also have to say that the overwhelming majority of the people I’ve watched coming on and off the Empire Builder at a small city between St Paul and Chicago really weren’t the stereotypical fatcat republican passenger. I wasn’t sure there were enough of them to justify the train though

                • dilan

                  It seems the height of naïveté to assume that a reduction in service that will only annoy the only Republicans that care /at all/ about Amtrak will result in those subsidies flowing seamlessly into the passenger service you care about.

                  Well, right now, we have several people dead because of positive train control, while the long distance routes get money that could have paid for it. It might be time to reassess the political realities of this.

                  But further, I see lots of stuff written by foamers, and yes, they love diners and sleepers. They have their spin terms (they love to talk about “the national network”, as if the Northeast Corridor relies on people connecting in from Thurmond, WV on the Cardinal or something) for what they support, but yes, they are aghast at the idea that anyone wouldn’t want to subsidize the sleepers and diners.

                • Well, right now, we have several people dead because of positive train control,

                  WHAT? No, we have people dead because of a LACK OF IT. Are you ever capable of being correct? Really, you are a fucking idiot.

                  Do you actively strive to be wrong about such things? I wonder, because you consistently get on the wrong side of them.

                • dilan

                  Nostra:

                  That was a typo, which you can probably discern from the rest of the sentence.

                • djw

                  It seems the height of naïveté to assume that a reduction in service that will only annoy the only Republicans that care /at all/ about Amtrak will result in those subsidies flowing seamlessly into the passenger service you care about.

                  Of course, this is a complete strawman. “It would be wiser to fund ABC instead of XYZ” isn’t an argument that reduced funding for XYZ would automatically go to ABC. It’s just misdirection, because you can’t defend the policy of spending a significant portion of our rail subsidy money funding people’s expensive vacations, rather than vital transportation needs, on the merits.

                • jben

                  Of course, this is a complete strawman. “It would be wiser to fund ABC instead of XYZ” isn’t an argument that reduced funding for XYZ would automatically go to ABC. It’s just misdirection, because you can’t defend the policy of spending a significant portion of our rail subsidy money funding people’s expensive vacations, rather than vital transportation needs, on the merits.

                  Am I wrong in thinking that long-distance trains actually do serve a useful public purpose? The Empire Builder does serve a reasonable number of small towns that don’t really have alternate transportation options, after all.

                  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really support the current distribution of Amtrak funding either. And it seems perfectly reasonable to me to charge the full market price for accommodations in the sleeping car and meals in the dining car. But eliminating the long -distance routes entirely would leave a pretty sizable part of the country without passenger rail service.*

                  If you were to replace them with non-sleeper shorter-duration trains serving the same general area, I could get behind that. That might cost more money though, as you’d probably have to run more trains.

                • jben

                  David Parsons: I’m kind of a casual railfan myself, and from what I see reading captions at RailPicturesdotnet I get the distinct impression Amtrak is considered more than a bit of a joke by a lot of railfans- is that an unfair observation on my part?

                  That’s because Amtrak is a joke in many ways. There’s decent rail service along the NEC, and passable service in Southern California (and parts of Northern California, and possibly a few other cities). But the rest of the country gets either bare-bones service (one train every day-or less), or no service at all. Vegas, for example has no train service, and Phoenix and Tuscon get one “tri-weekly” train at an ungodly hour. The fact that so many sizable cities only get one train at three in the morning is an abomination-and helps contribute to low ridership.

                  The problem is, to build a better rail system, Amtrak would need a lot more funding than it gets.

                • dilan

                  If you were to replace them with non-sleeper shorter-duration trains serving the same general area, I could get behind that. That might cost more money though, as you’d probably have to run more trains.

                  How about just run the Builder as all-coach with a snack car? That would almost certainly lose far less money and serve all the small towns.

                • dilan

                  How about just run the Builder as all-coach with a snack car? That would almost certainly lose far less money and serve all the small towns.

                  Just so everyone knows, that’s basically what Southern Pacific was doing with its long distance routes before Amtrak was created. In other words, a private, for profit enterprise, faced with a mandate to run long distance trains, determined that this was the approach that lost the least amount of money.

                • It’s just misdirection, because you can’t defend the policy of spending a significant portion of our rail subsidy money funding people’s expensive vacations, rather than vital transportation needs, on the merits.

                  I am not particularly convinced that the $74 million/year subsidy for the CZ (which apparently was the big moneyloser in the long-haul train department, doing even worse than the neglected Sunset Limited?) is solely the fault of the sleeping and dining cars.

                  NARP claims that Amtrak makes a profit on the sleepers; I don’t know if that’s the case but when I looked at Amtrak’s ridership/revenue #s for the CZ I got an average return of $118 per coach passenger and $290 per sleeper passenger. If Amtrak is able to keep the sleepers full (yield management, yo!) then they’d be better off dropping the coaches and running the CZ as a sleeper-only train.

                  So the argument about subsidizing vacations? I’m not convinced that it’s anything other than ressentiment.

                  (vending machine cars)

                  Just so everyone knows, that’s basically what Southern Pacific was doing with its long distance routes before Amtrak was created.

                  The Espee was actively trying to drive passengers away so that the feds would let them abandon those trains.

                • dilan

                  I am not particularly convinced that the $74 million/year subsidy for the CZ (which apparently was the big moneyloser in the long-haul train department, doing even worse than the neglected Sunset Limited?) is solely the fault of the sleeping and dining cars.

                  “Solely” is a weasel word. Is it PARTIALLY the fault of the sleeping and dining cars? Such that if we eliminated them or raised their prices we might actually reduce Amtrak’s costs and free up money to do safety upgrades like Positive Train Control on the trains that huge numbers of people actually ride and save some lives?

                  NARP claims that Amtrak makes a profit on the sleepers; I don’t know if that’s the case but when I looked at Amtrak’s ridership/revenue #s for the CZ I got an average return of $118 per coach passenger and $290 per sleeper passenger. If Amtrak is able to keep the sleepers full (yield management, yo!) then they’d be better off dropping the coaches and running the CZ as a sleeper-only train.

                  NARP, the National Association of Rail Passengers, is the foamers lobby. They will never, ever publish any statistics that are not deliberately skewed to make sleepers and diners look profitable.

                  Meanwhile, the trains that lose the most money are all sleeping car trains, Amtrak food service loses a ton of money as widely reported, and back when the private railroads were still running the trains, they cut costs by cutting out the sleepers and diners and replacing them with coaches and automats.

                  So as Chico Marx would say, who are we going to believe, the NARP or our own eyes?

                  Further, “revenue” is another dodge. The reason sleepers and diners are so expensive to run is because of the COSTS. This is why VIA charges more for them than Amtrak does (and VIA still loses money on them). All those dining car attendants, and cooks, and sleeping car porters. The supply chain to run fresh or plated food to trains. The fact that a train car’s maintenance costs are amortized over 20 or so paid fares in a sleeper versus 80 in a coach.

                  So it doesn’t matter that sleepers bring in more revenue– their impact on the margin is almost certainly hugely negative. Again, if sleepers and diners were the way to profit, wouldn’t Southern Pacific have gone in that direction in the 1960’s? Instead, they went the opposite direction and ran the trains as cheaply as possible.

                  Also, another thing is even if NARP were right, there’s a moral argument as to whether we should actually be subsidizing the people in sleepers anyway. The people in the coaches include a lot of people without a lot of income or other transportation options. So why not hit the sleepers hard with huge price increases and use the revenue to cross-subsidize the coach passengers? If this were being run as a public service, wouldn’t we want to do THAT?

                  If Amtrak is able to keep the sleepers full (yield management, yo!) then they’d be better off dropping the coaches and running the CZ as a sleeper-only train.

                  Again, if sleeper only trains were so profitable, how come they were common (and legendary– the 20th Century and the Super Chief were luxurious trains) in the days before interstate highways and accessible air travel, and were all eliminated decades ago?

                  The NARP are either idiots or liars. Obviously, the people who actually RUN railroads are quite certain that sleeping cars and dining cars are unprofitable. We have tons of evidence of that. We would see completely different trends in passenger rail if that wasn’t true.

                  My suspicion is NARP knows this but the foamers who they represent hate it and want their subsidized sleepers. That explanation isn’t resentment; it’s the explanation that fits the facts best.

                • dilan

                  The Espee was actively trying to drive passengers away so that the feds would let them abandon those trains.

                  This is certainly what foamers say, but I’ve never seen any evidence that Southern Pacific believed it was doing anything other than cutting its costs.

                  In fact, the cutbacks were gradual. It didn’t start in the 1960’s. All-sleeper trains were eliminated in the 1950’s. Routes were cut. Dining cars were replaced with coffee shops, then with Automat / snack cars. Sleeping cars were replaced with coaches.

                  What foamers do is take the very last thing that was done (Southern Pacific going to Automat cars) and telling a tinfoil hat conspiracy theory about how it was an attempt to get the government to take over passenger rail. That, however, doesn’t explain all the cutbacks that occurred prior to the last one.

                  And as I said, it isn’t as though this is the only evidence that sleepers and diners lose money. It couples with the behavior of just about every actor that has participated in this marketplace. None of them act the way you would expect they would if the foamers at NARP were right about sleepers and diners.

                • jben

                  How about just run the Builder as all-coach with a snack car? That would almost certainly lose far less money and serve all the small towns.

                  I think that would be a good solution if your goal is just to maintain the same service with less money. While it would almost certainly be much cheaper, and deliver more value-per-dollar it wouldn’t really improve the service much. At many places along the route, the train only comes late at night both ways. Minneapolis and Fargo, to name two pretty sizable places that could generate more riders, only have one train per day, which comes late at night. In order to remedy this problem, you would have to run multiple trains, which would cost more money. Also, while it is always good to obtain savings, it is hard to see how the savings from getting rid of sleeping cars, or raising their prices, would be enough to cover installing PTC or performing the necessary maintenance and upgrades to the Northeast. Again, that’s not to say the subsidy for these shouldn’t be reduced, but by no means would it be a complete solution to the problem.

                  There’s really no way around it. If we want a better Amtrak, we will have to pay for it. Yes, there isn’t necessarily a perfect correspondence between Amtrak funding and improving the rail system, but it’s hard to see how more funding would not be an improvemnt. Conversely, it’s hard to see how cutting Amtrak by 30%(!), as conservatives in Congress want to do, would be anything but disastrous.

              • jben

                resentment

                David: It’s not so much resentment, as a recognition that financial resources are finite and limited, and that government subsidies should therefore be targeted to genuine areas of public interest. A subsidy for sleeping car passengers, who are mainly upper-middle and upper-class, and who do not need it is not exactly the best use of these resources.

                And I am rather, shall we say, skeptical of the claim that sleeping cars are more profitable or less expensive than coaches. I’m not nearly as down on NARP as dilan (I think they do good work standing up for passenger rail), but this seems to be a dubious claim.

            • jben

              WHAT? No, we have people dead because of a LACK OF IT. Are you ever capable of being correct?

              That was a typo, which you can probably discern from the rest of the sentence.

              Indeed.

              Look, there are a number of things I don’t agree with dilan on, but it seems rather absurd to attack him for what was pretty obviously a misprint.

      • djw

        All those trains stop in a lot of small towns and communities that rely on Amtrak not to get from Chicago to Los Angeles, but to get to a lot of points in between that were long abandoned by long-distance bus lines and aren’t near airports.

        1. Those people are a small fraction of those served by those routes. 2. The vast majority of people in such small towns who lack bus lines and airports aren’t served by a train, because there’s only a handful of them. If the legitimate government objective is serving the residents of Havre, MT with some form of non-car transit, they’ve selected just about the most expensive way possible.

        Dilan’s right about this. That a large chunk of the Amtrak subsidy goes to subsidize the hobby of wealthy people rather than more pressing transportation needs isn’t something progressives should be indifferent about. It’s not really Amtrak’s fault (the 2008 bill, for example, shifted subsidies away from moderately efficient and useful routes like the Cascades and the Milwaukee-Chicago service and toward disasters like the Empire Builder), and it need not be embedded in a libertarian argument against subsidy. Indeed, tolerating the inefficient, unnecessary subsidy of sleeper may give Amtrak a useful constituency (who is more likely to write and call their congressmembers than foamers?), but it makes the anti-government case more plausible.

  • Malaclypse-obsessed troll

    The conductor has a gay face but the media won’t mention it, a few years ago a tranny train driver in Boston caused a wreck the media refuses to talk about it.

    • I’m assuming you speak from personal experience on the “gay face” bit. I bet in prison, all the boys wanted to date you

      • Aimai

        Please, no prison rape jokes. Even to trolls.

  • The Truth is Painful

    The conductor has a gay face but the media won’t mention it, a few years ago a tranny train driver in Boston caused a wreck the media refuses to talk about it.

    • Johnny Sack

      scorching hot take

  • JR in WV

    Whichever one of you is a real person, please explain what connection there is between a person’s gender/transformation and their ability to do a job.

    What the fuck is a “gay face”? I’ve never heard of such a thing! How did a “tranny train driver” cause a wreck, and what did the driver’s variance of gender have to do with the accident?

    Whoever actually thinks these thought is a sick republican bastard bigot, and should find another blog to spread sick would-be propaganda on. Because your current raft of slime isn’t propaganda, it’s just nasty clots of illogical hatred.

    • Malaclypse

      There’s no reason to assume Jennie is a real person. He has yet to come close to passing a Voight-Kampff test.

    • MAJeff

      Actually, the fuckwads are actually making an issue of the fact that the engineer of this train was gay. For example, here’s the excrement from CWA: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/14/sandy-rios-anti-gay-amtrak_n_7286360.html

      Jenny is simply demonstrating the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the American right….yet again.

  • Even allowing for the ridiculous hatred Boener and conservatives have for a national train network, there’s a very good and sound economic reason why funding should not be cut for safety measures. The Northeast Corridor line is about the only profitable service in Amtrak and many of the lobbyists Boener treasures so much ride it.

  • Richard Gadsden

    One of the few good things about our new right-wing government (so right-wing that they want to abolish our version of the Bill of Rights) is that they’re committed to capital investment in the railways. They’re spending about £5bn a year ($7-8bn) on capital investment, and our new 300 mile high-speed (250 mph / 400 km/h) railway will be another £2-3bn a year on top; the rest of the capital programme is actually being expanded. Most of that money is going on electrification and on new signalling and safety systems, which will allow trains to be closer together and to travel faster without compromising safety – which means faster trains (140mph / 225 km/h) and more of them. Actually laying (non-high-speed) new track is a very small part of it – there’s one new line in Scotland (Borders Railway) and one in England (East-West Railway), both along routes that were closed in the 1960s.

    A large part of this is that George Osborne, the finance minister and probably the second-most powerful person in the country, travels weekly between London and his constituency (Knutsford, a Manchester exurb) by long-distance train, but there’s also the fact that London, like New York, is wholly dependent on trains to function, and, of course, all the MPs have to work there. I wonder if DC densified enough to make it essentially impossible to drive around there unless the Secret Service cleared the roads, so most Senators and Congresspeople had to commute to the Capitol by train, whether that would shift the attitude of enough of Congress.

    I say that UK train fares are expensive, and they are. But the vast majority of the burden of that is borne by commuters and by business travellers. If I get a train from Manchester to London for work, which means reaching the office by 9am and leaving it at 5 or 6 pm, then I pay £329 return fare (well, actually, my employer does). If I travel on a weekend to visit friends, I can pay as little as £25 return (of my own money). The yield management means that you can use rail to get around the country for prices that are affordable to most ordinary working people, but the peak fares raise enough money to pay for the system. Cheap fares (“prems”) in France are nothing like as cheap as the cheapest UK fares – but full price ones aren’t anything like as expensive either.

  • Linnaeus

    Adam Gopnik – a writer with whom I’ve had a few bones to pick – has a good short piece in the New Yorker about funding for trains, or rather, why the US doesn’t fund trains:

    What is less apparent, perhaps, is that the will to abandon the public way is not some failure of understanding, or some nearsighted omission by shortsighted politicians. It is part of a coherent ideological project. As I wrote a few years ago, in a piece on the literature of American declinism, “The reason we don’t have beautiful new airports and efficient bullet trains is not that we have inadvertently stumbled upon stumbling blocks; it’s that there are considerable numbers of Americans for whom these things are simply symbols of a feared central government, and who would, when they travel, rather sweat in squalor than surrender the money to build a better terminal.” The ideological rigor of this idea, as absolute in its way as the ancient Soviet conviction that any entering wedge of free enterprise would lead to the destruction of the Soviet state, is as instructive as it is astonishing. And it is part of the folly of American “centrism” not to recognize that the failure to run trains where we need them is made from conviction, not from ignorance.

    I think he pretty much nails it here. The means to have a better rail network are there, but the will to do so is not, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

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