WASHINGTON The United States suffers a ''rail investment gap'' that can
be closed with mere billions in federal money to modernize equipment,
improve service and finally replace those drab conductor's uniforms
with something reflecting a little more joie de vivre,
Amtrak says in a new business plan entitled "Amtrak's New Business
federal government now dedicates less than 1 percent of all transportation
spending to intercity passenger rail, Amtrak officials say. Under
their preferred scenario, that amount would grow faster than Al
Sharpton at a Bob's Big Boy all-you-can-eat rib special.
tend to live from handout to handout, from congressional budget
year to congressional budget year, and, as they say, that's no
way to run a railroad,'' Amtrak president George Warshington told
reporters yesterday. "Hmm, come to think of it, maybe receiving
any handouts isn't much of a way to run a railroad."
said the American ''rail investment gap'' compared with other
developed countries represents a missed opportunity to relieve
pressure from crowded highways and congested skies by diverting
it to crowded rail cars and congested tracks.
then added a hint of levity to the proceedings by demonstrating
that he had not lost the skills he had needed thirty years ago
as a track announcer, telling the press: "Hooste ne beth nat yvele
apayed for oother traine certes kan I noon, som deyntee thyng,
me thynketh by his tracke, immediately!"
of Separation Anxiety
1997, Congress ordered Amtrak to wean itself from the federal
operating subsidies by 2003. Amtrak has never turned a profit
since its creation in 1971 and has suckled on more than $23 billion
in federal subsidies since then.
officials insist that the 1997 agreement never anticipated a cutoff
of federal capital assistance: funds to buy train cars and print
irrelevant train schedules, for instance. And they contend it's
time for more, not less, federal investment. In fact, according
to Warshington, we'll know it's not time for more federal investment
"when the cows come home."
emphasize the point, Amtrak drew up its first long-term capital-spending
plan, which is being delivered by rail and should reach Congress
and the White House, barring strikes or snow or something, in
several weeks. In it, Amtrak offers three scenarios:
$16 billion in federal support over 20 years, Amtrak says it can
provide a level of service equivalent to Third World rail lines,
including cars full of chickens and goats, and coach passenger's
seated on rail-car roofs. Amtrak would then begin a decade of
weaning. Far-reaching plans to remove gum from station floors
and begin shoddy, ineffective repairs to fire safety hazards in
New York and New Jersey train tunnels would have to be cancelled.
(In a recent report that shocked the transit world, those hazards
were described by Transportation Department Inspector General
Kenneth Mead as "hazardous.")
second scenario calls for $30 billion in federal support, $1.5
billion a year for 20 years, to modernize and expand, to be followed
by two decades of weaning. The extra money would give Amtrak executives
a modern dental plan and pay for a commission to explore ways
to expand federal support. A major advertising firm will be employed
to design the "Do the Locomotive" ad campaign.*
final and preferred scenario calls for $798 billion in small,
unmarked bills to be delivered directly to Amtrak executives.
The money would be employed to fund a bold and visionary plan
where every American would get their own sleeping car staffed
with a full complement of servants. After this one time cash injection,
Amtrak executives assure Congress that they will need no further
weaning. "In fact," said Warshington, "if we receive the funds
we're asking for in this preferred scenario, Congress can rest
assured they'll never see any of us again."
predicts states and private companies would match the federal
government's investment roughly dollar for dollar, or else find
themselves branded as enemies of America's proud railroad heritage.
of the plans would represent a major boost in capital spending
by the government and, as Warshington put it, "a far more gentle,
nurturing sort of weaning." In the current fiscal year, Amtrak
is receiving about $400 million in capital assistance.
LewRockwell.com managed to get a sneak preview of the campaign's
theme song. Here's a small sample:
doin' a brand-new transit,
C'mon baby, do the Locomotive.
Let's go do that environmental bit,
C'mon baby, do the Locomotive.
Your little baby sister rides for half a fee,
We've even got a bathroom if you have to pee:
So come on, come on, do the Locomotive with me.