Amtrak Incompetence

Why is this unwieldy unproductive behemoth still around?

With freight traffic soaring in recent years, Amtrak’s never-stellar on-time performance declined to an average of 68 percent last year, its worst showing since the 1970s. When the routes where Amtrak owns the tracks are excluded, the on-time performance last year fell to 61 percent.

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Amtrak performs far better on the Northeast corridor, where it owns the tracks. Last year, 85 percent of its high-speed Acela Express trains between Boston and Washington arrived within 10 minutes of their scheduled time.

But where Amtrak depends on the freight railroads, the picture is far gloomier, and the Capitol Limited is not even the worst case. The Coast Starlight, which runs between Seattle and Los Angeles, had an on-time performance of 4 percent in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30. For the California Zephyr, connecting Chicago and San Francisco, the figure was 7 percent. In the current fiscal year, the California Zephyr has not once arrived on time.

In the current fiscal year, that particular train has NOT ONCE arrived on time. And we’re funding this with our tax dollars? Time to put Amtrak out to pasture. Privatize the Acela Express and the rest of the Northeast corridor, where it owns the tracks. Give the rest of it the ax.

  • Mark

    Well, probably because it carries about one quarter of the passengers that the worlds largest airline carries, (American- appx 90 million world-wide, Amtrak 24 million- US only), for starters. Amtrak has posted four record ridership years in a row and is on target to post a fifth.

    In poll after poll people want improved rail service in this country. The United States built its transportation network around Airlines and Highways. That was a mistake and we are now just begining to realize it! Explain to me how you would privatize the NEC? The situation is much more complicated that you folks obviously realize. Once a train route is gone it will most likely stay gone. That means if that route is needed for future passenger use it will be VERY difficult to restart the service. Keeping the long distance trains maintains a presence, a foot hold if you will. That could/should be further developed into high-speed rail corridors once it is realized that plane and auto congestion will continue to worsen.

    How is freight congestion Amtrak’s incompetence? Please explain that one to me. Did you people even read the article you posted? 85% on-time on the tracks Amtrak owns! Never mind that almost every plane I ever ride arrives late but we keep on paying for air traffic controllers and runways and airports through ‘our tax dollars’.

    Your Amtrak bashing is getting old, its not going away and it will likely continue to expand as it has in Illinois and California. I guess the desires of 24 million Amtrak users mean nothing to you people.


  • Lucy Stern

    I have never ridden on Amtrak but I think it is wise to keep it around as an alternative way to travel…..I do have friends that have used to and they seem pretty satisfied.

  • Brad Warbiany


    If people want improved rail service in this country, why won’t they pay for it in ticket prices?

    Granted, I would say that probably every contributor here is completely in favor of ending the federal subsidies and contributions to the air travel system.

    Rail travel has a lot of uses. Typically, though, it only has a use for short hauls. Yesterday, for example, I had to go to Nashville (from Atlanta) for business. Rather than driving an hour to the Atlanta airport, waiting around 2 hours, then taking a 1 hour flight, I ended up driving. Rail would have been a better shot for me than driving or flying.

    Only one problem. Amtrak doesn’t go from Atlanta to Nashville. Likewise, I looked once at Atlanta to Chicago. It would have gone through Washington DC and taken 30 hours, while costing more than flying (2.5 hour flight) and taking much longer than the 11-12 hour drive.

    If Amtrak was so valuable, what would the harm be in privatizing it?

  • mike

    “Granted, I would say that probably every contributor here is completely in favor of ending the federal subsidies and contributions to the air travel system.”

    Yup. I figured that would be assumed since I’m in favor of ending government assistance to the rail system.

    Freight congestion might not be Amtrak’s “fault,” but perhaps it’s a sign of a larger problem. If the intercity routes were so valuable, why doesn’t Amtrak outright own the tracks, like it does with the Acela Express?

    I’ll repeat the sentiment Brad is expressing. Would a regular business continue to operate with such performance?

  • Ted Blishak

    Why spend energy picking on Amtrak when there are so many major unsolved problems in this country? I will never understand where Amtrak bashers are coming from and why they bother to keep repeating their mantra. What a waste of time. Get a life.

  • mike

    Amtrak in and of itself isn’t a horrible problem. But it’s a symptom of a larger one; that of massive wasteful government spending. If we took the approach that “why bother when there are so many major unsolved problems in this country” to everything, nothing would ever change.

  • Brad Warbiany

    Wow, Ted… You wasted time writing to tell the purveyors of some random blog on the internet to get a life? Why are you focusing on us when there are so many other blogs out there who are saying much more important things you don’t agree with? What a waste of time. Jeez, get a life, bud.

  • Ted Blishak


    Thank you for reminding me that I am wasting my time.
    I definitely will not focus on you or any other blog in the future. I don’t know what came over me. I shall never do it again, this is my last blog entry.


  • Adam Selene

    Wow, can’t recognize tongue in cheek Ted?

  • Mark

    Wow. I do have my work cut out for me. Where do I begin? Those of you with a little patience read on. Those of you who don’t, well go back into your nice, safe, conservative bubble. You guys just love to say/write things like: ‘ending the federal subsidies and contributions to the air travel system.’ That is simply not possible. ALL travel modes must be subsidized in some way, shape or form. Commercial travel would be prohibitively expensive if we just paid higher ticket prices as suggested for air or rail. Your $99 dollar airfare to Las Vegas would be about $990: IF, the air traffic controllers, TSA security folks, runways, airports, etc., were not funded, no excuse me, ‘subsidized’ through federal, state and local taxes. Who would fly then smart guys? Apply that same line of thought to busses: well then how do they operate without our federally ‘subsidized’ highways? If one wants to end ‘subsidies’ then EVERY road in the US would have to be a toll road- absurd. Why should I pay more to ride Amtrak if I want to? I’m paying for the roads and air system, just like you are.
    The United States used to have passenger rail service everywhere, (probably Atlanta to Nashville as well), then came the future: cars and planes, only nobody had the vision, (as is so typically American), to see that we could only pave so far or put so many planes in the sky. The freight lines begged the federal government for about 20 years to allow them to abandon passenger rail service. Why? BECAUSE THEY DON’T MAKE MONEY ON PASSENGER SERVICE. To make a long history lesson a little shorter, it was eventually allowed and in 1971 Amtrak began its operations by taking over a skeleton of the services left behind by the freight lines. The freight lines were allowed to bow out of passenger service by donating/selling its rolling stock to Amtrak. In turn Amtrak trains would continue to have priority over freight trains for a moderate price, (at best the freight carriers pay lip service to this agreement- thus your 60whatever percent on time performance). You have former President Nixon, (a conservative Republican, I do believe), to thank for Amtrak. As his stock went down faster than the Titanic he did not want to be the one to kill passenger rail. From what I can tell Amtrak was never intended to last but it did. There are several reasons as to why: Again, people, (apparently not you folks), use it. In reality, (the greater scheme of our massive federal budget), it doesn’t really cost much to ‘subsidize’, (about a penny or two per taxpayer- so send me your addresses and I’ll personally send you each a nickel to please stop being so naïve). Passenger rail is a demonstrated mode of transportation in just about every county on the globe and hopefully a few folks realize that we cannot rely on just cars and planes to move our population about.
    Privatizing Amtrak: Won’t happen. Not because of its value or importance but because of what I stated above: THEY DON’T MAKE MONEY ON PASSENGER SERVICE. It is a known fact that in even the best High Speed rail lines in France and Japan don’t really make any money, (just like the airlines don’t really make any money). France’s is the SNCF, (French NATIONAL Railways). In Japan, (I may be mistaking), the government owns the tracks, (an expensive and separate cost above and beyond the actual running of the trains). You have above the rail costs and below. Above the rail are the trains and people who run them, (more or less). Below is the track structure itself and the signaling systems that must be in place to operate. High Speed passenger track itself costs about $1,000,000 dollars per MILE to install. The annual cost of maintaining Amtrak’s NEC is about $200,000,000 per YEAR. Who please tell me, would invest in that? A HUGE gamble on any investment. My point is, I never see any articles titled: ‘Airline Incompetence- 70+ billion spent to bail them out post 9/11.’ Only ‘Amtrak Incompetence’. I think this answers why Amtrak doesn’t own the tracks: They recoup about 2/3 of their expenditures from the fair-box and you guys don’t want to pay the remaining 1/3. How would they pay for new tracks? Hey, I’m all for it. We could do high-speed rail from NYC to Chicago for right around a Billion. At 200 mph it would take about four hours to get there- slightly slower than a plane. By contrast it costs about 128 million for each new mile of EIGHT-lane highway. More airports? No problem. Denver’s airport was the first new airport built in almost two decades. It cost only 4 billion dollars, (almost three times the Amtrak ‘subsidy’). How many times has it had to shut down this year due to snow? At least twice that I know of, (for several days each time), while the ONE lonely Amtrak train slid out of Denver filled to capacity- what’s wrong with this picture?
    Finally, yes finally, Amtrak is NOT a regular business. It is a corporation whose stock is held entirely by the federal government. It is an enigma in the US. No other entity is quite like it, good or bad, which is what makes ‘fixing’ Amtrak all that much more challenging. It is however the only passenger rail service left in this country, I encourage you all to think twice before deciding those one or two pennies in your pockets are too much to keep it rolling.

  • Subsidies All Around

    Why do we pay billions upon billions of dollars to build airports, to bail out failing airlines, and to subsidize Boeing in the production of jets?

    Why do we spend billions building highways, policing highways, repaving highways? Why do we not effectively price in the negative environmental effects of automobiles to the drivers themselves (both in terms of global warming and localized smog, as well as noise and safety issues)?

    If you want to cut off the Amtrak gravy train, that’s fine, but you can’t expect unsubsidized rail to win in a playing field that’s ALREADY warped against it to begin with.