KN: This is what I have been saying from the beginning,
Trains In Vain
Subsidies: This week, Amtrak marks its 40th anniversary, which means that for decades it's wasted tens of billions of tax dollars. Naturally, Washington wants to reward this with billions more under the guise of "high-speed" rail.
To say that Amtrak is a failed business is to be unkind to failure. Consider:
• A Pew study found that all but three of Amtrak's 44 lines lost money in 2008, with an average loss of $32 per passenger. Even the heavily used Northeast Regional line was a money-loser.
• Each year, Amtrak relies on more than $1.5 billion in taxpayer subsidies — totaling about $40 billion over the past 40 years. And it's by far the most heavily subsidized mode of transportation, getting $210 per thousand passenger miles, according to a 2004 Department of Transportation report.
• Amtrak's trains are perpetually late. More than one in five Northeast Regional train trips missed its arrival time this past year. Others, like the Michigan Services line between Chicago and Detroit, saw nearly two-thirds of its trains run late, Amtrak data show.
All of this comes despite repeated promises that the government-supported rail service would one day be a viable business. Back in 1992, then president W. Graham Claytor Jr. said Amtrak "hopes to eliminate (federal support) altogether by the end of the decade."
To be fair, Congress shares blame for Amtrak's dismal performance, since lawmakers have thoroughly politicized the operation by, among other things, forcing it to maintain little-used routes.
But none of these problems will be solved by shoveling billions more in the name of "winning the future" with high-speed rail. Indeed, what Obama promises is far more expensive — but equally ineffective.
Does it make sense to pump $186 million more into the Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor to "shave time off the trip" — as the Transportation Department put it Monday — when that line already loses more than $16 per passenger? Or to spend billions on a remote leg of a California high-speed line that won't be used for years after it's built?
Republican governors in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin wisely turned down federal high-speed rail money they rightly see as a waste of federal tax dollars and ultimately an expensive boondoggle for their states.
It's time for taxpayers across the country to demand the same.