2021 Infrastructure Bill

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Eric S

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Performance Improvement Plans.

A 2008 law required Amtrak to prepare Performance Improvement Plans for each of the long distance routes. You may still be able to find the reports floating around the internet. (Not entirely sure, though, as I haven't searched for them for a number of years.) Essentially, the reports laid out suggestions for improvements to the routes, including schedule changes, new Thruway connections, staffing changes, and more. A few of the suggested improvements were put in place (one that comes to mind is the Newton - Wichita - Oklahoma City Thruway connection to/from the Southwest Chief and Heartland Flyer) but many were never acted on.
 

Amtrakfflyer

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I’m beginning the think the infrastructure bill may not happen at all due infighting/posturing on one side and obstruction on the other. Even if the Dems to get their act together, time is of the essence. Yesterday’s statements from Manchin make me think it’s plausible he could switch parties for the last 4 years of his senate career and then retire. The Dems have many 75 year old plus Senators if one passes away in a red state unexpectedly that also would make McConnell majority leader. I can bet money on McConnell recalling the Senate version of the bill that previously passed. Maybe it’s legal, maybe it’s not.

So what would it mean to Amtrak if the infrastructure bill doesn’t pass? My thoughts are one that’s at least 50 percent smaller gets passed or maybe even doesn’t get passed if the GOP gets either the house or senate in 2022. Since Amtrak is Biden’s baby I don’t see a lot of good will going across the aisle. I see it as disastrous for Amtrak if it doesn’t pass, especially with Amtrak’s current management and their less than sincere support of the national network. Sad state of affairs with both side so dysfunctional basic infrastructure can’t get passed.
 

Wolverine72

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Amtrak was never gonna get rich off of Biden. All that Amtrak talk was just “Ole Joe from Scranton PA.” campaign rhetoric.
 
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Amtrak was never gonna get rich off of Biden. All that Amtrak talk was just “Ole Joe from Scranton PA.” campaign rhetoric.
President Biden has nothing to do with what's going on in Congress. And as far as Congress is concerned, I would take all the sensationslist reporting from the news media with a grain of salt. Something is going to get approved. It will probably have significantly more money for Amtrak than has been appropriated in past years, but it will probably be a good bit less than what was in the House bill. And remember that funding for Amtrak is not the major bone of contention among the various factions, if it's even considered at all. In a multi-trillion dollar budget, a few billion is rounding error.
 
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Something is going to get approved

Like you, something is going to get approved. There is a Bridge across the Ohio River that surely is of great importance to Senator McConnell. What we are witnessing is the "sausage making process" of getting legislation approved. It's not a pretty sight, but it has worked for many, many years.
 
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I’m beginning the think the infrastructure bill may not happen at all due infighting/posturing on one side and obstruction on the other. Even if the Dems to get their act together, time is of the essence. Yesterday’s statements from Manchin make me think it’s plausible he could switch parties for the last 4 years of his senate career and then retire. The Dems have many 75 year old plus Senators if one passes away in a red state unexpectedly that also would make McConnell majority leader. I can bet money on McConnell recalling the Senate version of the bill that previously passed. Maybe it’s legal, maybe it’s not.

So what would it mean to Amtrak if the infrastructure bill doesn’t pass? My thoughts are one that’s at least 50 percent smaller gets passed or maybe even doesn’t get passed if the GOP gets either the house or senate in 2022. Since Amtrak is Biden’s baby I don’t see a lot of good will going across the aisle. I see it as disastrous for Amtrak if it doesn’t pass, especially with Amtrak’s current management and their less than sincere support of the national network. Sad state of affairs with both side so dysfunctional basic infrastructure can’t get passed.

As others have said, news is sensationalist. It’s how they make money. I certainly re-learned that lesson when reading the NY Times article about the bill this morning.

Something will get approved, and I doubt Amtrak’s current funding will be touched to a great degree, if at all. It’s really not a subject of hot debate.

if Amtrak gets no money, they will continue, and somehow find a way to pay for the stuff they’ve ordered, and hopefully rely on states to get some other problems fixed.
 

pennyk

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MODERATOR NOTE: Please limit your discussion in this thread (in the Rail Advocacy Forum) to the Infrastructure Bill as it relates to Amtrak. Also please avoid unrelated political discussions.

Thank you for your continued cooperation.
 
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I have a good and honest question for all:

Lets assume this bill passes with flying colors, and rail gets a seriously massive amount of cash.
In talking with some of my more conservative friends, nearly all agree that the US picked transportation winners (flight, and road) and all but purposefully brought down rail transportation.

While they all agree that rail should be funded (or at least not financially hindered), they fear the money being spent on Amtrak will not actually go towards shovels in the ground and railcars rolling off the assembly line. Rather, and more specifically, they fear the money will be spent on union fees, new "programs" appeasing current social trends, poor management and deficiencies and other money holes of the sort. One did add environmental reviews to this list, but I pointed out that other countries are also conducting environmental reviews and getting rail lines built no problem, so we concluded that complaining about it is a non starter.

Is this a rational fear in your opinions, or do you feel that the money will indeed go to where its most needed, and one shouldn't worry about it.
Feel free to moderate if needed.
 

basketmaker

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I have a good and honest question for all:

Lets assume this bill passes with flying colors, and rail gets a seriously massive amount of cash.
In talking with some of my more conservative friends, nearly all agree that the US picked transportation winners (flight, and road) and all but purposefully brought down rail transportation.

While they all agree that rail should be funded (or at least not financially hindered), they fear the money being spent on Amtrak will not actually go towards shovels in the ground and railcars rolling off the assembly line. Rather, and more specifically, they fear the money will be spent on union fees, new "programs" appeasing current social trends, poor management and deficiencies and other money holes of the sort. One did add environmental reviews to this list, but I pointed out that other countries are also conducting environmental reviews and getting rail lines built no problem, so we concluded that complaining about it is a non starter.

Is this a rational fear in your opinions, or do you feel that the money will indeed go to where its most needed, and one shouldn't worry about it.
Feel free to moderate if needed.
Your point is factual in my conservative opinion. But I also feel that the reasons you stated that where the monies will go is also applicable to air and road. It is they are so highly subsidized that the waste gets lost in the shuffle. Where rail (i.e. Amtrak) tries to stretch the crumbs to make a meal. As for the environmental aspect (again I am conservative) rail by far is the one of the most friendly ways to go. Air is one of the worst.
 
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I have a good and honest question for all:

Lets assume this bill passes with flying colors, and rail gets a seriously massive amount of cash.
In talking with some of my more conservative friends, nearly all agree that the US picked transportation winners (flight, and road) and all but purposefully brought down rail transportation.

While they all agree that rail should be funded (or at least not financially hindered), they fear the money being spent on Amtrak will not actually go towards shovels in the ground and railcars rolling off the assembly line. Rather, and more specifically, they fear the money will be spent on union fees, new "programs" appeasing current social trends, poor management and deficiencies and other money holes of the sort. One did add environmental reviews to this list, but I pointed out that other countries are also conducting environmental reviews and getting rail lines built no problem, so we concluded that complaining about it is a non starter.

Is this a rational fear in your opinions, or do you feel that the money will indeed go to where its most needed, and one shouldn't worry about it.
Feel free to moderate if needed.
As far as "union fees" go, I hope your conservative friends realize that the airlines, aircraft manufacturing companies, automakers, highway construction trades, etc. are also unionized.

Also, poor management is not something confined to the public sector, and it seems that poor management in the private sector is rewarded, not punished, the fates of the most recent Boeing CEOs illustrates. I believe the term is "golden parachute."

Finally, what kind of " 'programs' appeasing current social trends" are they talking about? Unless they're offended by the idea of the low-level grunts earning decent wages and benefits and being treated with some respect.
 
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As far as "union fees" go, I hope your conservative friends realize that the airlines, aircraft manufacturing companies, automakers, highway construction trades, etc. are also unionized.

Also, poor management is not something confined to the public sector, and it seems that poor management in the private sector is rewarded, not punished, the fates of the most recent Boeing CEOs illustrates. I believe the term is "golden parachute."

Finally, what kind of " 'programs' appeasing current social trends" are they talking about? Unless they're offended by the idea of the low-level grunts earning decent wages and benefits and being treated with some respect.

I'm sure they are well aware of union fees, and while I would need to ask directly, I'm sure the large union fees in other industries concern them too.

By social programs, I actually meant stuff along the DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) side of the coin, and initiatives along those lines.
 

jis

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One did add environmental reviews to this list, but I pointed out that other countries are also conducting environmental reviews and getting rail lines built no problem, so we concluded that complaining about it is a non starter.
It should be noted that many countries who are trying to leverage the efficiency of rail have very aggressive electrification programs either already in place or on its way. I think US at present is very very far from that, and is at present in the usual rear guard "we are exceptional and we don't need it" mode. Consequently in US Environmental Review is primarily used to delay and block, whereas in many other countries they are carried out rapidly and usually are used to arrive at quick consensus on what to do often involving much use of political will and risk taking to force the issue.

Countries that have successfully pushed an effective environmental agenda as far as rail goes have tended to include a rolling plan for electrification, thus better managing the alleged high cost. Even UK has finally stumbled upon that after the Great Western fiasco and the Scottish success taught them a live lesson.

Interestingly Amtrak's latest plan has talked about a similar rolling plan though who knows which quick sand that will fall into here.

Meanwhile even India with all its US-like pitfalls and then some, manages to electrify over 4,000 route mile (yes, route miles, not track miles) year over year for five years, and install Solar collectors and battery farms wherever they can in a rolling program. Just the regenerative braking in general reduces power requirement by 15% to 20%. Of course there also needs to be a general consensus in the society about what to do about base load since Sun don't shine all the time and wind don't blow all the time and you can only do so much with batteries.
 
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basketmaker

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It should be noted that many countries who are trying to leverage the efficiency of rail have very aggressive electrification programs either already in place or on its way. I think US at present is very very far from that, and is at present in the usual rear guard "we are exceptional and we don't need it" mode. Consequently in US Environmental Review is primarily used to delay and block, whereas in many other countries they are carried out rapidly and usually are used to arrive at quick consensus on what to do often involving much use of political will and risk taking to force the issue.

Countries that have successfully pushed an effective environmental agenda as far as rail goes have tended to include a rolling plan for electrification, thus better managing the alleged high cost. Even UK has finally stumbled upon that after the Great Western fiasco and the Scottish success taught them a live lesson.

Interestingly Amtrak's latest plan has talked about a similar rolling plan though who knows which quick sand that will fall into here.

Meanwhile even India with all its US-like pitfalls and then some, manages to electrify over 4,000 route mile (yes, route miles, not track miles) year over year for five years, and install Solar collectors and battery farms wherever they can in a rolling program. Just the regenerative braking in general reduces power requirement by 15% to 20%. Of course there also needs to be a general consensus in the society about what to do about base load since Sun don;t shine all the time and wind don't blow all the time and you can only do so much with batteries.
Not related but used to camp in Sebastion Inlet. Never knew the area code. Love the 3-2-1 relation!
 

jis

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Not related but used to camp in Sebastion Inlet. Never knew the area code. Love the 3-2-1 relation!
It's a Brevard County thing. The County actually specially petitioned Bell System way back when to finagle the area code for themselves. Apparently everyone thought it was a sufficiently cool idea to make the effort to make it so. So Strictly speaking only the Brevard side of the inlet is 321. Indian River County on the other side is something else - 772 seems to be what people I know there have. But of course these days with portable numbers anyone can have any number, like I still retain my NJ 973 number here in Brevard County for continuity.
 

basketmaker

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It's a Brevard County thing. The County actually specially petitioned Bell System way back when to finagle the area code for themselves. Apparently everyone thought it was a sufficiently cool idea to make the effort to make it so. So Strictly speaking only the Brevard side of the inlet is 321. Indian River County on the other side is something else - 772 seems to be what people I know there have. But of course these days with portable numbers anyone can have any number, like I still retain my NJ 973 number here in Brevard County for continuity.
Oh heck it's been a while. Everything was 305 for me in Hialeah. And 813 for Naples (worked for Naples Airlines). We did have the new "TouchTone" phone though!
 

Shanson

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I'm curious as to what you consider "union fees." Businesses whose workforce are unionized sometimes provide office space to union representatives, but don't directly fund the unions. The unions get their money from dues paid by members (that is, the individual employees, not the employer).
 

danasgoodstuff

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Yes, there is no cost associated with having a unionized workforce, be it higher wages, costs associated with work rules, or whatever, that is more than a tiny fraction of a drop in the bucket here. Railroads are extremely capital intensive. Laying track, buying new rolling stock, bring stations up to snuff, environmental studies, feasibility studies, all these things are crazy expensive, and in many cases made much more so by the on again off again nature of Amtrak funding which hampers good planning.
 

Shanson

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I have a good and honest question for all:

Lets assume this bill passes with flying colors, and rail gets a seriously massive amount of cash.
In talking with some of my more conservative friends, nearly all agree that the US picked transportation winners (flight, and road) and all but purposefully brought down rail transportation.

While they all agree that rail should be funded (or at least not financially hindered), they fear the money being spent on Amtrak will not actually go towards shovels in the ground and railcars rolling off the assembly line. Rather, and more specifically, they fear the money will be spent on union fees, ...

Is this a rational fear?
No. Your conservative friends don't really understand unions. See previous resonses.
 

87YJ

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I belonged to 2 unions Teamsters summer time while in college and 11 years with the local Machinist union. Never put the local unions as all wonderful or bad, because some are wonderful and some are bad. You learn to change jobs until you get a good shop to be in and a good union to support you.
 
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No. Your conservative friends don't really understand unions. See previous resonses.
it was merely a question and I can certainly get more information from them to get a better understanding of what they fully meant, which is far more productive than simpleton statements that only address a small, cherry-picked, part of a post or question.

from what I can remember of the now 2 month old conversation, they mentioned scenarios regarding labor fees costing more than labor should (to a degree which they feel is out of hand). I’m sure they would agree that all need a decent wage.

It could be my fault for ‘misnomer-ing’ their idea, which might be better described as excessive staffing, little to no competition, antiquated regulations, and over-generous contracts thwarting any attempt to keep the costs of rail down. In their prediction, these issues would eat through the 66 billion rather quickly, and may prevent actual projects getting completed (in a timely and non-costly way). To be fair, this has happened with other infrastructure projects like the 2nd Avenue tunnel, the Big Dig, and the CHSRA (at least to my understanding. If I’m wrong, feel free to politely correct and cite).

disclaimer: I’m not anti union, as per my membership in the American Federation of Musicians.

I will report back.
 
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from what I can remember of the conversation, they mentioned scenarios regarding labor fees costing more than labor should (to a degree which they feel is out of hand). I’m sure they would agree that all need a decent wage.

It could be my fault for ‘misnomer-ing’ their idea, which might be better described as excessive staffing, little to no competition, antiquated regulations, and over-generous contracts thwarting any attempt to keep the costs of rail down.

disclaimer: I’m not anti union, as per my membership in the American Federation of Musicians.

I will report back.

"Labor fees" might mean that in certain union shops, in order to work there, you have to join the union and pay their dues. This might annoy certain libertarian-minded people, as they might feel that you shouldn't have to belong to an organization if you don't want to. There's also a political angle that I don't want to go into too much detail, but by joining a union, your dues might go to fund political activities with which you don't agree. I don't know enough about how unions fund their favored political candidates, so I can't really say whether this is a real concern. For all I know, the unions do separate fundraising efforts for candidates, and members who don't support a particular candidate don't have to contribute. Or maybe general union funds go to the candidates. As I said, I don't know. Of course, if I work for a corporation, or own stock in one and the management of that company funds a candidate I really don't like, there's really not a whole lot I can do., either.

"A decent wage" is a very slippery term, indeed. I mean, I think a corporate CEO is definitely worth a salary of up to a couple hundred thousand a year, but the corporate CEOs do their darndest to get paid 10, 50, 100, 150 million a year. Are dining car attendants who make $20-$40 an hour overpaid? Well, most restaurant workers commonly make under $15/hour and may not even get to work 40 hours a week. Is that a "decent wage?"

As far as unions fostering "excessive staffing," well, based on all of the experiences recounted here, I would say that Amtrak's problem is that there's insufficient staffing to do the job right. Amtrak is not the only company with the problem, by the way. Practically every company I do business with is understaffed, whether they're unionized or not.

"Little or no competition?" With what? Amtrak competes with people driving their cars burning underpriced gasoline on taxpayer-funded highways and traffic law enforcement. Driving is significantly cheaper than riding in any form of public transportation and it's some pretty potent competition. It's cheaper because a lot of the true cost of driving is an externality in the form of pollution and greenhouse gases.

"Antiquated regulations?" Maybe. But on the other hand, updating the regulations might make them stricter and increase costs. Then there's the issue of "regulatory capture," though I don't think Amtrak is powerful enough to be accused of that.

"Over-generous [labor?] contracts?" -- Are Amtrak's contracts really out of line with the rest of the railroad industry? (I'm talking here about the class 1's, not small local short lines operating in low-cost rural areas.)

"Thwarting any attempt to keep the cost of rail down..." An excessive emphasis on cutting costs leads to the race to the bottom scenario, which doesn't help any business, government, or non-profit enterprise provide a quality product and service and in the long run doesn't help the company, government agency or non-profit.

I joined the union (National Treasury Employees Union) a year or so before I retired. Sorry I didn't do it sooner. (I worked in and "open shop." We had a union contract, but you didn't have to join the union to work there.) Being I was a civil servant, they couldn't do much about our pay and benefits beyond lobbying Congress on our behalf, but they did help me out with something that saved me a whole lot of money.
 
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"Labor fees" might mean that in certain union shops, in order to work there, you have to join the union and pay their dues. This might annoy certain libertarian-minded people, as they might feel that you shouldn't have to belong to an organization if you don't want to. There's also a political angle that I don't want to go into too much detail, but by joining a union, your dues might go to fund political activities with which you don't agree. I don't know enough about how unions fund their favored political candidates, so I can't really say whether this is a real concern. For all I know, the unions do separate fundraising efforts for candidates, and members who don't support a particular candidate don't have to contribute. Or maybe general union funds go to the candidates. As I said, I don't know. Of course, if I work for a corporation, or own stock in one and the management of that company funds a candidate I really don't like, there's really not a whole lot I can do., either.

"A decent wage" is a very slippery term, indeed. I mean, I think a corporate CEO is definitely worth a salary of up to a couple hundred thousand a year, but the corporate CEOs do their darndest to get paid 10, 50, 100, 150 million a year. Are dining car attendants who make $20-$40 an hour overpaid? Well, most restaurant workers commonly make under $15/hour and may not even get to work 40 hours a week. Is that a "decent wage?"

As far as unions fostering "excessive staffing," well, based on all of the experiences recounted here, I would say that Amtrak's problem is that there's insufficient staffing to do the job right. Amtrak is not the only company with the problem, by the way. Practically every company I do business with is understaffed, whether they're unionized or not.

"Little or no competition?" With what? Amtrak competes with people driving their cars burning underpriced gasoline on taxpayer-funded highways and traffic law enforcement. Driving is significantly cheaper than riding in any form of public transportation and it's some pretty potent competition. It's cheaper because a lot of the true cost of driving is an externality in the form of pollution and greenhouse gases.

"Antiquated regulations?" Maybe. But on the other hand, updating the regulations might make them stricter and increase costs. Then there's the issue of "regulatory capture," though I don't think Amtrak is powerful enough to be accused of that.

"Over-generous [labor?] contracts?" -- Are Amtrak's contracts really out of line with the rest of the railroad industry? (I'm talking here about the class 1's, not small local short lines operating in low-cost rural areas.)

"Thwarting any attempt to keep the cost of rail down..." An excessive emphasis on cutting costs leads to the race to the bottom scenario, which doesn't help any business, government, or non-profit enterprise provide a quality product and service and in the long run doesn't help the company, government agency or non-profit.

I joined the union (National Treasury Employees Union) a year or so before I retired. Sorry I didn't do it sooner. (I worked in and "open shop." We had a union contract, but you didn't have to join the union to work there.) Being I was a civil servant, they couldn't do much about our pay and benefits beyond lobbying Congress on our behalf, but they did help me out with something that saved me a whole lot of money.

I will pass along your thoughts to my friends.

by the way, what I meant by “little or no competiton” was the aforementioned between competing skilled workers and contracted companies to build infrastructure, not Amtrak itself competing against other transport modes.

each point you so thoughtfully addresses is (mostly) referring to skilled workers and companies that would be building the infrastructure,
 
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Shanson

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"Labor costs" is more accurate than labor "fees." Railroads are required to pay for labor as part of operating expenses.

The infrastructure package doesn't include funding for current routine operations, but for new equipment or new tracks and bridges, and yes, labor costs would be part of that. This doesn't mean that contracted construction will be done by union members.
 
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