Very hostile Amtrak article

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Joined
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Interesting article. I'm looking forward to reading a rebuttal from Jim Matthews. Just one thought regarding the long distance routes: what percentage of passengers are hobbyist riders going long distances vs. passengers going shorter distances where departure and destination stops are not easily accessible by air?
 
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Feb 2, 2005
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I don’t think hobbyist riders even register 1%. People travel for all sorts of reasons but in the end they all want to get from point A to point B. A lot of the network trains do cover city pairs not easily accessible by air and these trains are vital to the cities involved.

The long distance trains also allow people with more time to travel between large cities in a less stressful way than the airlines. People are willing to pay $2500 or more to travel CHI to LAX in a sleeper or $250 in coach for the experience. These people arent hobbyists by any means but they should still be a niche Amtrak should try to capture to boost ridership even more on these popular trains. There is no doubt the long distance trains have good ridership, the numbers back that up.

The sad part is Amtrak management isn’t doing anything of substance to foster ridership on the long distance network and unfortunately they may actually agree with a lot of the points in this article.
 
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rs9

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This article is really not even worth considering, because the authors don't actually cite any data to prove their points. For example, the idea that freight trains are headed to sidings to make way for Amtrak trains is refuted by an overwhelming mountain of anecdotal evidence from Amtrak riders across the country. It is widely accepted that Amtrak trains that miss their time slots end up wildly delayed.

It would take about two seconds to look up the ridership data on Amtrak's long distance trains to see that, as we all know here, while sleeper customers may use trains for experiential journeys, the vast majority of passengers are using long distance trains as corridor trains, in lieu of actual corridor trains, because corridor trains like the NEC - which the authors seem OK with - don't exist in most markets.

But really, the authors expose their true motivations in the last paragraphs.

Our nation’s roads and our airports are essentially paid by user fees, collected via taxes on gasoline, diesel, airplane fuel, and fees and taxes imposed on airline tickets....But Amtrak depends on government largess and the forced participation of the freight rail industry to offer its services beyond the Northeast Corridor.

The number of things factually wrong with these two sentences should be enough of an alarm to simply ignore the article.

- No, auto gas taxes do not cover the cost of roads.
- No, airline ticket fees and fuel taxes do not cover the cost of airports. The $1 billion renovation of just one runway at O'Hare, for example, was funded by federal grants (LARGESSE!) and bonds issued by the airlines.
- The authors have apparently lost count of the number of times US airlines have gone through bankruptcy protection, and the gargantuan sum of pension liabilities that airlines have simply decided not to cover and given over to the taxypayers. Only a tiny error of omission to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, but we'll call that a rounding error.

Most importantly, the authors have, predictably, no knowledge of basic history. The mighty freight railroads like CSX and Norfolk Southern are running on track that was owned by the government, renovated by the government, with markets that were cultivated by the government, all through Conrail. Only when Conrail was humming along efficiently did the freight railroads add these high functioning networks to their portfolios.

Oh, and the purchase agreements of Conrail for CSX and NS? They stipulate the running of Amtrak trains. Too bad those corporations were forced to buy up highly profitable freight trackage across the Eastern US!
 

Eric in East County

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It doesn’t appear that the author spent much time interviewing long-distance train passengers to find out why they chose to take the train rather than drive or fly. (Certainly, only a small percentage of them are “hobbyists.”)

Speaking for ourselves, long-distance trains are the only means for us to be able to travel across country. As seniors, we’re no longer up to driving long distances or dealing with the many stresses associated with flying.

The fact that we can travel in our own private bedroom is also important to us since we’re no longer up to traveling long-distance in coach or a roomette. (Considering how hard it has become to obtain bedroom accommodations on long-distance trains, many other people apparently feel the same way we do.)

That Amtrak has many problems is no secret. (Things seem worse this year than they did last year when the many COVID restrictions regarding travel were just starting to be eased.)

As to just when all the money that Amtrak received will begin to turn this situation around remains to be seen.

We, too, are looking forward to Jim Matthews’ rebuttal.
 
Joined
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Messages
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Location
San Francisco
This article is really not even worth considering, because the authors don't actually cite any data to prove their points. For example, the idea that freight trains are headed to sidings to make way for Amtrak trains is refuted by an overwhelming mountain of anecdotal evidence from Amtrak riders across the country. It is widely accepted that Amtrak trains that miss their time slots end up wildly delayed.

It would take about two seconds to look up the ridership data on Amtrak's long distance trains to see that, as we all know here, while sleeper customers may use trains for experiential journeys, the vast majority of passengers are using long distance trains as corridor trains, in lieu of actual corridor trains, because corridor trains like the NEC - which the authors seem OK with - don't exist in most markets.

But really, the authors expose their true motivations in the last paragraphs.



The number of things factually wrong with these two sentences should be enough of an alarm to simply ignore the article.

- No, auto gas taxes do not cover the cost of roads.
- No, airline ticket fees and fuel taxes do not cover the cost of airports. The $1 billion renovation of just one runway at O'Hare, for example, was funded by federal grants (LARGESSE!) and bonds issued by the airlines.
- The authors have apparently lost count of the number of times US airlines have gone through bankruptcy protection, and the gargantuan sum of pension liabilities that airlines have simply decided not to cover and given over to the taxypayers. Only a tiny error of omission to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, but we'll call that a rounding error.

Most importantly, the authors have, predictably, no knowledge of basic history. The mighty freight railroads like CSX and Norfolk Southern are running on track that was owned by the government, renovated by the government, with markets that were cultivated by the government, all through Conrail. Only when Conrail was humming along efficiently did the freight railroads add these high functioning networks to their portfolios.

Oh, and the purchase agreements of Conrail for CSX and NS? They stipulate the running of Amtrak trains. Too bad those corporations were forced to buy up highly profitable freight trackage across the Eastern US!
Does Forbes publish Letters To the Editor or an OP ED column? If so, please send this excellent rebuttal to them (if you haven't already done so).
 

George Harris

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finally! Back in Mississippi
Not reading it. Have long since quit reading such stuff. Invariably all have an axe to grind and either manipulate or ignore statistics. (Figures don't lie, but liars figure.) It seems that any time any significant rail project comes out all the silly and science fiction concepts are drug out to rebut it, such as Musk's hypertube or whatever it is called, long distance maglev, monorail, and who knows what else. Most of these have completely non-sensical costs postulated.

However, when you get off onto this, "The mighty freight railroads like CSX and Norfolk Southern are running on track that was owned by the government, renovated by the government, with markets that were cultivated by the government, all through Conrail." you are into easily rebutted territory. Much to all of the tracks these systems operate on outside the northeast has never been on the receiving end of any government largesse. To the contrary, most states and counties and cities cheerfully tax railroad property to the max they can get away with.
 

John Santos

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...

However, when you get off onto this, "The mighty freight railroads like CSX and Norfolk Southern are running on track that was owned by the government, renovated by the government, with markets that were cultivated by the government, all through Conrail." you are into easily rebutted territory. Much to all of the tracks these systems operate on outside the northeast has never been on the receiving end of any government largesse. To the contrary, most states and counties and cities cheerfully tax railroad property to the max they can get away with.
That may be true, but the railroads were the direct beneficiaries of the government, in the 19th century, granting them the original ROWs and enormous tracts of adjoining land with the intent that they sell the land to settlers and use the income to finance the construction. The very foundations of the railroads was pure government largesse. (I think most would agree that it was for the most part a good investment by the government, but that doesn't mean the railroads haven't put their hands out at every opportunity for more. And there were the occasional rip-offs like the Credit Mobilier scandal.)
 
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A pretty unitelligent article highlighting false dichotomies, and incorrect comparisons.

Of course, we should expect this type of sludge from time to time. Given it was Forbes, I was hoping for something slightly more nuanced, but was dissapointed when he made the assertion that “the rail line connection SF to LA” costs over 100 billion so therefore we shouldn’t build any new train tracks; he conveniently leaves one or two key points of information out there…

We are tirelessly praising Europes rail system because it works. Of course hey, Americans hate visiting Europe, so why should we listen to that…
 
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Mr Brannon in his Forbes article misses the real purpose and benefit of passenger rail as it connects many smaller and rural cities not served by air travel. Amtrak is part of our government transportation system that serves the needs of the people. As for cost; most public transportation be it city buses, subways, and commuter routes is funded by federal, state and local sources. The highways are now very overloaded with trucks and other commuters. Amtrak brings revenue to the towns that they serve. It is far from a waste of money.
The guy that wrote this scurrilous article is off his rocker.
 
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A not surprising article from an inside Wall Street publication. You're not going to too much positivity about Amtrak from Wall Street publications like Bloomberg, the WSJ, or Forbes and one probably shouldn't expect them - they have been opposed to Amtrak since it's inception. But remember they aren't the only voice in the room. Their perspective and world is investment and business and understandably they are coming at this from the point of view of the investor and the business community who may be investing in or managing Class I railroads and something like Amtrak is an anathema in that world.

It should be noted this is not the most thoroughly researched opinion piece clearly they obviously haven't really looked much into the expansion plans - as much of the expansion being advocated for are in fact shorter distance corridors between major metropolitan areas that they are touting - such as LA to Phoenix (not New York to Phoenix) not a massive expansion of long distance service - the long distance portion is more about keeping in place what exists now. What they really clearly oppose (and what this is really about) is passenger rail in any form that uses Class I railroads tracks - passenger rails running on Class I tracks and the infrastructure that requires interferes with the operating ratios class I railroad investors seek from the roads. They have the right to their point of view - I think a well crafted rebuttal by Matthews is certainly in order - but one should be realistic that you're not going convince this particular community on Amtrak - and that's ok the investment community is a necessary and important part of our economy and society. They shouldn't have the only voice, but there's nothing wrong with them expressing their opinions.
 
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Joined
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Mr Brannon in his Forbes article misses the real purpose and benefit of passenger rail as it connects many smaller and rural cities not served by air travel. Amtrak is part of our government transportation system that serves the needs of the people. As for cost; most public transportation be it city buses, subways, and commuter routes is funded by federal, state and local sources. The highways are now very overloaded with trucks and other commuters. Amtrak brings revenue to the towns that they serve. It is far from a waste of money.
The guy that wrote this scurrilous article is off his rocker.
One thing I was not aware of about air travel. I was recently waiting for a flight to leave (it was delayed a couple hours) and another passenger was naturally worried about making a connection to a small town. He said that, while there was a later flight scheduled that he expected to be on time for, he said the airline had a habit of cancelling that flight simply due to the airline deciding there aren't enough people that late at night to make the flight cost-effective. With enough train service, cancelling trains just isn't an option because the train is almost always headed to a busy destination.
 

jpakala

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We flew from St. Louis to L.A. with a stop in Phoenix, but owing to not enough people continuing to L.A. the flight was terminated at Phoenix and we were put on a later flight. That made things difficult upon arrival to head well east of L.A. (via rental car) to a wedding rehearsal. And as to the Forbes article, apparently no concern about climate change and environmental impact. Trains are superior.
 
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