Free Markets, Free People


Politicizing the Amtrak incident

One of the favorite ploys of Democrats is to claim the GOP has a tendency to “politicize” tragedies.

Well, there’s politicizing a problem and then there pretending there is a problem in order to politicize it.   This recent Amtrak tragedy is the latter.

What do I mean?  Well, they hadn’t even cleared the bodies from the wreckage before former Governor Ed Rendell was on “Morning Joe” talking about how it was due to a lack of infrastructure spending.

Meanwhile, the NTSB is putting out stuff like this:

screenshot 2

Oh … 100 mph in a 50 mph curve?  That’s an obvious problem with “infrastructure spending”, isn’t it?

But that didn’t stop the Democrats talking point from continuing to roll, did it?  Nope, the good old reliable media pitches in as well.  Phillip Bump in the Washington Post:

As The Post’s Colby Itkowitz noted, Congress has delayed passing legislation to fund Amtrak since 2013. The last time it did so, in 2008, the vote passed only after a rail disaster. Which, of course, happened again Tuesday night.

The constant struggle of Amtrak to get funding derives largely from the fact that not very many Americans use the rail system. Ridership is heavily centered in the Northeast, in the corridor between Boston and Washington where Tuesday’s accident occurred. But more than that, ridership is unevenly distributed politically. Data from the National Association of Railroad Passengers shows the number of passengers that get on or off the train in any given congressional district, and reveals an obvious reason why Republicans might not be too concerned about funding the system.

Amtrak has never had a profitable year since its inception.  In fact it is a totally subsidized rail system that would fail if not subsidized.  And as Bump mentions, it is “heavily centered” in a northeastern corridor.  So essentially, given the fact that the “elites” want Americans in mass transit and this fits the description, plus it is very handy for said elites to use if they so choose, they’re fine with a wealth transfer from the rest of the country to support their desires.

Powerline picks up on the media bias as well:

There is a certain irony in these three stories perching one above the other on Politico’s main page: House panel votes to cut Amtrak budget hours after deadly crashAnalysis: GOP cuts to transportation, housing draw fire; and Derailed Amtrak was likely traveling at twice recommended speed.

Politico is a mouthpiece for the Washington establishment, where all spending is good spending. But the anti-Republican theme was picked up by many other news outlets, like Reuters: “Amtrak crash throws spotlight on funding disputes; Republicans back cuts.” And the New York Daily News: “Deadly malfeasance: Amtrak passengers paid with their lives for Washington’s neglect of transportation.”

But funding is not the problem.  Amtrak has gotten over 30 billion dollars in subsidies since its founding in 1970.  30 billion.  For a small railroad.  The WaPo’s Bump also claimed that “Republicans” hadn’t funded Amtrak since 2013.

In fact, they gave Amtrak nearly $1.4 billion less than five months ago.

One of those anti-narrative facts that keep ruining their righteous rant.

Oh, and as for “infrastructure spending?”  You remember the stimulus don’t you?  Wasn’t that for “infrastructure?” And who was in charge of doling out the loot then?

Yeah, certainly not Republicans.

Meanwhile, the union associated with Amtrak decides it too needs to score political points on the back of the 7 dead and many injured:

The Teamsters-affiliated Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Lodge 3014(BMWE) published a blog post on Tuesday attributing the deadly crash to new safety standards proposed by management of the government-partnered railroad.

“The new ‘One Amtrak Way’, along with the new inexperienced Amtrak senior management (after the old experienced senior managers were fired) has lead to this massive derailment,” the union said.


Reuters reported that the train was not equipped with the latest U.S. safety controls that are supposed to prevent high-speed derailments.

The Pennsylvania-based BMWE failed to mention the actions of the operator on its website, instead focusing on the union dispute with management. The crash, the post said, came as “senior management has declared war on safety with it’s [sic] unions.” Union membership unanimously approved a resolution in April giving union leadership permission to call a strike. Lodge 3014 had about 240 members in 2014, according to its most recent federal labor filings.

“The unions [sic] struggle to maintain safe working conditions is hampered by Amtrak senior management’s lust for complete control and railroad inexperience,” the blog post said.


Why does Amtrak continue to be such a fiscal wreck?  The usual reasons:

In its current form, Amtrak is less a for-profit passenger rail corporation and more a union jobs program (its ridiculous labor contracts are a major reason why the company is perpetually swimming in red ink).

Despite all the disingenuous chatter about a lack of infrastructure funding for Amtrak, the company’s salary costs absolutely dwarf its infrastructure depreciation expenses. In 2013, for example, Amtrak spent $2.1 billion on salaries, while it recorded $687 million in annual depreciation costs. Amtrak’s pension losses alone in 2013 totaled $425 million.

The numbers are pretty easy to compute.  Nothing is going to change here.  Amtrak will continue to be a money pit that benefits only a relative few in the country.

However, again, funding and spending wasn’t the reason this train crashed and killed, is it?  At least no according to witnesses and a preliminary finding by the NTSB.

But since the politicizing has begun by the left, why not jump in.  Powerline asks the pertinent questions:

The real question is, why is the federal government in the railroad business at all? Far more people are killed in automobile accidents than train crashes, but no one says the problem is that the federal government doesn’t pay enough money to car companies. If Amtrak can’t operate safely–reasonably safely, since nothing is absolutely safe–based on the revenue it gets from customers, it should go out of business, like any other company.

Here is another question: why should businessmen, journalists, lobbyists and politicians who commute between Washington and points north have their travel costs subsidized by taxpayers? Train travel costs what it costs. Those who ride the trains should pay those costs, just like those who fly in airplanes. It is absurd that the richest and most powerful companies in the United States have their employees’ travel costs subsidized by you and me. This is cronyism at its worst. Amtrak should be a wholly private enterprise. Having ridden that Northeastern line that goes to Washington a number of times, I think it has great advantages over air travel and could easily charge enough money to be profitable in competent hands.

Look folks, the federal government has proven its incompetence for decades when it comes to running or managing anything in a efficient and cost-effective way.  Why?  Because there are no penalties for it not doing so.  It just takes more of your money to cover its incompetence or goes into debt in your name.

These questions deserve answers. The incompetence involved, the fiscal waste, is simply staggering.  And 7 people paid with their lives because of it.

Will we get any answer to those questions?  Oh, no.  The elites are fine with you subsidizing their travel expenses.  And since, it seems, most of our “leadership” comes out of that area anymore, you’re not going to see that change anytime soon.

Divestment of Amtrak is the answer, but then, passengers would have to pay real costs wouldn’t they?  And the leaching elites, who will condemn you in a NY minuted for not paying your “fair share” aren’t about to see this bit of subsidized cronyism pass by the way side are they?

I mean how would Joe Biden get home?





They’ll Be Workin’ On The Railroad

Well here we go – the government apparently plans on getting further into a business in which it has no track record of success. Yes friends, if “Amtrak” doesn’t remind you of why this isn’t a good idea, how about doubling down on it?

You remember Amtrak:

In FY 2007, Amtrak earned approximately $2.15 billion in total revenue and incurred about $3.18 billion in expenses. Amtrak relies on an annual federal appropriation, which in FY 2007 totaled $1.294 billion, including $521 million in operating funds, $495 million in capital and $277 million for debt service. While Amtrak relies on federal appropriations to support its operating and capital needs, the federal government’s investment in Amtrak was less than 2 percent of the entire federal transportation budget for FY 2007.

Only 2%? Well, we’ll take care of that:

The president’s plan identifies 10 potential high-speed intercity corridors for federal funding, including California, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, the Southeast, the Gulf Coast, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and New England.

It also highlights potential improvements in the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor running from Washington to Boston, Massachusetts.

Of course Amtrak runs service in all of those places.

The president cited the success of high-speed rail in European countries such as France and Spain as a positive example for the United States.

And, of course, Spain and France are physically so much like the US it is frighting:

US –  9,161,923 sq km

Spain – 499,542 sq km

France – 545,630 sq km

For comparison:

Texas – 691,030 sq km

Travel by train has been a part of the culture of both France and Spain for literally centuries. Not so in the US. This is not an “if you build it they will come” moment.

“My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America. We must start developing clean, energy-efficient transportation that will define our regions for centuries to come,” Obama said at an event near the White House.

You can read the plan here. It can pretty much can be summed up by Obama’s statement. Not a single bit of analysis about whether there is a demand, whether or not it will be profitable, and, frankly whether it’s economically viable at all.  It’s all about social concerns, not how much it costs.

This is government betting your money that it can change your habits. It isn’t a business plan that’s been produced, it’s a social engineering plan.

Is this the role you’ve imagined for government? As most who understand economics would tell you, if there is a market and it is a profitable market, some entrepreneur or entrepreneurs will enter that market. But you can be assured that won’t enter a market unless there is a profit to be made – which should tell you all you need to know about this boondoggle.

And whether or not you ever board a single one of these trains in your lifetime, you will pay for it.