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Time for Amtrak to stand on its own

January 10, 2013 - Rob Weaver
Amtrak's president and CEO Joseph Boardman reported Thursday the passsenger railroad operating loss in 2012 was $361 million -- the lowest since 1975. Which means the National Railroad Passenger Corp. was losing a lot of money within five years of beginning operations.

Amtrak reported it carried 31.2 million passengers in the fiscal last fiscal year, which conveniently coincides with the federal fiscal year, perhaps because it needs federal subsidies to keep it running. That means, on average, taxpayers shelled out about $11.57 per passenger. Of course, the federal government is operating at an annual loss, too, so some of that money was borrowed. Would Amtrak have had a million more riders last year if they had to pay fares that covered costs?

Perhaps if the folks running Amtrak had to operate without a subsidy, costs would be contained. This is an operation, for example, that charges $9.50 for a microwaved hamburger, yet still manages to lose about $6.50 on each sale. Maybe the word “manage” is misused in that sentence.

This isn't a start-up railroad which taxpayers are providing operating capital until it starts to turn a profit. Amtrak regularly requires more than $1 billion to cover loses from day-to-day operations, maintenance and equipment costs. Please tell me how the public benefit exceeds that cost.

A five-year plan should be developed to privatize American travel by track. We can't afford to continue shoring up an enterprise that meets political objectives. It needs to serve the market for commuters and travelers or go the way of the stagecoach.


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