TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Amtrak Passengers Stranded in Woods in Georgia

Re: Amtrak Passengers Stranded in Woods in Georgia
30 Dec 2005 15:02:18 -0800

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: This must certainly be one of the
> grander moments in the glorious history of the Toonerville Trolley.
> If it has not occurred to Amtrack authorities by now to (a) either
> split the wrecked train in two parts and clear the way or (b)
> considering they were already delayed 12 hours in Jacksonville, simply
> evacuate the trains passengers, bus them to the nearest airport and
> have airplanes take everyone to their home town immediatly, then I do
> not suppose another eight or ten hours stranded there will change
> anything.

Note -- The proper spelling is "Amtrak".

I doubt very much splitting the train in two would work since a key
intersection is blocked. A second locomotive would be needed to take
the second part of the train and with the blockade it couldn't reach
the spot.

I suspect passengers can't be evacuated to buses because the train is
in an inaccessible area where buses couldn't reach. Normally that is
done. Further, it seems to be taking CSX too long to clear the

You seem to be blaming Amtrak for this incident when it is clearly the
host railroad's fault, and that is CSX. In the last decade, after many
mega-mergers in the railroad industry, Amtrak has had a very tough time
because the host railroads refuse to properly transport Amtrak trains,
indeed, they can't even run their own trains. When CSX and NS (Norfolk
Southern) carved up Conrail a few years ago it was supposed to improve
service but instead service is much worse.

Recently fired Amtrak president David Gunn had a win-win plan to
improve service. He wanted to partner Federal and freight railroad
money to improve key bottleneck intersections per above so that there
is additional capacity to handle more trains and run them faster. The
freight lines would do better and Amtrak trains would do better. The
Bush Adm fired Mr. Gunn, claiming he had no future plans. Gunn had
plans to significantly increase Amtrak train speeds and reliabiltiy at
modest cost by focusing on the best "bang for the buck" needs. Firing
Mr. Gunn was a very stupid decision. The Bush Adm plans for Amtrak
will only destroy it. IMHO, Gunn was fired because he was doing too
good a job and had too many good ideas.

>I mean is anyone besides me old enough to remember when we
> had real, honest-to-God reliable rail service in America? PAT]

The answer to that clear, but a bit complex. We had good trains before
this country chose to invest many billions of our taxpayer dollars into
aviation and highways. While most of their expenses are covered by
user fees, a considerable amount are not. Our local property taxes,
for example, pay for police/fire/rescue of motorists. Highways and
airplanes use land that is tax free, railroads (such as CSX) must pay
properly taxes on their tracks. Indeed, in the 1950s many towns added
surcharge taxes to railroad properties to get money to build a
municipal airport. Other towns had to make up for taxes lost when a
highway used once taxable land. All this killed off psgr trains.
Amtrak's subsidy is a single number easy to see, but highways and
airways get their subsidies from multiple sources.

Today, Amtrak must pay the expensive pensions of retired railroaders
who never worked for Amtrak. Amtrak must pay dearly to clean up PCBs
and asbestos in old facilities it never even used. This is all part of
the terms of creating Amtrak--it inherited all the legacy debt. In
contrast, today airlines have their debts removed by bankruptcy and
won't even pay pensions for their own employees. The airlines have
dumped about $15 billion of their pension funds onto the pension
guaranty fund -- that's enough money to run Amtrak for ten years.

In 1970 some farsighted people realized that the passenger train still
had a role to play and Amtrak was created. It is documented in a book
about the Nixon Adm, "The Palace Guard", that the highway interests
were furious at DOT Sec Volpe for creating Amtrak and pushed for his
firing. Today Amtrak critics focus literally on how many napkins food
service uses, yet conveniently ignore far bigger waste in the highway
and airline world -- waste that we taxpayers have to pay for. Clearly
Amtrak critics are not interested in saving money, but rather pursuing
an ideological battle. We just don't have the land anymore to build
massive highways and airports. A passenger train can snake underground
and the land above used for other purposes as is done in some cities.

Obviously today the highway and airway will be the primary transport
medium, but there is still a need for passenger trains. The demand is
certainly there -- new Amtrak service is well patronized--but Amtrak is
denied the resources to add more services. Mr. Gunn also had a
corridor improvement plan, sadly that is forgotten too.

[public replies, please]

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Excuses, excuses! My main point was
_what business does the government have in being in the Rail Road
business anyway? The trains ran perfectly well by themselves, and when
the government took over they just got worse and worse. PAT]

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