Saturday, May 07, 2005

Bush versus Amtrak

I have to admit at the outset, I wholeheartedly supported Bush in '04. And I am still glad I did. Kerry and the Dems would have been a disaster. But between W, Norman Mineta, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) are either clueless, or are clearly united to dismantle Amtrak. (For another opinion on Mr. Mineta, go here.)

Before we go on, how is it that a Congressman from Alaska heads this committee? Could the GOP have found anyone as far removed geographically, and perhaps philosophically, from the whole Amtrak and rail passenger situation as Mr. Young? I cannot comment on the man or his politics, but whatever rules leading to the selection of Committee Chairmen have clearly failed here. The Bush-Mineta plan does away with one bureaucracy and substitutes FOUR in its place! The idea is that Amtrak operates, but others own the facilities. Please! What leverage would any operating department have in such a situation.

And quadrupling the bureaucracies sounds more like what we would have heard from a Kerry Administration!

In the May Trains Magazine, columnist Don Phillips makes a point so simple, and so hard hitting, that it is mind numbing in its implications for the lack of thought that went behind the Administration's Proposal! That point is this: If control is turned over to individual States, and one State on a particular train's route does not pay up, does the train run thru that State without picking up passengers? And what about those passengers from the pay-up States who filled the coffers only to be denied the right to detrain at their chosen destination that falls within the non-pay State? Phillips uses Colorado as his example, but consider potential operations around Chicago. This area could be one of the prime success stories for a well thought-out Amtrak, but lining up Wisconsin, Illinois,Indiana, Michigan, and maybe even Missouri and Iowa to all run passenger trains will be much more difficult than what Amtrak could do on its own, right this minute!

The US needs trains where they will work. They will not work everywhere. But they can work, should be made to work, and must be given the chance to work in those workable places such as Chicagoland and the Northeast Corridor. Bush's Plan will not work. If Bush's real plan is to dismantle Amtrak, that isn't going to happen, either.

Both the US Congress and the Administration should listen to the professionals at Amtrak, like David Gunn, and let the pros tell the politicos how it should be done. Once again, office holders, like some of the bureaucrats who operate in Public Transit Agencies, do not understand that any past or potential problems in Transit or Rail Passenger operations is not due to a lack of management skills, but due instead to financial considerations. When it comes to helping Amtrak, the Administration and Congress cannot see the track ahead for the crossties!


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