Amtrak

Amtrak: A Marx Brothers revival

Watching Washington, July 2018: When everybody owns something, nobody accepts accountability or responsibility. Such is the circumstance of Amtrak, a near-50-year-old orphan wandering in a public policy wilderness, dependent on grudgingly provided public assistance often provided with conditions and objectives so conflicted as to suggest a Marx Brothers comedy.

Amtrak as bully

Amidst extravagant accusations of inhospitable dispatching by host freight railroads of its long-distance passenger trains, taxpayer subsidized Amtrak is aggressively manipulating its privileged position in contravention of a congressional intent to expand private-sector operation of passenger trains. Amtrak’s strong-arm tactics also serve to squeeze monopoly rents from state and regional transit authorities, whose commuter trains share Amtrak-owned facilities.

Does the emperor wear no clothes?

With no panache in any prior media announcement, nor even a tip-off to its diehard advocacy supporters, Amtrak launched on June 20 a unique sale of roomettes through only June 26, and good for travel between Aug. 20 and Feb. 15, 2019 (https://www.amtrak.com/roomette-sale-buy-one-get-one-free). Based upon the prior atmosphere of Amtrak and certain airlines, this surprise sale actually gives the impression of simmering issues behind the iron curtain of transparency deep within the Amtrak bunker.

Reimagining Amtrak stations

Amtrak is embarked upon an aggressive plan to “de-staff” the majority of its stations, to “cut costs.” The project downgrades the service support for its largest and most commercially successful group of trains, the long-distance interregional services. Amtrak justifies this by the trend toward selling tickets on the web rather than from agents at stations.

NJT: $600MM for Portal North Bridge

New Jersey Transit’s Board of Directors on June 13 approved a financing agreement with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) that provides up to $600 million toward the construction of the first phase of a new Portal Bridge, a key component of the ambitious Gateway Project to improve passenger rail service between New York City and New Jersey. The funding commitment “solidifies New Jersey’s local share of the project cost,” NJT said.