Amtrak Tracking for My Commute Between New York City and Philadelphia

Friday, February 20, 2009

Amtrak arrestee Duane Kerzic received “five-figure settlement” after Colbert segment aired

Duane Kerzic, the photographer arrested by Amtrak police I covered in a prior post, has settled his case as Amtrak gave him a pay out (and see the Colbert spoof of this here). The trend of photographers being arrested by police has become more common as Police state this can prevent terror attacks.

New Amtrak President Declares War on Dead End Bureaucrats in His Midst

Posting today in The Infrastructurist about an interview new Amtrak president Joseph Boardman recently gave. Some of Boardman's comments include:
  • Amtrak as being "in worse shape than I thought" and full of hopeless clock-watchers.
  • There are a lot of dead enders at Amtrak. Boardman refers to them as "people who don't believe."
  • Their heads will roll: "he says [any] Amtrak managers… who cannot make the transition from a survival mode to a growth mode will have to find another job."
  • The previous management, despite the fact that traffic was up 12 percent last year, apparently didn't order any regular passenger cars as part of their five year plan. For some reason they just asked for odds and ends like "baggage dormitory cars."
  • This lack of passenger cars leaves Amtrak in "horrible" shape for America's new golden era of passenger rail.
I have no problem with people getting laid off if they're not doing their job or are just not effective. There are slackers at every company, public and private. Slackers at private companies get whacked more quickly though and I hope all those companies doing layoffs now take advantage of the cost cutting they need to do and ditch their losers, this will make these companies ultimately stronger in the long term though it may hurt the economy in the short term. I hope Amtrak applies these same principles, you can't have a well run company poised for growth and efficiency gains with slackers on board, they drag the company down and de-motivate others. So Boardman, do what you have to do, don't just talk the talk.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Amtrak cuts Acela fares in Northeast Corridor

USA Today AP story noting that Amtrak is cutting Acela prices. Fares on the Acela Express were reduced up to 25%.  Acela tickets will be priced as low as $99 between Washington and New York City; the lowest fare for that route had been $133.  The offer runs between March 3 and June 26 and passengers must buy their tickets two weeks in advance to get the lower prices.

Why Amtrak Can’t—and Never Will—Make Money

Article by Rush Loving Jr. in the Richmond Times Dispatch comments on the view of Amtrak funding. Amtrak has been trying to turn a profit since its inception but has never achieved. Rush Loving discusses why a focus on profitability by Amtrak's leadership has hamstrung the company.

Recently the tone toward funding Amtrak with higher amounts of government dollars has become more palatable and governments insistence that Amtrak be profitable has lessened. Achieving profitability is definitely a goal to strive for and some Amtrak services do indeed make money. But the benefits of a modern and efficient rail infrastructure to minimize congestion on roads and airways and to promote business by facilitating transportation are worth funding with tax payer dollars. Exactly what the proper public funding level is I don't know but it needs to be more than it has been and the new stimulus bill provides a good boost to make rail service better and more efficient which will ultimately benefit the economy.

Some points from the article:

"The entire history of Amtrak is replete with examples of CEOs who have tried to get government to commit long-term funding for the company, only to be ignored. Unfortunately, all but David Gunn made a fatal mistake: They never told Congress Amtrak couldn't ever make money."

"None the wiser, Congress has always expected a profitable company, and over the decades Amtrak's chief executives dutifully have talked of putting Amtrak into the black."

"Amtrak cannot ever make enough to attract the capital it will need for new equipment. Even if load factors are increased and the trains make a profit, operating and maintenance costs will prohibit Amtrak from earning enough to attract investors and lenders and finance new equipment or expand services."

"When David Gunn succeeded Warrington in 2002, he wasted no time telling Congress it had no clothes. 'Amtrak will never be profitable,' Gunn told a Senate hearing five weeks after taking office. Congress' mandate that Amtrak be in the black was, he dubbed, 'an impossible goal.'"

"Some politicians, doctrinaire conservatives in particular, insist that passenger trains should be run with private capital, and government has no business subsidizing them. It's a strange concept since government helped the early railroads develop, providing land and even capital .... government has subsidized transportation, building lighthouses and roads, dredging rivers, and so on. Amtrak's critics ignore the hard fact that regularly scheduled passenger trains might have made money 100 years ago but can't today -- not just here, but almost anywhere in the world. The incredible passenger networks of Europe are government-subsidized."

"The sooner Washington accepts Gunn's warning, the quicker America will have better transportation."

Lawmakers: 'Up To' $1.5B for Rail Tunnel in Stimulus article about the the federal stimulus to be signed by President Barack Obama today contains a provision that would provide up to $1.5 billion for the construction of a new rail tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York Penn Station. The article notes that the "stimulus legislation also contains more than $9 billion for Amtrak and other passenger rail programs to improve the Northeast Corridor and begin to develop a network of high-speed trains nationwide, the lawmakers said. At least $510 million will be used for additional rail improvements in Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, in addition to Amtrak's regular capital budgets for the next 19 months"

I'm happy to see this kind of funding in the bill, this will make noticeable improvements along the NEC ultimately benefiting the economy and commuters alike.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Details of the Stimulus Package - Money Appropriated for High-Speed Trains and Amtrak Improvement

Article in the Washington Post today titled "Sifting Through Details of the Deal" talks about the economic stimulus package passed by Congress. A line worth noting: "In a victory for rail advocates, the bill includes $9.3 billion to develop high-speed trains and to improve Amtrak."

This is good news, I'm happy to see spending for high speed rail made the cut in the final bill. Spending for rail provides a short term job creation boost with long term benefits to the economy as improved rail service helps commuters and business alike.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Centrists in Senate Push to Cut Billions From Stimulus, $850 million for Amtrak targeted

The New York Times reported that some lawmakers are anxious over the increasing size of the proposed economic stimulus package and are looking to strip tens of billions of dollars from the bill. This effort is being led by two centrist senators, Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine. They say they'd like to pare from $50 billion to $200 billion from the package. Among the initiatives that could be cut are $850 million for Amtrak.

The final Senate vote on the stimulus package was expected sometime Thursday. This would hurt any near term Amtrak/NEC improvements but the bill is not yet final.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"High-Speed Rail Key to Infrastructure Renewal"

A story by Nick Gier on the New West site, a site dedicated matters around the Rocky Mountain West. Though a bit far from the East coast they have an article titled High-Speed Rail Key to Infrastructure Renewal

Couple of facts/numbers I think worth noting:
  • Amtrak’s Acela train averages only 79 mph between New York and Washington, while the EuroStar between London and Paris averages 136 mph
  • Currently China invests 9 percent of its gross national product in infrastructure, European nations lay out 5 percent, but the U.S. gives only 2.4 percent
Even with the boost likely to be given Amtrak by the Obama stimulus plan I do not think we'll be reaching these numbers in the coming years.  But as long as public transit (Amtrak and other rail/public transit options) and the US transportation infrastructure receive funding for upgrades with continued maintenance, the US will remain competitive over the long term and realize steady gains in economic prosperity.

Colbert Report satires Amtrak-NPPA dispute (via Just Journalism)

Post in the Just Journalism blog about the arrest of the Amtrak photo contestant at New York Penn Station spoofed by Stephen Colbert on his Comedy Central show The Colbert Report, here's the clip from the show:

Monday, February 02, 2009

Acela Seeks To Lure Passengers From Airlines

Here's a Huffington Post item on the New York Times article "Acela Looks to Lure From the Skies and the Roads". Amtrak has a new ad campaign to get business travelers along the NEC to use Acela instead of flying. Amtrak has an offer of buying three round-trips and get the fourth free (must be a member of the Amtrak Guest Rewards frequent-traveler program, it's easy to become one).

Amtrak Acela is great for business travel and I'm happy Amtrak is promoting it. I never used it much for my commuting but anything that makes good money for Amtrak I'm happy for them to exploit as much as they can, keeps prices lower (one could assume) for the every day traveler.