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Thread: Senate approves $13 billion Amtrak funding bill

  1. #1
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    Senate approves $13 billion Amtrak funding bill

    Why do we keep funding Amtrak? It loses money every year and we have to keep throwing more money at it to keep it going. According to an article on "another planning related web site", ridership "is increasing due to high gas prices, climate change and traffic congestion." So, due to the fact that these three issues will probably continue for years to come, and ridership should continue to increase, at the very least Amtrak should lose less money...right? Therefore, if Amtrak can't become profitable by the time this funding expires in five years, eliminate it or require it to be self supporting.

    How many of you actually use Amtrak on a regular basis if ever?
    ...my lifestyle determines my death style!
    - Metallica

  2. #2
    We need Amtrak until we improve our rail system enough to be able to have effective freight and passenger transportation on it.

    Instead of pushing so much money into our interstates and highways, why don't we instead focus on building and improving rail lines, as well as mass transit?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    I use Amtrak and LOVE it for trips to Philadelphia and NYC
    Used it a good bit when I lived in NC as well as it was faster and easier than driving between RDU, GSO and CHL
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    The vast majority of public transit systems at all levels around the world have significant public input of dollars. Why would Amtrak be so different? Besides, is $13 billion that much when Congress is debating a $700 billion mortgage bailout package?
    Maintaining enthusiasm in the face of crushing apathy.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Fat Cat's avatar
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    Fat Cat

    I used to work near Chicago and the Amtrak (there were two tracks within a mile of each other and I lived on the local milk run, the other was the limited stop) had a stop right across the street from me. I liked it. When I first moved there, it was some what expensive and it was cheaper to take one of the other "rails" for local trips, but after a while the cost came down during the week for local trips.
    I have always prefered mass transit (dont confuse with mass with rapid transit) because it was cheaper, better for the environment, and saved on car expenses. During my career I only have worked with one other planner who used mass transit on a regular dailey basis.
    It sure beats the cost of building and maintaining 4 to 6 lanes freeways.
    Yes I realize that mass transit is not practical for rural areas
    Or fixed rail that only goes for a few blocks
    When I have had a commuter marriage I much prefered traveling by Amtrak to see Mrs Katt, Mrs Katt felt the same way when she would visit me.
    So yes I have used it and other mass transit on a daily basis for years (when available)When I have lived and worked on the west coast, I also used mass transit.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    And when does the Fire Department, or Police Department or library... turn a profit or even break even? Or the highway system? And don't tell me about the gas taxes, without coming up with some estimate of the "hidden" costs involved that are notfunded by fuel taxes... property off tax roll for the right of way, increased air pollution and associated costs, energy dependence that seems to cause us to do wierd things all over the globe, increased costs for emergency medical services, etc.

    I used to do about 600 miles a year on Amtrak, but they killed the train thru my town and the one that went through the town 35 miles away.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian transguy's avatar
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    I personally wish that they would either fund it at a level to allow it to be successful or pull the plug. The meet in the middle, political compromise simply wastes money and provides poor service.
    Much work remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Richi View post
    And when does the Fire Department, or Police Department or library... turn a profit or even break even? Or the highway system?
    You don't fund the fire department and police department where I live...The local residents do! A huge percentage of the population uses the highway system and, therefore, federal funding is justified, but a very small percentage of the population uses, or even gives a crap about Amtrak, but still we all fund it just like the highway system.
    ...my lifestyle determines my death style!
    - Metallica

  9. #9
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Amtrak is heavily used in California on several different routes.

    I'm sure that most California residents could be persuaded to fund Amtrak on our own if we can withdraw funding that comes from California that goes into the Federal coffers for highways in Alabama and Kansas.
    Two wrongs don't necessarily make a right, but three lefts do.

  10. #10
    More people take Amtrak then fly between cities in the northeast.. It is such a great way to travel here. as taxes only pay for a fraction of roads (most funding comes from general tax revenues). So we should have much much more Amtrak funding

  11. #11
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by vagaplanner View post
    You don't fund the fire department and police department where I live...The local residents do! A huge percentage of the population uses the highway system and, therefore, federal funding is justified, but a very small percentage of the population uses, or even gives a crap about Amtrak, but still we all fund it just like the highway system.
    ...and I don't use the highways and interstates and bridges near your home yet for some reason, the federal government has plenty of money to give to fund those transportation projects and most of the time we don't say a peep. Some projects, like a diversified transportation network, are necessary for the health of the country. A huge proportion of citizens use the system because an enormous amount of money was put into it to make the system. Can we speculate that with rising costs and changing driving habits (We've traveled billions less miles this year than in previous), that rail may benefit from a renaissance like interstate roadways did if the same amount (inflation adjusted) of money is poured into the system?

    I'm a big proponent of making all expressways tollways. That way a user fee is collected each time it is used. That money goes into a pot and pays for infrastructure improvements and prevents our precious tax dollars from being wasted system wide.

    They do sell tickets on Amtrak. It is not entirely government funded.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    First off, Amtrak holds its own in the Northeast. This is mostly due to public ownership of the tracks, less freight traffic, extreme highway congestion and the close proximity of cities. It will not work everywhere, but it is viable between cities that are a couple hundred miles apart. Of course, you need easy to use multi-modal connections on either end if the cities are low density and lack a strong CBD.

    We need an Interstate Highway style investment in our rail lines. The states or federal government should fund the infrastructure (tracks, signals, stations, etc.) while private corporations operate the trains (just like the highway network). The government would collect user fees from the operators (for both the tracks and the stations).

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by vagaplanner View post
    You don't fund the fire department and police department where I live...The local residents do!
    If you check with your local PD and FD you will most likely find that much of there equipment and gear probably was funded in part by the Feds.

    Just because you do not see the value of Amtrak does not mean it it should not be funded. I know plenty of peace activist that's that do not feel we need a standing military and would prefer not to fund that but being part of a democratic republic means that from time to time your opinion will be in the minority...so stop your whining and complaining and if it really bothers you write an email to your Congressman and let them know your opposition.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  14. #14
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jmello View post
    We need an Interstate Highway style investment in our rail lines. The states or federal government should fund the infrastructure (tracks, signals, stations, etc.) while private corporations operate the trains (just like the highway network). The government would collect user fees from the operators (for both the tracks and the stations).
    This is exactly what I've always dreamed of (and it's pretty similar to the current system that we use for air travel).
    Two wrongs don't necessarily make a right, but three lefts do.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian safege's avatar
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    Thank you for this thread.

    Every single piece of the transportation infrastructure is going full speed into automation. This will cut costs, and employment in the industry for future generations.

    The argument of capital costs versus operating costs will level out when that happens.
    Psychotics are consistently inconsistent. The essence of sanity is to be inconsistently inconsistent.
    -Larry Wall

  16. #16
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CJC View post
    This is exactly what I've always dreamed of (and it's pretty similar to the current system that we use for air travel).
    I also agree that the BEST way for the railroads to operate is for the mainline trackage to be owned/maintained by one or more separate authorities (public or private) and be open to ANY private operators whom are qualified to use them and are willing to pay their necessary fees - very much like our roads and highway are now. Marshaling yards and so forth can be privately owned by the operators (like road facilities are now, such as with truck terminals, parking lots, etc).

    The British railway network was reorganized into that sort of a scheme when it was de-nationalized in the 1980s. After some teething pains and adjustments along the way (mainly involving the ownership of the track infrastructure), it seems to be working well.

    Unfortunately, to go from what we have now in North America to the British setup will likely be impossible - the railroad companies are (as they have been from day one) ZEALOUSLY protective of their respective 'turfs' and will not hesitate to do ANYTHING needed to keep a competitor out (just check the minutia of the railroad network in eastern Wisconsin to see multitudes of examples of lines being abandoned - or NOT abandoned and sitting idle - for this reason). OTOH, had this been the setup from day one, it is very likely that North America's rail network would be far more extensive than it is now as many now abandoned lines would still be in use.

    And besides, for a British-style rail infrastructure agency to upgrade, build a new railroad or reopen a long abandoned line here in North America - just see what happens when a road is proposed to be upgraded or built new...



    Mike
    Last edited by mgk920; 04 Oct 2008 at 12:30 PM.

  17. #17
    We have a private company running our commuter rail here. It has not helped. The trains run very very poorly.

    Also Britain got rid of its privatization - it failed so badly it was one of the things that brought down the Tory government.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    We have a private company running our commuter rail here. It has not helped. The trains run very very poorly.

    Also Britain got rid of its privatization - it failed so badly it was one of the things that brought down the Tory government.
    What they got rid of was the private ownership of the TRACK (it is now run by an agency much like a state highway department). Otherwise it is still pretty much as it was after denationalization, right?

    Mike

  19. #19
    Cyburbian b3nr's avatar
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    Your a big country, you can afford it. Its another option right? Railways rarely make money, but most countries recognise why should have the option available. You'd miss them if they were gone. A lot of the people i met on my trip on Amtrak (just the once on holiday) were tourists, think of all that foreign currency. I would say though it was horribly, horribly slow. I think we averaged 30 mph between Fort Worth and San Antonio.

    Also, Britain did not re-nationalise its railways (unfortunately), but the regulation has been tightened up. The networks are ran by operators who have to submit bids to government. They win the franchise based upon how much money they will pay the exchequer on profitable routes (Great Western, London Commuter, main lines) or how little they will lose in subsidy on lines that make a loss (Wales, Scotland, most regional networks).

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    Where Amtrak has reasonable service, it has significant ridership. It's sort of like the "People won't use transit unless they have no other choice' argument. Provide a bus system that offers ihr or less headways and shuts down at 7 PM and the only riders will be those that can't drive or can't afford an auto. Same with Amtrak. One train a day that hits your station at 4AM one way and 1AM the other is not likely to get much ridership from your town. Worse yet is the every other day train.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Do roads turn a profit? Why should Amtrak?

  22. #22
    Cyburbian RPfresh's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    We have a private company running our commuter rail here. It has not helped. The trains run very very poorly.

    Also Britain got rid of its privatization - it failed so badly it was one of the things that brought down the Tory government.
    I think privatization works in Japan - can anyone back this up?

    And I think as far as trains turning a profit yeah, that'd be nice, but it's just not what public transportation is about - I think that a government owes it to its citizens to ensure that they have the means to travel freely, whether that means a functional bus or subway system locally or a train system on a national or international level. Personally I think that should be up there with our basic rights, being as location and access to transit affect so much in our daily lives these days. I like how they do it in Curitiba - water, electricity, sewage system and transit, all the same as priorities. But that's just me.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne View post
    Do roads turn a profit? Why should Amtrak?
    Where would we be without highways and the interstate system? Would our economy miss Amtrak? I think not!
    ...my lifestyle determines my death style!
    - Metallica

  24. #24
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by vagaplanner View post
    Where would we be without highways and the interstate system? Would our economy miss Amtrak? I think not!
    California, the Chicago area, and the Boston-Washington corridor represent more than 50% of the economy of America and depend heavily on Amtrak. So yes, I think our economy would miss Amtrak.
    Two wrongs don't necessarily make a right, but three lefts do.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    Vagaplaner - Things wouldn't work w/o highways. The Interstate system, however, is another thing. With great input of public capital, the Interstate system was built to directly compete with rail for long haul freight transport. It's hard to pinpoint a turning point in the US concept of an ideal transportation system, but the Interstates may have been it. So it was "all eggs in one basket" and damn the consequences. At the time, it seemed likea good idea. Door to door freight in one vehicle. And faster than the "old" way, too.

    Add to that unfair shortsighted regulation and the railroads were almost killed off in the late 60's. Many lines were abandoned and others that were 2-tracks were reduced to one with long stretches between passing sidings. Many were "flat tracked" (the superelevation in curves was eliminated or reduced) because the few trains that would run in the future would be slow coal or grain trains.

    This killed capacity & speed. Now, most (or many) railroads didn't like passenger trains to begin with by that time. But this really did them in. The PO doing away with airmail and putting almost all mail onto trucks or planes also was a factor.

    Remember, at first LOS B or A was the norm outside of the urban areas and LOS D was a real big deal!

    Now comes Amtrak attempting to fit into the deficient rail infrastructure this failed vision left us. Looking at fuel costs, congestion, pollution and climate change one wonders where we could be with passenger rail if the rail system in existence during WW II would have been kept up to speed with new technology and capacity.

    Travel in the NE Corridor (Boston to Richmond now), in parts of CA, and a few other corridors would completely break down w/o Amtrak. The rest of the country gets a little Amtrak as a sop to keep those areas voting to fund the NEC.

    In most areas, passenger rail will never be able to make a profit, but if we had better service many, many more people would depend on it.

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