Amtrak: Railroading the Taxpayers

By:  Ralph R. Reiland
Amtrak: Railroading the Taxpayers

Today is our lucky day, the day each year my wife and I get to be on the receiving end of multiple doses of federal welfare.

My wife and I get to be on the receiving end of multiple doses of federal welfare — gratis money we didn’t ask for and don’t need that will be picked from taxpayers’ pockets in order to lower the price of our breakfast, dinner, travel, and unlimited pours of pinot noir and chardonnay.

As I’m writing this, an Amtrak attendant is driving our ruby red Lexus ES350 up the ramp onto Amtrak's Auto Train in Lorton, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.), for our overnight train excursion to Sanford, Fla. (near Orlando).

Before it headed off to the loading area, another Amtrak attendant slowly circled our car with a video camera, carefully filming the condition of every panel so there’ll be clear evidence when we arrive in Florida whether a scratch or dent was a preexisting condition.

Generally stretching about three-quarters of a mile in length, the Auto Train is often said to be the longest passenger train in the world, counting the enclosed freight cars transporting the cars, vans, motorcycles, jet skis, limos, hot rods, SUVs and small boats. Purist, conversely, maintain  the Auto Train is a mixed-use conglomeration of freight and passengers rather than an unalloyed passenger train.

In any case, regarding train subsidies and taxpayers’ costs, Fred Frailey reported in the November 2013 issue of Trains magazine in his “Amtrak's fiscal report card for 2013” column that Amtrak's operating losses were $1.2 billion in fiscal 2013, a jump of $28 million in losses over fiscal 2012.

Amtrak’s biggest losses occurred with the long-distance passenger trains. The Chicago-to-Oakland Zephyr lost a whopping $74 million in 2013. Altogether, long-distance passenger trains lost $627 million in fiscal 2013, slightly more than half of Amtrak's total losses last year, and up $37 million in red ink from 2012.

The Lorton-to-Sanford Auto Train that we’re riding loses 14 cents per passenger mile. For the 1,710-mile round trip, that's a loss of $239.40 per passenger. For two of us, that's a $478.80 federal subsidy per trip.

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