AMTRAK CAPITAL INVESTMENT AND THE WESTERN TRAINS January 8th, 2009
RailPAC President Paul Dyson writes to NARP Chairman George Chilson:
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS, 900 Second Street NE Suite 308, Washington, DC 20002, Via E-Mail, hard copy by US Mail Dear George: I am writing on behalf of RailPAC to express our deep concern at the future of Amtrak’s western routes. The trains west of Chicago have been starved of capital investment by Amtrak for many years, and the current 5-year rolling stock plan does nothing to redress this situation. The Superliner fleet is showing its age, now mostly over 30 years, and yet in spite of crowded trains and solid returns on investment from long haul ticket and sleeper revenue Amtrak continues to spend 95% of its capital dollars on the NEC. This should be as unacceptable to NARP as it is to us.
Amtrak has relied for far too long on the “generosity” of the California taxpayer, and the State of California is now broke. We pay twice for our service, as federal and state taxpayers, whereas most of the eastern routes are 100% federally funded. In turn Amtrak charges large sums back to the state to maintain equipment that the state paid for, often far from a “state of good repair”. We believe that San Diego – Los Angeles – San Luis Obispo (LOSSAN) and the Capital Corridor are just as much part of the national network as Boston – New York – Washington DC. Amtrak’s capital priorities are deplorable and unacceptable.
We would like to see leadership from NARP on this issue. Based on using the same hull as the “California” cars there are savings to be had from a long term commitment to build a new generation of cars for the long haul trains in tandem with additional cars for the California corridors. Let’s talk about a thousand cars, or more. This investment is at least as important as more new equipment for the NEC, both financially and politically. Without it the Southwest Chief, Empire Builder et al will simply fade away on a glide path to oblivion.
We also need to campaign, as we are here in California, for better coordination amongst taxpayer funded commuter and intercity services to provide more travel options between intermediate points using existing equipment. It is I think always preferable to take the high ground and insist on better value for taxpayers’ money than simply to keep asking for more subsidies. We should have through trains from the Antelope Valley to San Diego. We should have through trains from Philadelphia to Long Island. We should be making much better use of our transportation assets, and then, with a clear conscience, we can ask for more where appropriate.
We have an opportunity now to demand a better passenger rail system. I believe we have passed the stage where we are fighting for recognition of rail as a significant part of our transportation infrastructure. We should be past the days of “Amtrak, right or wrong”. Let’s work together for a more equitable Amtrak capital spending plan focused on the needs of the NATIONAL system.
Yours faithfully, SIGNED Paul J. Dyson President cc Ross Capon, President, NARP, RailPAC Board