As with high speed we approach high speed rail’s 8th Annual National Train Day on May 9th – which also, significantly, coincides with “Lost Sock Memorial Day” – the losses of Amtrak just last year alone are worth six minutes of reflection.
In about the time it takes to read this article, Amtrak intends to shave that and more – 360 seconds – from its Seattle/Portland run by running its trains through the life-congested neighborhood of Tillicum and Tillicum’s suburbs to the immediate north and south – Lakewood and DuPont, respectively.
“Keep losses under $305 million,” Amtrak employees were told, “and be rewarded with $11.2 million in bonuses.”
March 10 of this year, Sarah Westwood reported in the “Washington Examiner,” that the incentive program ‘worked’ – $91 million of the losses were ‘saved’ in 2014 which is to say that the actual amount lost, $214 million, was not as bad as the amount projected to be lost: $305 million.
So everybody shared in the $11.2 million bonus.
For not having lost as much as they could have lost.
Doing the math, there is a problem.
Saving losses of $91 million annually may get you a bonus and a ‘good-job’ certificate for your ego wall, but at that rate it’ll be never – as in never – before running the railroad runs out of red ink.
Called “a massive failure” by its founder on the eve of National Train Day 2011, Amtrak had by then developed a long track record of cumulative losses that – even with this latest development – will forever gather steam.
Mike Opelka, in the May 7, 2011 issue of “The Blaze” wrote:
“This week kicks off the 40th Anniversary of the money-sucking, inefficient, outmoded national rail system we call Amtrak. Amtrak losses bucket loads of money every day. The national rail system operates in the red, generating huge losses and has done so each and every year of its existence putting the overall tab for this antiquated, bloated and inefficient system around $50 billion dollars of taxpayer money. Most private transportation companies have been forced to apply real world solutions in these difficult economic times, yet Amtrak rolls on, acting as if they were exempt from the problem. Four decades of massive money losses to serve the transportation needs of less than 2% of the country.”
Fifty billion lost over 40 years, or $1.25 billion lost annually, minus $91 million not lost in 2014, plus $11.2 million plus in last year’s bonuses, equals a public taken for a ride.
The conductors, caboose folks, and every employee in-between of the publicly-funded railroad service would have even gotten more – millions more – for losing less except that their customer satisfaction rating proved unsatisfactory.
Hoping 84.25 percent of riders would be pleased, Amtrak management discovered surveys showed they weren’t. Thinking perhaps then the goal was too lofty, the agency hit the happy-reset for 83.5. Nope. The Wi-Fi must not have been fast enough – or existent – for some. Pillows not fluffy. Whatever. Eighty-one percent? Can we not do better than the 81 percent we achieved last year?
And even though evidently not, 32 staff received $36,907 each for trying.
Speaking of trying, if you are forever trying to match your mismatched socks there is day set aside just for you: “Lost Sock Memorial Day,” the same day this year as National Train Day.
“Lost Sock Memorial Day recognizes your drawer full of unmatched socks. Each unmatched sock represents a missing sock. We never throw away our unmatched socks. After all, it may show up someday.”
Kind of like the-one-day-to-show-a-profit Amtrak.
Follow the money. Just think, if we pay Amtrak employees enough incentives to not lose so much, the day may come when we won’t lose any money at all and they’ll all be able to retire as millionaires! So that’s how it works? We pay them a salary to perform a job efficiently and then have to pay them a bonus when they fail to perform the job efficiently. In the private sector you’d be out of business in a week. However it’s not limited to AMTRAK. Recent news discovered that the IRS (and probably a whole bunch of other corrupt federal agencies) while pleading poverty when it comes to tax payer services had been spending money like a drunken sailor (no offense to our Navy veterans) on bonuses, perks, meetings, furniture and other non-essentials. Time for some accountability and to fire these department heads, cut off their pensions and put them behind bars. They are more about self enrichment instead of public service.
Nathan Langston says
The article is sophomoric, if it even rises to that level. Amtrak loses a lot of money, but you haven’t noticed that 100% of the subsidy is spent supporting just one small part of the business: the political sacred cow of the Northeast Corridor. According to Amtrak’s own statements, none of the subsidy is used elsewhere in the system, meaning that the regional corridors like the Cascades, and the interregional long distance routes like the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight, at least break even (the Cascades do so with the help of Washington’s and Oregon’s local support). So castigate away, but at least aim at the right target.
Susan Rothwell says
Tell me how proposed roundabouts at Tillicums two freeway bridges, exits 122 and 123, figure into the train plans! Roundabouts planned by DOT for each end of the bridges.
Co-opted Confederate says
The local shovel leaners union has been griping they don’t have enough work
I love Amtrak. I take it to Portland all the time. Soon I’ll be able to roll my bike onto a train heading for Chicago and start a bike ride in Wisconsin. It loses money. Government subsidized programs do that.
I love Medicare. While I don’t yet have Medicare, I will soon and will love having medical bills paid for by the government. Does Medicare make money? Well no, they are in one big financial mess right now. They expect to be broke in the next decade unless something is reformed, but it can’t be that bad because nobody cares.
I love the military. They keep us safe from both real and imaginary threats. How do they do financially? Nobody knows, they can’t even tell you where the money goes, it just disappears. Every year they get an adverse opinion that their financial statements can’t be relied upon and they don’t have proper internal controls, but each year they expect to get a little better until one day they are like a company in the private sector.
We could go on all day about government suckage across the board, or we could just enjoy life and stop trying to bring others down.
Co-opted Confederate says
Otay …slug. Yer down. Wee don need no Steenkeen Amtrak eh hombres Y senoras.
No transportation infrastructure ever makes money. According to a classic post by David Cranor summarizing DOT data (http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/12208/funding-amtrak-is-more-cost-effective-than-subsidizing-roads/), roads in the US are actually subsidized on a higher per-travel-mile rate than trains. Requiring Amtrak to be ‘profitable’ is an absurd nod to an anachronistic understanding of public goods.
Co-opted Confederate says
Liberal antiquated lunatic hyperbole. Rail roads actually died with the vulcanized tire but the Railroad barons were contributing too much to sustain the liberal political status quo for the funeral to happen. Big government is committing suicide one subsidy at a time.
So Tim it’s OK with you that the government wastes your…..our….tax money? Be happy, don’t worry? None of what you mentioned is “free”: someone is paying for it and most likely to the greatest extend by those who don’t use it. Medicare: going broke. Amtrak: going broke. Social security: going broke. Out of all the things you mentioned only the military is specifically outlined in the Constitution as a federal function. Government subsidies to other endeavors “for the common good” that can’t financially on their own may be justified in certain situations but the fraud, waste and abuse that occurs within those subsidized endeavors cannot be justified.
David Anderson says
Actually Amtrak, Peter, is “an absurd nod to an anachronistic understanding of public goods.”
And whistling past the graveyard, Nathan, is not limited to the NE Corridor.
Happily side-tracking millions of dollars of Washington State-routed federal stimulus money to whistle down the track and past decrepit bridges – “more than a third having exceeded their design life” earning our state a C- according to the American Society of Civil Engineers as reported by Johnston – ‘A’ for Amtrak goes rumbling by those crumbling spans.
When 67,000 cars and trucks were re-routed following the collapse of the four-lane I-5 connection spanning the Skagit River this past May, David Cay Johnston in “The Daily Beast” called the disaster north of Seattle a reflection of “the dire state of our bridges and highways.”
“The New York Times” declared the “Washington State bridge collapse highlights infrastructure needs.”
Former governor Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania and Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor of California, together with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, issued a statement characterizing the bridge collapse as a “call to action.”
“The collapse of the Skagit River Bridge in Washington State is a timely reminder of our nation’s need to invest in critical infrastructure upgrades,” Mr. Rendell said. “Our nation’s bridges, roads and highways are deteriorating before our eyes.”
But for all the dubious attention our state has garnered – having grabbed headlines across the country – we seem not to have heard the hue-and-cry for the rumble of the train.
Failing thoroughfares and clogged economic life-lines, desperately in need of radical replacement surgery, await someone with political wherewithal to call Amtrak for what it is: a costly cosmetic.
In a six-page letter dated November 14, 2008, addressed to George Xu, Planning and Strategic Assessment Manager, State Rail and Marine Office for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), Dave Bugher, Community Development Director and Assistant City Manager for Development for the City of Lakewood systematically and extensively undermines – you might say derails – WSDOT’s plan to thrust as many as 12 high speed trains per day through the business districts and neighborhoods bordering the track along our section of I-5.
WSDOT’s contention that “the plan” will alleviate I-5 congestion – i.e. “embrace transportation strategies to change driving patterns” – is, per Bugher, “debatable as applied to Amtrak Cascades service.” And, Bugher’s reference to WSDOT’s acknowledgement that “over 80 percent of Cascades trips are leisure-based” leads Bugher to the conclusion that “the plan” is not in fact founded upon the “demand for Amtrak Cascades service” but rather “appears to be strongly tied to marketing.”
More billboard baloney is suggested by WSDOT’s contention that “of every $1 billion invested in rail, an estimated 20,000 new jobs would be created curbing global warming and supporting cleaner energy.” Bugher responds to this and several other claims, calling them not only “superficial”, but “outrageous” since “no supporting data or evidence (is) included to offer a logical foundation for the argument.”
The U.S. Congress has had over 35 years to 1. come up with a comprehensive U.S. rail plan ; 2. actually fund Amtrak to make it viable; or 3. drop it all together. They have done nothing. So who’s to blame? Short answer: your favorite whipping boys, the U.S. Congress. Plenty of blame for Republicans and Democrats and their short-sighted solutions for everything.
Co-opted Confederate says
There should be absolutely no at grade railroad crossings any where especially in Lakewood, WA The technology is out there, the engineering skills and equipment are out there and according to USDOT and WSDOT so is the money talk about creating more jobs for shovel leaners and whit hats is the only good than can come out of any Rail Project Blimps are better, bigger cheaper and can do 90 miles an hour. The only thing trains are actually good for is hauling coal which they could, should and used to run on.