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.