Biased report threatens Amtrak

Amtrak Reform Council issues second annual misguided, biased report

In another misguided and biased report, the Amtrak Reform Council on March 20 proposed dividing Amtrak into separate companies -- one responsible for train operations, a second government-owned corporation to oversee tracks and stations, and a third consolidated government oversight agency.

The main flaw with the proposal, however, is that it's been tried in Great Britain -- where it failed miserably.

Legislators in Great Britain privatized the country's passenger rail system in the mid-1990s, and in doing so, created one company that runs trains and a second company that maintains track and infrastructure - much like the Amtrak Reform Council suggested for the future of Amtrak.

However, according to the chairman of Britain's Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), Sir Alastair Morton, the nation's rail network is a mess, with passenger trains subject to long delays. The British passenger rail industry has suffered four major fatal accident in three and a half years, and has been accused of putting profit before safety.

"At the center of the (British) railway industry's problems is the division of track from trains which sets up an adversarial relationship between (the track maintenance company) and the train operating companies," according to a recent report in The Economist magazine. "Not only does it mean that the two sides do not work naturally together on day-to-day matters of maintenance, or on longer-term issues of investment. It also involves many man-hours as each side monitors the other's performance, checking on whether the complex performance schedules have been met."

The solution, according to British railway officials, is to reunite the two companies. Members of the Amtrak Reform Council, ironically, suggest doing just the opposite to Amtrak.

"From their globe-trotting journeys, we would have hoped that ARC members understand that other countries, particularly England, are reeling from the dire consequences of privatization including the degradation of safety and service. Instead, the ARC majority would steer America down that road as well," said BLE International President Edward Dubroski.

Formed in 1997 to assess the passenger train corporation's future, the ARC made four basic recommendations in its second annual report, issued on March 20:

BLE President Dubroski, in his role as Chairman of the TTD's Rail Labor Division, AFL-CIO, issued a statement strongly criticizing the ARC proposal.

"The ARC had a chance to make a clear, bold show of support for Amtrak, but instead offered up a complicated series of recommendations that further underscore the ARC's anti-Amtrak bias," he said. "The ARC could have issued a rallying cry for making our national passenger rail service a long-term success but instead missed another opportunity to convince the American people that it performs a worthy function. After reviewing the ARC's latest report, we deeply regret that American taxpayer dollars were wasted on the work of this misguided panel and vow to continue our effort to zero out federal funding for this unnecessary oversight panel."

"The ARC has rolled out a murky series of options and rationales for its ideological agenda, when it should have called on Congress and the President to fully fund Amtrak and give it a real chance to be viable. Then - and only then - can responsible policy leaders examine options for Amtrak into the future. The restructuring proposals put forth in the report are radical, unnecessary and could cause more harm than good to the cause of intercity rail passenger service. It's time to stop the globetrotting and reports and give Amtrak a genuine chance to be a world class passenger rail operation by providing a real, sustained federal financial commitment to our national passenger railroad.

"One investment measure that has wide bipartisan support is the High Speed Rail Investment Act. We had hoped that the ARC would have realized the innovation behind this legislation and believe the Council missed an opportunity by failing to join in support of this bill."

In 1999, the ARC board members took an expensive trip to London for one of its meetings. However, it failed to report what it learned in those meetings in any of its proposals.

"For all the global jet-setting ARC members did at taxpayers' expense, you would think they would have noticed that no nation in the world allows its intercity passenger rail service to wither on the vine," Dubroski continued. "Every nation subsidizes passenger rail to ensure it can deliver first class transportation services.

"Clearly, Amtrak and its 20,000 employees are at a crossroads. Long-term and sustainable financing, not ideologically driven proposals to break up Amtrak, will ensure a strong and viable national passenger rail system. The ARC should heed that call or cease to exist."


2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers