In my lifetime, I don’t nor could I really logically expect anything much better than what Amtrak offers in this country. Our current position in the world is to continually fall behind further until we’re dead last and have to intensely struggle through a great advancement. I’ve no idea how the country could cohesively pull that off, but it might happen one day. Until then there are a few slim chances that America gets good at this whole passenger service thing again. Here’s some of the things Amtrak and the United States Congress needs to straighten out.
- Setup a legal structure for Amtrak to operate similar to airlines or even rail lines in Japan, France, or Germany. That is, let Amtrak actually aim for real competitive and modern operation of the railroads they have.
- Get rid of Amtrak’s right of refusal on line usage, and encourage and build a legal and financial accounting system in which the economic efficiency of rail service make sense to privately (or publicly) operate between city pairs. There’s no reason anyone should be flying or driving between city pairs that are 50-300 miles apart unless for specific reasons (like hauling stuff in your car). For quick trips, especially of individuals, train service should absolutely be an option that’s available.
- Instate a reasonable insurance mechanism so that companies can insure, rail companies can buy, and people can expect fully insured passenger rail service that doesn’t destroy the actual operative and financial nature of the rail service. Currently passenger rail insurance is completely out of line with other modal insurance options. At least, last I checked (it’s been a few years).
- Get operators that have great records, and provide an option to take over services. There’s zero reason Amtrak being the pseudo-Government Corporation it is, should be running the entire system. Amtrak isn’t setup to run efficient, high end service. But other companies are, such as the Rocky Mountaineer or Alaska Railroad companies, both of which I’m sure would readily take over a line like the Empire Builder or otherwise and dramatically improve service. Just look at the services they provide – the Empire Builder could be returned to it’s former glory on a massive level. Same with the Coast Starlight and others.
- Have Congress work with the railroads to make them work with the Unions and also encourage (mandate) the unions operate the rail lines as efficiently as European operations. The European lines have unions (see SNCF, ICE, etc) and they’re net operationally profitable almost across the board, they’re noticeably safer for passengers, and the other amenities are generally better all around. There’s zero reason that the unions that work with Amtrak, or whatever passenger service can’t evolve to operate and work with the efficiency of those that do so much better – for customers AND the Union members.
- Another slim hope is the private sector breaking free of the oddball rules of anti-trust and related regulation that have curtailed passenger service station areas. For instance, the Brightline Service in southern Florida that is being built today, expects the trains to almost act as a loss leader or at most operationally profitable accounting item while the station areas are being built up for urban living. This is the way to build very efficient, very modern systems around smart and intelligent systemic build outs of living space, retail and commercial related space, and have connections between those spaces for the people that use them. This is a situation that is perfectly align-able with rail service.
Got other suggestions? Write a comment or two and maybe we’ll get a giant list, get a few thousand signatures and shoot it up to Congress eh? Well, we’ll at least talk about it and dream of a better passenger rail future eh!
Here’s a few other documents to get those brain storming sessions going!
- Joseph Vranich’s idea to liquidate Amtrak to build better rail passenger service.
- Strengthening Passenger Rail in the US
For now, this will probably be the last post on US Passenger rail for a while. But I’ll have some urban, transit, and related posts coming up soon. Cheers!