Magazine article The American Enterprise

Derailed

Magazine article The American Enterprise

Derailed

Article excerpt

Amtrak, as usual, is in crisis. As it does every year, America's passenger rail monopoly requests more money from Congress than Congress is willing to give. Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation's Inspector General Kenneth Mead has harshly criticized the organization's asset management. He says there are "interlockings, bridges, and tunnels that are well beyond their economic life," Amtrak has been deferring capital expenditure on these items for years. "Continued deferral brings Amtrak closer to a major point of failure on the system," writes Mead, "but no one knows where or when such a failure will occur." If Amtrak collapses, it may be in the literal sense rather than the economic.

There are some people not only willing to point out the problems with Amtrak, but to suggest practical solutions to the current mess. One of these is Joseph Vranich, who helped create Amtrak and later served as president of the High Speed Rail Association. His new book End of the Line: The Failure of Amtrak Reform and the Future of America's Passenger Trains (AEI Press) serves as a manifesto for those who want to see railroad passenger travel freed of the choking grasp of America's nationalized agency.

The economic case for Amtrak's privatization is simple. Despite repeated demands from Congress that it get its act together, Amtrak has consistently failed to meet its own targets. In 1992, the Amtrak chairman claimed that, "Amtrak continues to reduce its need for federal operating support, and hopes to eliminate it altogether by the end of the decade. …

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