The following is the opinion of the author and is not the position of the Rail Passenger Association of California

By M.E. Singer

In 1967, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) was formed in Chicago by Anthony Haswell to fight the rapid discontinuance and service
deterioration of what was once a vast network of passenger trains operated by the privately-owned railroads.

To strengthen his ardent consumer advocacy work, Haswell moved NARP to Washington, D.C. to work closely lobbying Congress, FRA, and USDOT. Even after helping to achieve Amtrak (nee Railpax legislation October, 1970), Haswell did not consider any group untouchable, as he hammered in congressional testimony and in the media against the preventable errors of Amtrak, antagonistic approach of Greyhound, and uncooperative attitude of the freight railroads; as well, the overt public subsidies to the airlines and interstate highway system.

As a consumer advocate, Haswell was quite successful with congressional committees and transportation writers in their day knowing they could count on him for well researched, actual information. Like Ralph Nader, Haswell could not be bought.

Regrettably, the pure consumer advocacy posture of NARP has been discarded with little notice by Congress, media, and rail passengers.  In an obvious effort to diminish incessant, criticism so effective in Congress and the media, Amtrak moved to align mutual economic interests with NARP. In 1997, Amtrak created the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee with the intent of funding NARP “to staff and manage.”

Such egregious behavior, perhaps is acceptable in the milieu of Washington, where even the Chair of the House T&E Committee has a relationship with the VP Global Affairs of Airlines for America, the primary lobbying group pushing privatization of FAA. However, such conflict-of-interest is intolerable to those who understand how consumer advocacy was clearly compromised once Amtrak directed its tax dollar subsidy to filling up the outreached tin cup of NARP. Plainly put, in the consumer advocacy world, this would be no different than if Exxon Mobil contributed to the Sierra Club.

For many of us, perhaps this clear conflict-of-interest best explains NARP’s inability to call out the exorbitant cost of the Northeast Corridor, the total lack of GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) by Amtrak to mask the re-direction of national system funds to fruitlessly bail-out the Northeast Corridor sink hole; the persistent lukewarm support of long distance routes; the failure to aggressively push for equipment acquisition beyond the Northeast Corridor.

As NARP, now transformed into the Rail Passenger Association, throws a lavish party this weekend in Chicago to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, its leadership must finally understand, and accept, how what was once a preeminent consumer advocacy group for rail passengers has devolved into a mouthpiece for Amtrak. Such an overt conflict-of-interest we should not countenance in our politics; as such, cannot be tolerated in consumer advocacy.

In respect to the Integrity of Haswell on the fiftieth anniversary of his unselfish efforts to fight for passenger trains, NARP, now RPA, must immediately sever its economic benefactor relationship with Amtrak.

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