A Guide for Encouraging Congress to Demand Accountability and Transparency
By Rail Provocateur (M.E. Singer)
Two news stories this week, one from West Virginia and the other from New York City, nicely piggyback to summarize the multi-tiered offensive launched by Amtrak against all obligations and responsibilities that inhibits Amtrak’s desire to solely focus upon the Northeast Corridor (NEC).
Identifying Amtrak’s battle plan to facilitate the growing concern of Congress requires a very focused effort to directly confront, undermine, and attack the premise of the Passenger Rail Investment & Infrastructure Act of 2008 (PRIIA), which has been the “coin of the realm” for Amtrak providing its financial foundation. The full cost methodology created by Amtrak to discriminate in its allocation of costs for PRIIA to subsidize the NEC has been at the expense of the National Network of long distance and state-supported routes.
As Congress becomes more indignant and concerned over Amtrak’s flippant attitude as a state-owned enterprise, Congress needs to become fully enlightened of the critical issues that will enable Congress to finally secure its demand for full transparency and accountability by Amtrak. Succinctly, these issues for Congress to attend to are identified in the following “Guide for Encouraging Congress to Demand Accountability and Transparency:”
Congress should intercede to prevent discrimination against the non-Northeast Corridor states that impacts their constitutional states’ rights and inhibits their intrastate regional and interstate mobility. Congress should require:
Stop discriminating against all non-NEC states: instead all NEC states to pay per Amtrak’s full cost methodology; no more exceptions.
Cease the subsidization of the NEC through PRIIA charges: instead all revenues collected from individual states to be only spent in those respective states.
To immediately commission a third party to investigate and audit how Amtrak allocates costs and revenues.
Long Distance Routes:
Congress should intercede to prevent the piecemeal approach to disassembling the long distance routes:
Salvage the Dining Service: Amtrak’s intent to takedown the long distance routes is currently focused on its stubborn, unknowledgeable approach to further depreciate dining service by substituting boxed cold meals served by the same car attendant in the room, or, at the seat. History tells us that the continued downgrading of dining and lounge services eliminates the high paying sleeper passenger; eventually the coach passengers follow.
Instead of watching Amtrak deliberately walk off the pier for a lack of ability to tune-up food &beverage (F&B) in a positiver manner, Congress should require Amtrak to retain competent external professional consulting in order to successfully focus on building revenues and controlling costs (ideally by instituting recommended programs made repeatedly here), but long delayed or dismissed:
a) Institute a Point-Of-Service IT program in all diners, lounges, and cafes to control product waste and theft; ensure cash control.
b) Stop theft of cash by instituting a cashless F&B service in diners, cafes, and lounges; requiring pre-paid cards or credit cards only.
c) Institute “RORO” meal concept currently used only on “Acela Express” first class (and airlines), where the entire meal is pre-portioned, cooked, and plated; cold and hot separated; hot portion requiring only heat before serving; meal served dispensed from and collected and stored afterwords on a Roll On/Roll Off food cart.
d) Maximize utilization of Superliner diner galley and seating area by creating a coffee shop/grill/lounge to primarily serve coach passengers, 0630-2300.
e) Eliminate accounting tricks by meals included in sleeper fare; return to pay as you go concept that would afford improved menus re selections and quality of product.
f) Throw out a wide net to increase revenues by training LSAs in mixology to craft cocktails; understanding they must be properly supplied with the correct liquor kit, mixers, condiments, and tools of the trade.
g) Encourage and support crews working diners, lounges, and cafes by fighting for their exemption from the standard tax deduction of tips which is known to be an artificial, almost non-existent measurement on Amtrak.
Derail Amtrak’s Potomac thinking to create 750 mile segments. Prevent Amtrak from precipitously killing off the long distance routes by breaking-up the continuity of a long distance route into segments under 750 miles and operated by a suburban-type DMU. Congress needs to step-in now before any such equipment is even ordered to assert its unwillingness for Amtrak to dump the cost of the 750 mile segment on any state(s); to acknowledge creating such segments would only push traffic away from rail, given the lack of continuity and connections. Also, most of the ridership pertains to the multi-market segments of en route stops; not end point to end point travel.
Oversight Amtrak’s to prevent reduction of daily schedules to tri-weekly frequency. This concept is nothing but Amtrak’s approach through the side door to destroy the National Network by reducing daily frequency to tri-weekly schedules, as less than daily does not appreciably decrease costs, but does negate the ease of connections.
Audit long distance revenues and costs. Audit to include data identifying passengers and revenues turned away due to lack of space; to measure performance by the industry metric of passenger revenues per mile to evidence in comparison with the NEC.
Question why no proforma issued to acquire equipment for decades. This, despite data proving additional equipment provides ability to capture revenues now lost; to also expand frequencies; provide seasonal services.
With this battle line elaborated above for Congress, in my communique of 8 June to Senator Manchin (D-WV) and posted on 8 June in the Register-Herald newspaper in West Virginia, I encouraged his recognition of an unresponsive Amtrak. This growing chorus only increases from the Senate as an outcry from senators serving Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, who were also betrayed by Amtrak after their support to fund the “Chief’s” infrastructure thru their states. However, I sought to encourage Manchin to look beyond his immediate issues over unstaffed depots and increased charter/special train costs. Instead, to tie the individual state issues of these senators into the overall pot stirred by Amtrak’s surreptitious planning to hit the National Network by attacking the long distance trains on a piecemeal basis: to cut dining services; eventually to create segments up to 750 miles and dump the total cost upon the states served. This point directed to Senator Manchin stated:
“As a pundit on railway affairs, I hope you will round-up many other senators to take appropriate action to control Amtrak, particularly its abuse of the Passenger Rail Investment & Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), by excessively charging all non-Northeast Corridor states (but not the states on that Corridor). This discriminates against many states to inhibit their intrastate and interstate mobility and commerce. A take-away missed by most is that a state-owned enterprise like Amtrak should not deceive a U.S. senator. Senator Manchin approached Amtrak in good faith to work on behalf of his constituents to keep the New River special train running in the fall. Right after that meeting, the senator learned through the media of Amtrak’s decision to eliminate depot agents in his state. Frankly, Amtrak has not benefited from a competent, well sourced VP Government Affairs (Ed English) and VP Corporate Communications (Clifford Black) since these last good ones left when CEO Gunn departed in 2005.
Perhaps this will not be an opportunity missed by Senator Manchin and other concerned senators to question the very foundation of PRIIA and how it is used to discriminate against the non-NEC states, forcing them to pay 100% of their train costs as allocated by Amtrak to subsidize the Northeast Corridor (NEC)? Either the PRIIA formulary is revised to include the NEC states and all funds expended by states are spent only on those states or, an aroused senate group should prevent funding of the Gateway Project, which is in essence a regional commuter issue for New York.
Just as the well organized, powerful clique of Northeastern politicians have made their demands on Amtrak and the federal treasury–at the expense of the non-NEC states, it is high time for the senators of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, West Virginia, and elsewhere to rise up to confront Amtrak. Given how Amtrak’s management roams freely with no guardrails provided by an acceptable stewardship of its Board; and the Federal Railroad Administration and US Department of Transportation have forfeited their positions over Amtrak, it should be encouraged, and acceptable, for the Senate to step-up into the vacuum to pursue a course of direction lacking in Amtrak.
Currently, only the unenlightened media actually believes the extent of manure pushed by Amtrak for its rationale in compromising dining cars; double dealing against Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico after their contributions to the “Southwest Chief” infrastructure; questioning the purpose of the long distance trains without acknowledging the factual data; threatening to cut-up long distance routes to be operated by suburban-type DMUs under 750 mile segments so the states will pay for that ride too. If we had competent transportation writers as once enjoyed in major media, this illogical Potomac thinking just to favor the Northeast Corridor (NEC) would have been called out long ago.
Also, THE NEW YORK TIMES identified on 8 June, “New York-Chicago Direct Train Shuts Down for First Time in Over a Century,” the issue with the “Lake Shore Limited” being truncated at Albany this summer, indicating how this would be the first time in history Chicago-New York city rail service was deliberately severed (for Penn Station repairs this summer, which principally serves commuter trains). As the media is no longer savvy as it used to be re transport affairs, this writer failed to connect the dots, which clearly evidences another flank attack against the long distance trains. Why would Amtrak cut the only NYC-Midwest train, given the numerous connections made in Chicago? Ironically, the writer refers to “The Cardinal” as a substitute from NYC-CHI; however, that too was cutback to Washington for the summer. Just another pure example of the discriminatory focus by Amtrak on the NEC at the expense of long distance train service.
However, perhaps the “Lake Shore” has been so beaten up and depleted by Amtrak over the years, that we should not ignore how its schedule is so excessively padded; the eastbound trip timetable set to merely to pick-up all western train mis-connects; the reality how its schedule either way is timed more for a daylight Upstate NY-NYC service, than a truly overnight CHI-NYC run. The depiction of the abysmal dining and lounge services in this story is perfect. As well, just in “Amtrak world” is the only lounge operated at the head of the Boston section, rather than as the last car in that consist; so, when connected to the NYC section the sleeper passengers in the NYC consist do not have to manage walking through 6-8 cars just to attain the lounge (which itself is far from the “Century” mid-lounge.)
New York-Chicago Direct Train Shuts Down for First Time in Over a Century
New York Times June 8, 2018
The train route between New York City and Chicago was once the apex of luxury travel: Passengers boarded after walking on a red carpet laid out on the platform and nibbled lobster Newburg on fine china in the dining car.
The nearly 1,000-mile route has been far less sumptuous in recent years. And as of last week, for the first time since the late 1800s, what was once considered the ultimate modern journey — a straight-shot between two great global cities — is no more.