Congress

Train Wreck

Deriding the rails

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In November, the Amtrak Reform Council concluded that the federal passenger rail service is "not capable of delivering the improvements…that are needed." The 6-5 vote came just as many Amtrak routes were packed for the first time in years, as travelers shied away from the delays and perceived risks of air travel. The rail company has required $25 billion in subsidies during its 30 years of service.

Now the council has 90 days to come up with a plan for reorganization; meanwhile, Amtrak itself must develop a liquidation strategy. Congress will then review the two schemes and choose a course of action—which could be to do nothing at all. One possibility would be to shift responsibility for running the trains over to states or to private entities while the feds manage infrastructure.

In the meantime, Bombardier Inc., the builder of Amtrak's high-speed Acela trains, has sued the railway for $200 million. Bombardier accuses Amtrak of failing to describe accurately the poor quality of its track and failing to complete a new electric traction system between New Haven and Boston on time. Because of these problems, says the company, the new "high-speed" trains are anything but. Indeed, the upgraded trains are forced to make turns at the same 35 mph clip of older trains.

Bombardier further claims that Amtrak took two years to decide on draperies for windows, 18 months to choose door chimes, and two years to determine where appliances would go in galley cars.