When You Think About How Often Amtrak Is Way Behind Schedule, This Is Almost Comforting…

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The nation's official (read: subsidized up the ying-yang) passenger rail system, AMTRAK, is swinging into action to secure its customers' safety:

"We want to show we're playing defense" against would-be terrorists, says Amtrak security chief Bill Rooney. "Our focus is counterterrorism. We're thinking along the lines of a Madrid or a London."

Rail bombings in those cities in 2004 and 2005 together killed hundreds of passengers and sparked fears in the United States that terrorists will strike the nation's largely unsecured rail system.

What to expect from the new measures? "Rail passengers from coast to coast will be subject to random security checks and may have their luggage scanned for explosives beginning this fall," sez USA Today.

The Department of Homeland Security notes there is no imminent threat to AMTRAK (arguably that's because terrorists want to kill people, not depopulated legacies of the Nixon years).

More here.

Disclosure: I take the AMTRAK service between Washington, DC and New York City several times a year and find that it's much easier and generally more reliable than flying that same distance. Why they don't add a wireless connection is beyond me and, apparently, beyond them, too.

The route between DC and Boston is, by most accounts, the only AMTRAK line that actually pulls in more money than it lays out in direct costs (some Amtrak lines lose over $200 per passenger). As this vast archive of reason stories about AMTRAK attests, it is a service that will a) never cover its costs and b) never be killed (especially now that there's a spate of "AMTRAK Is Back" stories in the press, a genre as cyclical and short-lived as the "new drug of choice" story; look for the service to start begging for more subsidies the more passengers it gets).

NEXT: Are We a "Nation of Whiners"?

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  1. Guys in my highschool were scanned for explosives all the time, it was no big deal.

  2. Yet another stupid bit government waste that needs to be sold off to private industry.

    Imagine all of the tollways that could be built on all of that right-of-way.

  3. My sense is that we lost the anti-screening battle with the general public. The last time I took Amtrak I overheard several passengers commenting on how foolish it was that no one screened them for bombs and weapons. Here I was thinking that buying a ticket and walking onto the train with no interruptions was a feature, not a bug.

  4. If the terrorists want to target trains, I’d recommend the New Jersey Transit, in particular the Montclair, Morristown and Gladstone lines. Those trains are packed to the brink with commuter in the mornings and afternoons, and often contain a small contingent of orthodox Jews as an added bonus.

  5. One less transportation choice. I really don’t need a reject with an attitude harrassing me for “my own convienance”. Frankly if people are that scared they should be shot and put out of their misery.

  6. While I don’t actually disagree with mocking Amtrak, I certainly don’t find it even in the top 10 things I wish the feds would stop doing, probably not even the top twenty.

    But, I’m curious, did you write the post this way to prove the previous post?

    To prove you are a whiner?

    I do find that most people who whine about Amtrak would tend to be the same or similar to people who hate the bill of rights and love foreign adventures like we are having Iraq.

    Not saying that you are, just saying there is a LOT OF OVERLAP there.

    Reign in the police state first and I might just take your Amtrak comments seriously. But, I suspect you, and gawd I hate that I suspect this, and other libertarians would be happy to live in a police if only we could get rid of Amtrak and social security.

    Not sure what that means, just sayin’.

  7. Why all the hatin on Amtrak? I know it sucks as a service (I once was delayed 2 hours on a 3 1/2 hour trip), but what is it about Amtrak, specifically, that makes the blood boil?

    I happen to agree that it should be sold off to private companies (there’s no purpose, for example, for the passenger rail in California to be operated by the same company as passenger rail in New York).

    I say free up the freight tracks for freight, and clear the roads of more dangerous trucks, and we’ll save everybody money. Maybe people will take the bus, and the bus can go wherever a car can go (almost). Oh but wait, poor people take the bus, right? We need something for rich people to take to feel good about themselves.

  8. But, I suspect you, and gawd I hate that I suspect this, and other libertarians would be happy to live in a police if only we could get rid of Amtrak and social security.

    Yeah, because reason never reports on the police state or has a reporter almost wholly dedicated to said police state.

  9. AmTrak is trebly inefficient: it was largely designed to provide cover for the federal government’s assumption of railroad employee pensions that would have disappeared when the Penn-Central went bankrupt, and a lot of AmTrak cash still goes for these pensions, something that is never discussed in public. AmTrak also pays fat subsidies to private lines for the use of their rails. Third, of course, it provides grossly uneconomic service to cities and towns in districts and states of powerful congressional chairfolk. The DC to Boston Acela, which is fun to ride (though quite expensive, of course) is classic example of mismanagement.

  10. I’ll still take the train over the overpriced gouging airlines.
    http://www.FireMe.To/udi

  11. Lawrence,

    Sounds to me like perfectly valid criticism that Nick presents. Also, if you think he has a hawkish bone in his body you really need to read his stuff more, or seek professional help in the form of a reading tutor.

    I am sure some might criticize him for riding on subsidized transportation and helping to pay for the rest that loses money, but I certainly do not find that valid at all. He did not set the system up and probably ould like it eliminated (just a guess), but if there is a “cheap” and fast alternative to get someplace sitting right in front of you there is no shame on the user for taking advantage of it.

  12. I sometimes use Metro-North, but not Amtrak. I looked into taking it down to Florida, but realized that driving is faster and cheaper (no parking or car rental fees).

  13. “Screen my bag next, Mister! I wanna feel PROTECTED.”

  14. “Why all the hatin on Amtrak? I know it sucks as a service (I once was delayed 2 hours on a 3 1/2 hour trip), but what is it about Amtrak, specifically, that makes the blood boil?”

    Atlas Shrugged subconscious pull, I think. I mean, these are the guys who would have dismantled Taggart Transcontinental.

  15. Why all the hatin on Amtrak? I know it sucks as a service (I once was delayed 2 hours on a 3 1/2 hour trip), but what is it about Amtrak, specifically, that makes the blood boil?

    Socialism.

  16. They should eliminate all Amtrak lines that nobody uses, and privatize the Northeast corridor, the west coast line, and the rails that go around the Great Lakes.

    Everywhere else its incredibly stupid to have passenger rail service given the lack of population density.

    BTW Amtrak is almost never late in the Northeast Corridor. Its only when you get south of Washington does it turn to shit, and thats the fault of the freight companies not upgrading the tracks and Amtrak not having the right-of-way.

  17. Anyway, I await the outrage over the subsidies airliners receive, not to mention highways.

    Does I-95 turn a profit?

  18. Trains are a great way to travel.

    Too bad no country in the world has figured out how to make them a economically viable option.

    If someone had, we could probably figure out a way to emulate them.

    Our travel in this country is heavily subsidized whether that travel is by plane, train, or automobile.

  19. I think that rail travel could see a resurgence in about 5-10 years if fuel costs remain this high. Public transit and alternative travel options at destinations could become improved over increased ridership (something we’re already seeing). A large part of train-logistics problems is getting to the train station and from the train station to where you’re going, and have to pay for parking at the first station. People don’t think about that as much with air travel because you typically fly distances that you wouldn’t drive. But because Trains are best for mid-range trips, you have to weight the cost of days worth of parking fees + the cost of a ticket + worrying about how you’re going to get around once you get to your destination. I think all of these things will see improvements.

  20. I also use the NY to DC Acela, I’m pretty happy about it. If it was a different entity running the line I’d still be happy about it.

    Pointless post on a low priority issue. I guess it’s fitting.

  21. a)Waste of resources
    b)Wait, Amtrak itself is a waste of resources
    c)Terroristas demand more bang for their bucks; why seize/wreck/whatever an empty string of coaches?

    screw the security state and its enabling fools

  22. NM,

    Where trains not an economically viable option in the 19th century. Yeah, yeah, the companies got a lot of subsidies and governement aid for land, but was it not really viable? Or was passenger trains just piggybacking on freight anyway? Not that I see that as a problem.

  23. Too bad no country in the world has figured out how to make them a economically viable option.

    *tunes violin*

  24. Travel will be subsidized until the transporter is invented. Beam me to the grocery store, Scotty.

  25. I-95 would make a great private toll road too. Thanks for mentioning NNG!

  26. Somebody is on drugs. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

  27. Reign in the police state first and I might just take your Amtrak comments seriously.

    I agree! Lord knows, we’ve all been waiting long enough for Nick Gillespie to singlehandedly turn back the tide of governmental corruption. What are you waiting for, Nick? Go restore our liberties! Until you’ve accomplished that simple task, you must remain silent on all other matters!

  28. Reign in the police state

    I’d say that project is definitely on track.

  29. robc…

    Is that supposed to read “Were trains not an economically viable option in the 19th Century?”

    If so, then I think you missed the sarcasm in my post.

    Economically viable without government subsidy/cooperation? I don’t know that there is a country that has pulled that off, but there are many excellent and efficient train systems in the world.

    Since we subsidize travel anyway, we might look to those systems for ideas.

    Japan, perhaps, would be a good place to start.
    Eurorail also works pretty good.

  30. LOL, nice one Jake 🙂

  31. NM, Europe has a population density much greater than that of the USA,as does Japan. That makes trains more viable there.

  32. Epi,

    Until free energy exists, the transporter will be heavily subsidized as it is surely a highly energy intensive mode of transport.

    Of course with the transporter you get the replicator, so you can always create gold out of thin air to pay for that energy.

    ;^)

  33. Reinmoose – it’s already happening. I’ve taken the (Amtrak) train from Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale to see my brother a couple times, and it was at 65% capacity at its emptiest.

  34. Travel will be subsidized until the transporter is invented. Beam me to the grocery store, Scotty.

    Do you have any idea how much energy it takes to run a transporter? Not to mention the necessary insurance involved. And overcoming cultural biases like maintaining oneself as a solid will certainly take a huge PSA campaign.

    Maybe someday we can discuss how we need to get government out of Big Transporter.

  35. NNG,

    I know that.

    An important factor to consider.

  36. Just make sure you bring your flyswatter when you’re traveling by transporter.

  37. Of course with the transporter you get the replicator, so you can always create gold out of thin air to pay for that energy.

    At which point the Fed and the government will no longer worry about returning to the gold standard. They’ll probably endorse it.

  38. Do you have any idea how much energy it takes to run a transporter? Not to mention the necessary insurance involved. And overcoming cultural biases like maintaining oneself as a solid will certainly take a huge PSA campaign.

    In a few short lines you have identified our need for Manhattan Project sized efforts in the following areas: Solar and wind power, green jobs, tighter insurance regulations and insurance windfall profits taxes, and a national information campaign to begin educating people from conception to death on the benefits of matter transport.

    Congratulations!

  39. Do you have any idea how much energy it takes to run a transporter?

    I’m a doctor not an engineer!

  40. Every time I have taken the DC to NYC train it has been full and I tend to book my tickets at odd hours. Even then, It’s still pretty expensive.

    I’m sure there are near empty passenger cars in flyover country, but I’m pretty sure that Amtrak losing money on the NYC – DC line could only be mismanagement.

    My friend got me into taking the Chinese buses which was a fantastic deal for a while. Now she swears by the “Jew bus”. I’ll probably give that a try next time.

  41. In a few short lines you have identified our need for Manhattan Project sized efforts in the following areas: Solar and wind power, green jobs, tighter insurance regulations and insurance windfall profits taxes, and a national information campaign to begin educating people from conception to death on the benefits of matter transport.

    Congratulations!

    Thank you. I also thought it a rather clever way to communicate that the invention and deployment of matter transporters would in no way decrease the pervasive influence of government in our lives.

    Oh, what’s that? You thought I was advocating such things? I thought the crack about Big Transporter would have been have been a clue…

  42. [whispers] I don’t advocate them either.

    Nobody is recording this are they?


  43. Nobody is recording this are they?

    We have posters on here from Canada, right? They’re foreign. That might be enough to scoop them up now.

  44. Why all the hatin on Amtrak?

    It’s the one-two punch of (1) subsidies and (2) the fact that “trains” represent a lifestyle that many libertarians dislike.

  45. Rhywun, I think you mean Cosmotarians in your 11:47am comment.

  46. Guy –
    I thought it was Paleos who hated train-travel and what they perceive it to represent? I thought cosmos wre all about taking the metro to art exhibits that challenge the social code.

  47. If you’re going from DC to NYC, or NYC to Boston, I highly recommend taking the bus. Its pretty much only $20 each way and all of the new companies that are sprouting up have internet on the bus, which Amtrak most certainly does not offer.

    As for why all of the hating on Amtrak, the whole socialism/subsidy thing, and the fact that they charge a ridiculous amount of money for poor service and crappy trains. They should be serving me a meal and bringing me hot towels for what they charge.

  48. I do find that most people who whine about Amtrak would tend to be the same or similar to people who hate the bill of rights and love foreign adventures like we are having Iraq.

    I do find that Daily Kos-ers who blindly stumble in here and blurt out their ideas about Reason generally have no idea what the fuck they are talking about.

    The next time Pat spins the big wheel, buy a clue, not a vowell.

  49. Amtrak is back as the New Drug of Choice!

  50. Reinmoose,

    Yea, I think you are correct. These crazy new labels that the kids make up these days are confusing.

    I can’t wait until I am done with my shift of stuffing my pants full of Defense money so I can get out to a bar, light up a cigar with a $100 bill, sip on a martini and watch whatever NASCAR event is on the wide screen.

  51. Amtrak’s Auto Train service between DC and FL is also profitable. I’ve taken it once–it’s a great way to travel, and considering you don’t have to rent a car at your destination it works out well economically.

    (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,50693,00.html)

  52. Thelonious_Nick,

    How much does that cost? Last time I remember checking was around 1995 and it seemed expensive then.

  53. I say melt down the Accela and use it to make brand new Hummers. The price of gas is set to collapse to $25 a barrel sometime tomorrow – you heard it here first.

  54. Transportation systems are supposed to lose money, and be subsidized by the government, because they provide a public good. Airports are constructed with public dollars. Roads, maintained with tax dollars. Ditto rail systems.

    The proper accounting is the dollar value expended vs. the value of the public good provided. Ticket receipts are not the purpose of a rail system.

  55. Ben, there are a couple companies now adays that run buses in the NE corridor, with tickets starting at $1.50. Magabus, Bolt Bus. I’d reccomend both over Amtrak.

  56. PFJ–Bolt Bus depends on when you buy the ticket. I recently paid $40 for a round trip ticket from NYC to Boston over 4th of July weekend on Bolt Bus. Well worth it though since it was only $5 more than a Chinatown bus and it was nice, spacious, and had electrical outlets and internet.

  57. Ben, there are a couple companies now adays that run buses in the NE corridor, with tickets starting at $1.50. Magabus, Bolt Bus. I’d reccomend both over Amtrak.

    Oh no! Unfair competition designed to take over the market and as soon as Amtrak collapses they will jack up their prices!

    They must be stopped. They must be.

    I suggest a federal program.

  58. Interstate Buses combine the worst of private transit (gas guzzling, being stuck in traffic) with the worst of public transit (having to sit next to weirdos/cell phone yappers, shitty service).

    I’ll take the train if I got the money.

  59. Full buses have pretty good miles/gallon/passenger. They also run on taxpayer-funded highways.

    Thank goodness for that public good – it allows private companies to provide low-cost intercity transportation.

  60. No Name Guy,

    I saw an interesting show, on one of those successful cable channels that runs circles around PBS, about how custom busses are built. I think one of them was around $1.8m and the other was $2.0m.

    Now THOSE would be nice for cruising down the privatized interstate toll road system!

  61. it is a service that will a) never cover its costs and b) never be killed

    I support privatizing Amtrak–when automobile travel is truly privatized. For example, stop burying its subsidies in the general treasury.

  62. Montag yeah some buses can be quite comfortable, but I still like Amtrak better than the bus if for no other reason than you can get up, walk around, and have a beer (even if overpriced) where thats a no-go on the bus.

    Plus (at least north of DC) theres rarely a slowdown, whereas buses still get stuck in traffic. South of DC, its a wash though cause you get stuck behind freight trains and slowdown due to the shitty tracks.

  63. NNG,

    Well, like I said before, if it is there go ahead and use it of you like it.

    But don’t expect it for long after I am KING! MUHAHAHAHA!

  64. I like the Chinatown bus between NY and DC. I would book a ticket for the Rockville stop, but on one trip I was the only passenger headed to Rockville. Everybody else disembarked in DC, so the guy handed me $5 and told me to take the Metro. I didn’t really mind too much, but I wonder how careful their accounting is.

    No skin off my back, but I’ll bet they hide a lot of stuff from the IRS. Hell, I wonder if the IRS is even aware of a fraction of the stuff in Chinatown.

  65. […] but on one trip I was the only passenger headed to Rockville.

    Everyone else heard the REM song; weren’t you paying attention?

  66. No skin off my back, but I’ll bet they hide a lot of stuff from the IRS.

    I have some familiarity with a Chinese-run travel agency in Manhattan, and BOY do they hide stuff–beginning with workers. No skin off my back, either.

  67. I’ll still take the train over the overpriced gouging airlines.

    You can tell its overpriced by all the empty seats.

    You can tell the airlines are gouging by their massive profit margins.

  68. I like the Chinatown bus between NY and DC.

    The Chinatown buses from Boston to NY keep bursting into flames, overturning, losing their brakes…I guess you get what you pay for.

  69. You can tell RC Dean doesn’t know the airlines and government have cartelized their service.

    Sure, RC. Demand Curve!

  70. So, joe, on what basis can you say that airlines are overpriced and gouging?

    How can any industry that is losing billions be gouging? Or overpriced?

  71. [sigh]

    RCD, quite simply evil corporations must be eliminated and we need a national airline. It can be funded when we take their profits.

    That will stop all of the invasion of privacy associated with flying commercial, as soon as the right people are elected to give us more rights.

  72. Since “overpriced” and “gouging” are matters of opinion, I can say them any time I feel like it.

    I’m sure the airlines aren’t overpriced based on their costs, with fuel going through the roof, but they are certainly overpriced these days based on the service they provide.

  73. joe using a concept he doesn’t really understand to mock others. Hilarious.

  74. There you go, RC. Guy Montag thinks you’re making perfect sense.

    :-P.

  75. Oh, boy, here we go.

    There is nothing more fun than another Yoo Need to Take Ekon 101 type telling me I don’t understand economic terms.

    Please, Fresno Bob, expand on your thoughts. This ought to be fun. It always is.

  76. John Jones | July 11, 2008, 10:24am | #
    I’ll still take the train over the overpriced gouging airlines.
    http://www.FireMe.To/udi

    Subjective term review:

    overpriced = I think something should be cheaper.

    Gouging = I think it should be cheaper, but I have no other options and buy it anyway.

    The values these refer to are entirely subjective.

    Thread clean up:
    RC Dean seems to be accusing joe of being John Jones.

  77. Guy Montag = the Phillip Glass of H&R

  78. Joe,
    Everyone here is an individual except for you. You know that right 😉

  79. My subjective sense of air transportation costs.

    Airlines provide a very valuable service for a reasonable price. Plane travel kicks ass when you are going more than 500 miles and don’t have a lot of time to waste.

    The downside is the vulnerability to weather.

    Fucking weather.

  80. So, what say we all (the non-socialistic portion of us) rent a bunch of busses and drive to the National Mall for a big giant protest against Amtrak and pig pullin’?

    WHO IS WITH ME!

  81. I live two blocks from that Rockville bus stop, and take either of the buses that parks there. Never bother getting a round trip ‘cuz, well, they ain’t that reliable going back. Lately I’ve been staying at a dive hotel off Bowery about three blocks from where the bus lets you out.

    $45 round trip and you just can’t beat it, but I typically end up getting dropped off at the DC Metro going home.

    /Also had a good experience with Vamoose, when I was staying closer to Penn Station. They do stops at Bethesda and appear to be Orthodox Jews… only downside was it was Christmas time, so to be secular, he made us all watch Home Alone III, and I was very hung over.

  82. “Oh but wait, poor people take the bus, right? We need something for rich people to take to feel good about themselves.”

    Huh? I hope that’s cryptic sarcasm…Aside from the delightful Ascela train between DC/NYC (and probably Boston), I will hazard an educated guess that no “rich” person would set foot on an Amtrak car without a HAZMAT suit and/or a gun to his head.

    My daughter and I rode Amtrak from DC to Chicago just after 9/11 because the airport was closed. I’ll admit I was pretty psyched and harbored the hopeful notion that it would be “fun” and “scenic” and that she would enjoy the train ride.

    Not so much. In fact, if you can imagine spending 48 hours in the public restroom at a bus station, you can picture our trip.

    The entire train was grungy enough to leave gray smudges on our clothes no matter where we sat. The pull-out bed in our sleeping car was broken (only pulled-out to be one foot wide, literally, and I was told it couldn’t be fixed). The video didn’t work. The windows in the viewing car were so filthy that my daughter asked if I would “please wipe that off with spit so I can see”, and the food was so disgusting that my kid, (still inclined to eat an ice cream cone off the sidewalk), refused to eat anything but the crackers in my purse for two whole days. And did I mention that we purchased their most “deluxe” accommodations?

    Also, for reasons that escape me, a passenger cannot lock his sleeping car from the outside…so if you happen to travel with anything of value, you must haul it around on your person at all times. Very convenient.

    Unless you are fresh out of prison, Amtrak likely won’t appeal to you. (and it was actually MORE expensive than the “rich, gouging airlines”, had they been running that week).

  83. Chicago>Milwaukee’s Hiawatha is reported to recently have crossed break even.

  84. Video, shot when we still had 4th Amendment rights on trains, June 2001, just after Gov. Gary Johnson’s Drug Policy Summit.

    After this stunt, giving away “I do not consent” T-shirts on the Platform, a co-plaintiff and I brought Privacy Act suits vs Amtrak for handing reservations data obver to the DEA without requisite notice to Congressional Committees and the Public via the federal register. They acknowledged the violation, paid statutory damages and fees.

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=47Kbaw1VjOQ

    An anticipated class action on behalf of all prior passengers back to the statute of limitations was never filed, the Attys having become immersed in emergency cases stemming from the Sept. 11 sweepups.

  85. Fresno Bob,
    Did you see that they are trying to build a high speed rail through your city?? What an outrage. Take a look here:

    http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/map.htm

    I predict that this project will likely destroy the economy of Fresno, including the vital airport concessions and highway construction sectors.

    I urge you to stop this madness by any means necessary, including lying down on the tracks.

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