Amtrak

Amtrak 'Residency' Offers Free Rides to Writers Who Don't Disparage It

Cheap propaganda?

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'look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Railfan Jack/Wikipedia

Do you write? Are you looking for a free ride? Do you like Amtrak, or can you at least avoid disparaging it? If so, it wants to hear from you:

Amtrak is excited to announce the official launch of the #AmtrakResidency program.

#AmtrakResidency was designed to allow creative professionals who are passionate about train travel and writing to work on their craft in an inspiring environment. Round-trip train travel will be provided on an Amtrak long-distance route. Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration. Routes will be determined based on availability.

Amtrak is one of those worst of both worlds public/private hybrids. Instead of using the power of privatization to improve services previously offered by government (what happens in successful public private partnerships), Amtrak is a "for-profit" corporation that doesn't actually turn a profit because it gets annual funding from the federal government and various state governments who have stepped in any time the feds have tried to trim funding.

How bad is it at Amtrak? Their 2013 budget and business plan (pdf) spun nearly 40 years of operating deficits as a good thing because the "history of operating deficits demonstrates consistent improvement over a long period", when viewed in 2012 U.S. dollars. In nominal U.S. dollars, operating deficits have remained relatively constant.

Amtrak has just one profitable division to speak of, the Northeast Corridor, which runs from Boston to Washington, D.C.  On this route, Amtrak tickets are most expensive. They help off-set much lower prices in other parts of the U.S., where local members of Congress tend to lobby Amtrak to keep prices down even when price hikes might not bring the routes to profitability. And even in the case of the Northeast Corridor, it's only "profitable" excluding the route's capital costs, for which Amtrak insists it still needs a government subsidy, as it does for most of its "business".

So what's the wisdom of a "Residency" for a company that's never managed to even break even? Amtrak still advertises, and its support among enough Washington politicians probably ensures it will continue to be able to bleed money and get away with it. Is the "Amtrak Residency" a transparent attempt to buy some positive press from participants? Amtrak skeptics, libertarians, and other critics of the government appear to need not apply. The official terms of the program outline that applications cannot "[d]isparage sponsor, its agencies, any other person or entity affiliated with the Program or products, services or entities that are competitive with any of the foregoing." At an estimated retail value of $900 per "residency," it could be cheap but useful propaganda for a company that relies on money from politicians and not a profitable business model.

Via the Twitter feed of Doug Stanhope

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  1. How bad is it at Amtrak?

    I would guess that Amtrak is actually very good at Amtrak.

  2. Saw Doug Stanhope in Manchester last year. If you can see him, do so.

  3. Amtrak. “Yeah, that’s right we’re robbing you to stay afloat, and we stand…erm…hide behind politicians with pride. And if you don’t pay your taxes, we’ll tell them, who also hide behind the police state which will be sent to beat you up……..bitches!”

  4. SugarFree: you need to be in on this.

    Warty Hugeman on the City of New Orleans (w/ Arlo Guthrie cameo)

    Warty Hugeman on the Cock Train of Cock

    1. Noted blogger, commenter, and author of the best-smelling Warty Hugeman series for kids.

      1. I have been wanting to adapt it as a children’s book. Anybody really good at drawing dongs?

        1. My artistic abilities are quite limited. Perhaps one of the Reason cartoonists?

          1. I’d need to see a portfolio of no less than 25 dongs. All erect, none of that limpdick Playgirl bullshit.

  5. No better way to highlight just how slow your mode of transportation is than by referring to a trip as a “residency.”

  6. I say, take advantage of it while you can. Just remember they don’t have a smoking car anymore, and you’ll have to bring your own liquor.

  7. Reading the terms and conditions is like gazing into a bureaucratic nightmare.

    Must be this, must not be that. Do not repeat your answers in the writing sample section. Do not use your writing sample in place of answers.

    Contain content that is misleading, inappropriate, indecent, obscene, hateful, tortious, defamatory, slanderous or libelous;

    Contain content that reflects, advocates or promotes bigotry, racism, hatred, harm or exploitation of or against any class, group or individual, discrimination based on race, gender, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age, or actions or activities that are restricted, prohibited, illegal or unlawful (including without limitation, the consumption of alcohol or any other controlled substances);

    Boring.

    1. In addition to the foregoing, the file attachment containing the writing sample cannot:

      Contain executable programming of any kind, including without limitation, viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, malware, time bombs, Easter eggs, cancel bots or any kind of malicious or benign computer programming whatsoever; and

      lulz. Come on, AmTrak! Why wasn’t that virus I uploaded to you accepted?

      They said you can’t upload viruses, so that definitely will stop anyone.

      1. Who doesn’t like Easter eggs? I hope the Easter bunny shits all over the train!

    2. Well, that certainly eliminates Sugarfree being accepted to write it as a Warty Hugeman adventure.
      Although that would be awesome.

      1. advocates or promotes bigotry, racism, hatred, harm or exploitation of or against any class, group or individual, discrimination based on race, gender, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age, or actions or activities that are restricted, prohibited, illegal or unlawful (including without limitation, the consumption of alcohol or any other controlled substances)

        This rules out, in one way or another, everything I’ve ever written…

        1. That rules out just about anything ever written by anyone, including the Bible .

    3. including without limitation, the consumption of alcohol or any other controlled substances

      Judging from the food freedom articles posted here, that clause would ban milk.

  8. It’d be great if it was done on the John Galt Line.

  9. If they renamed Amtrak to Ozymandias I bet there would be a lot more riders.

    1. Of course, it goes without saying that Smith’s version is better anyway.

  10. I can think of a few people who are probably frantically trying to write applications and massage their “Mmmmmmm, I luvs me dat good government plenty” boners simultaneously, right now.

  11. Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration.

    That’s extravagant. Like, Cheryl Tunt extravagant. I hope they meant sleeper compartment.

  12. an in-law walked off the job at amtrak for about a year and likely will be getting back pay and reinstatement b/c of a clerical error in the termination papers. about $85,000. no college, likely would have starved to death in any other country.

  13. Would it be OK to write about how to get laid on Amtrak trains?

    (Props to Johnny Longtorso)

    1. I can teach you, but I have to charge.

  14. Anybody really good at drawing dongs?

    The man you want is Zombie Aubrey Beardsley.

  15. cannot “[d]isparage sponsor, its agencies, any other person or entity affiliated with the Program or products, services or entities that are competitive with any of the foregoing.”

    So, a for-profit business that makes you agree not to disparage its competitors? Riiiiight.

  16. The pro-Amtrak community has always fallen back on “All industrialized nations have a network of high speed, comfortable and frequent passenger trains; therefore the U.S. must too.” Just ask,
    “Why?” Fact is that only the NE Corridor trains make any sense in terms of having a chance at profitability. If you travel from Boston to D.C., then an airplane makes sense but shorter trips in the corridor are faster by train than by car or airplane. The train already beats the competition but Amtrak wants to spend like 1/2 trillion to increase the speed by 40 or 50mph so NY bankers, lawyers, and other assorted good for nothings can get to Washington even faster. For just about all other Amtrak travel, the plane gets there faster and autos or the Hound are much more convenient.

    1. It’s not just that the plane is faster (see Amtrak’s incredible ability to create delays – 12 hour delays on long distance trains being not unheard of), usually the plane is going to be cheaper. (sometimes much cheaper) Now of course, the NARP set will counter that planes and cars receive massive subsidies, so the trains should too. Now, highway taxes are of course paid for by user fees, (or they were till the highway trusts were raided to pay for public transit) and several countries have private ATC systems and Airports, so the aviation subsidies are not totally necessary. This also ignores the subsidy that the postal service provided to the railroads, by overpaying for the transportation of mail, the post office allowed numerous passenger trains to remain highly profitable up till 1967 (including this one, which despite making 101 stops was still profitable because of mail. (Never mind that it was also just as fast as Amtrak’s best offering on the same route)).

      1. The train would lose its name in early 1968 after the Fred Harvey company was sold and Santa Fe filed to end all service to the Grand Canyon national park. However, it would continue in operation. The railroad pressed the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to axe numbers 23 and 24 and reroute the San Francisco Chief into Los Angeles in its stead, ending all service in the San Joaquin Valley. The ICC turned them down. And so, as an afterthought of days gone by, the train soldiered on into 1971.

        Lovely!

        1. That’s only a mild example of the ICC’s hi jinks. (For instance, the California Zephyr stopped earning the Western Pacific Railroad money in the nineteen fifties. They tried to discontinue their portion of the the train twice in the sixties. They were turned down. The petition was only approved once it got to the point that the company was 3 million dollars to operate a year. (out of 12 million in total revenue.)

          1. that the train cost 3 million dollars.

      2. Important to remember that Amtrak doesn’t own the tracks. RR companies like CSX own the tracks and are legally obligated to allow Amtrak to use them; the “must-carry” obligation. The RR companies don’t like that and regularly sideline Amtrak trains in favor of freight trains. Freight trains pay the rent, I’m not sure if the RRs break even on Amtrak.

        1. Not entirely true. AMTRAK owns most of the rail in the NorthEast corridor.

  17. One of the reasons I hated Atlas Shrugged is the fact that the railroad business is and has been one of the most subsidized industries in history.

    1. Ah yes, the National Park Service: America’s greatest Boondoggle. (seriously, how many industries then or now could get the government to build a tunnel / 25 mile road just so they could offer their customers a bus tour of the Grand Canyon)

      That’s not to mention the thousands of acres in land grants, and other payments (Including the government updating freight railroad right of way sometimes as part of a passenger train scheme, and other times just because.)

      1. True however railroads unlocked the value of a great amount of government land, the sale of which helped pay for the government’s constitutional obligations until 1913. Eventually, the worm turned and government practically ruined the railroads by mandating unprofitable passenger service.

  18. With all of the leveraged corporate debt (thanks to QE infinity), the only thing Amtrak needs is better accountants. Or should I say, more “creative” accountants.

  19. I’ll take a nice, pleasant ride on Amtrak over a TSA molestation and humiliation any day of the week.

    1. I guess you weren’t at the station the day VIPR showed up to molest everyone with a railroad bull to threaten everyone who objected.

  20. And you didn’t even include the yellow dog paragraph in the contract that says AMTRAK now owns whatever work you submitted. Not even publishers of bodice rippers do that anymore.

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