Commentary, Issues


Amtrak must reverse its decision to cancel the train during the Oregon washout!
A letter to Amtrak President Alex Kummant from RailPAC President Paul Dyson

22nd January, 2008
Mr. Alex Kummant
President and Chief Executive Officer
60 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Washington DC 20002


Dear Mr. Kummant:

After our meeting last March in Los Angeles rail advocates on the west coast felt optimistic that there is a new, more businesslike attitude at Amtrak, and that we could look forward to a new era of customer service and a determination to protect the franchise. I am therefore very distressed to learn that your company proposes to suspend Coast Starlight service throughout its entire length because of a mudslide in central Oregon. Although your managers may be telling you that there is an opportunity to save operating cash during this off peak season, you are making a very big mistake by suspending service in California.

The California Transportation Commission meets February 14 to decide, amongst other issues, whether to fund a menu of rail projects approved by the voters last year with Proposition 1B. Included in this list is $25 million for signal and track improvements on the Coast line, as well as a number of investments in the state-supported corridors. In view of your stated objective to build partnerships with the states, the timing of your demonstration of the unreliability of passenger rail on one of your most popular routes could not be worse.

I have just spent this past 4 days in San Luis Obispo at a meeting of the Coast Rail Coordinating Council and at a RailPAC sponsored public meeting. At the CRCC, representatives from all the counties between L.A. and the Bay area continue to express support for expanded rail service. They plan to lobby the CTC meeting in favor of the $25 million for the Coast. The RailPAC meeting attracted over 50 residents who came to learn about how passenger rail can provide improved mobility for residents and attract tourists and their dollars. I was guest on a local talk radio station Friday evening and the callers were unanimous in their support for rail, with one caveat; poor reliability. All the goodwill generated by the efforts of our group and of those public officials who support passenger rail will be devalued by your opportunistic decision to save a few operating dollars.

This should be a busy season on the Coast Starlight, at least in California. The weather is temperate and there are hotel rooms available especially midweek. You should be promoting midweek packages especially for overseas tourists, not canceling trains. And don’t let your people tell you that trains 798/799 provide a substitute. These ghastly trains, with their sad Horizon equipment, third world schedules, leaving L.A. too early to make a San Diego connection, and bus service north of San Luis Obispo, are NOT an acceptable substitute for the Coast Starlight.

I strongly recommend that you review this decision. I realize that reconfiguring schedules in these circumstances takes time and effort. That’s why you have managers. I realize that some passengers will cancel their trips and you will lose some revenue. But you will lose far more in goodwill and credibility if you take the easy way out and cancel the trains. So do some low cost local advertising on the Coast, with coupons, suspend the reservations only requirement, and use this as an opportunity to introduce your service to some new customers.

I hope to hear from you soon that you have reversed your decision.

Yours faithfully,
Paul J. Dyson, President

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