Commentary, Issues

RailPAC’s Dyson strongly replies to Mr. Kummant ‘s “explanation” for suspending the Coast Starlight

NOTE: The original letter from Mr. Dyson, letters of support, and Mr. Kummant’s reply appear as separate posts below on this site.
January 29, 2008
Mr. Alex Kummant
President and CEO

National Railroad Passenger Corporation
60 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E.
Washington, DC 20002

Via fax to 202 906 2850


Dear Mr. Kummant:

Thank you for your letter of yesterday replying to my concerns about the Coast Starlight. While your response is an excellent tour d’horizon of the circumstances leading to your decision, it contains no real response to the key issues. What is more important to Amtrak, preserving your franchise,
providing transportation in accordance with or substituting for your advertised schedules, and preserving thirty years of painstakingly accumulated political goodwill, OR saving a few thousands of dollars each day in operating expenses? It is facile to state that ridership is light, with the inference that therefore providing service is not very important. One could well argue that such light loads should be rectified by better marketing and pricing, but in any event that is beside the point. The point is you have an obligation to provide service, or at least as much service as you possibly can, and I have no doubt that your line managers are capable of rising to the occasion.

On the political front your people will no doubt have told you that ALL expenditure, including the intercity rail budget, is under severe threat here in
California. Whether we agree or not your announced policy is to develop “corridors” in partnership with the states. California is the poster child for this process having spent over $1 billion of California tax dollars on its rail programs. Over the next few weeks lawmakers will be fighting over the budget, the end result of which may well be cuts in the state rail
corridor services. How can you have been so ill-advised as to annul the state’s premier north-south long distance train at just the time when
rail advocates and pro-rail policy makers are trying to sell the state rail program as having relevance to our transportation needs? If you lose California as a corridor partner your entire policy is in shambles.

Regarding diverting passengers to the state rail and bus network, the irony is that for 36 hours I-5 was closed north of Los Angeles, meaning that the
Bakersfield/San Joaquin service was not an option. In any event, rail passengers regard buses as a poor substitute for a one-seat train ride. I cannot accept that the “prudent planning and analysis” required for
a one train a day service should take more than day or two, nor do I accept that “the challenges presented by running stub trains and bus bridges, especially in winter”, are so much greater than normal operations.

You sell your people short by saying so. Indeed you give the lie to that statement by reporting that the bus bridge bedded in quite well on day two. Probably the bus ride between Eugene and Klamath Falls is measurably quicker than the train.

Given what is happening with the Sunset, the Crescent and now the Coast Starlight, RailPAC will inevitably come to the conclusion that there is once again a concerted attempt to shut down the long distance network by driving away passengers with these extended annulments. You are either in business to run these trains and provide the advertised service, or not.
The public deserves an honest answer.

Yours faithfully,
Paul J. Dyson

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