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RailPAC writes Amtrak re new car needs

16th January, 2009, Mr. Joseph H. Boardman, President and Chief Executive Officer, NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, Re:  Amtrak Rolling Stock Investment Plans.          Dear Mr. Boardman:  As you take up your new duties as President of Amtrak, albeit so far on temporary assignment, we’d like to draw your attention to some distressing tendencies in Amtrak policy over recent years.

We refer in particular to the geographic imbalance of Amtrak investment, and the capital starvation of service west of the Mississippi. It has been the case for some years now that 95%, more or less, of Amtrak’s capital budget has gone to the NEC, and at the same time most of the long distance trains in the west have had almost no new equipment since the 1970s. If this trend is continued, and the current 5-year rolling stock plan indicates that it will be, then trains such as the Coast Starlight and the Empire Builder will cease to operate for want of serviceable cars in a few short years. Our Board believes that this will be both politically and economically disastrous for the future of passenger rail in the USA.

We believe that you should quickly review this policy and redress this imbalance as soon as possible. Consider these points:

Even though Amtrak owns the NEC, it is the minority user as far as trains and passengers are concerned. The commuter agencies that share the route need to contribute more to bringing the route up to date and into good order. We do not advocate starving the NEC, or any other market, of appropriate capital resources, but it would be just as foolish to continue to starve productive western routes.

We see no regulatory reason why Amtrak should expect the State of California or other western states to provide the rolling stock and other capital improvements for trains on the existing National network. San Diego to San Luis Obispo for example is part of this network and is every bit as deserving of its share of Amtrak’s capital investment as any other route in the country. Since most journeys, even in the shorter state corridors, are longer than most journeys in the NEC, we believe that the western routes are more productive in revenue and passenger miles, and can generate a better return on investment.

Both the California corridors and the long distance trains need new cars. We believe that these cars can be built using a common hull and many standard components. Indeed the coach car can be common to all these services. We believe that Amtrak should immediately be placing an order for this type of equipment. A long term order with steady state production of say 2,000 cars will give the manufacturer and supplier the opportunity to reduce costs substantially.

We have started to take this message to the California congressional delegation. We are pointing out that California taxpayers are paying twice for Amtrak service, through federal and State taxes, and that this is not acceptable. While most of our elected officials support Amtrak funding as a concept, very few understand the funding mechanisms and the direction in which the money flows. This is changing.

Mr. Boardman, we wish you every success in your new position. We’d be delighted if you could attend our Spring combined members meeting (date to be announced) in Los Angeles. We’d like to discuss these issues with you and give you the opportunity to meet a core group of passenger rail supporters.

Yours faithfully, Paul J. Dyson, President,  Rail Passenger Association of California