Amtrak and the Sunset Limited

Commentary by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

RailPAC has consistently supported daily service and restoration of the Sunset Route to Florida.

A lot of the Amtrak people we talk to agree that thrice weekly service just doesn’t work; the 7 day a week costs are still there but the revenue isn’t! At our May 2 meeting in Los Angeles a senior Amtrak marketing official, Brian Rosenwald, give an authoritative presentation regarding service options for the Sunset and Eagle drawing this very conclusion, and we have to assume that he was there with the blessing of Amtrak management. His boss, Mr. Boardman, was there earlier in the meeting, and since Mr. Rosenwald is still employed by Amtrak it’s fair to conclude that his presentation represented Amtrak thinking on this issue.

But is it? A few weeks later Amtrak published its report on the options of restorating service between New Orleans and Florida. (PRIIA Section 226 Gulf Coast Service Plan Report) It’s hard to believe that this report came from the same organization as the Rosenwald presentation. While Rosenwald attempts to look at the issues from a business and dare I say entrepreneurial perspective the Gulf Report simply looks for any cost, real or imagined, that can be logged against this route to try and make service restoration look unaffordable. They are still using discredited costing data that indicate that thrice weekly service is less costly than daily. The objective was either to shake down the states or the federal government for an operating subsidy or to hang up a “do not disturb” sign. It’s just too much trouble to meet the obligation to maintain the national network, let’s make it look as costly and deficit laden as possible and perhaps it will go away.

Mr. Boardman took the time to write to me on July 14 in response to my letter of July 13 supporting Mr. Rosenwald’s ideas for daily service. In spite of hearing that the daily service would not require additional equipment Mr. Boardman’s note stated that equipment was the roadblock to making the desired changes. This must be part of the same schizophrenia that produced the both Gulf Coast Report and the Rosenwald plan. There certainly seem to be two agendas at work within Amtrak, probably compounded by the fact that Mr. Boardman is the interim President, and is still learning on the job.

So where do we go from here? We need to focus on two facts. One, that the Sunset is an existing, Amtrak National System train, and that the service is only suspended between New Orleans and Florida. We, together with every rail advocacy group along the route and nationally should insist that service be restored immediately. Second, we need to educate legislators and the public that daily service is more cost effective than thrice weekly, and that daily service will actually reduce Amtrak’s deficit.

RailPAC will soon be circulating a resolution calling for complete restoration of the route, daily service, and setting up of a connecting hub at New Orleans which will also open up service between Chicago and Florida. It’s time to make some noise.
Paul Dyson, RailPAC President, 07/28/09

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