Rail groups defend Amtrak from GOP attacks

“Many believe that different modes only serve distinctly different markets: the car for trips less than 100 miles, the plane for trips more than 500 miles and, by default, the train only for trips between 100 and 500 miles,” the report continued. “This construct is based on the assumption that route length, for reasons neither obvious nor stated, should coincide with trip length; on the misconception that all travelers have the same needs; and on the erroneous notion that trip time is the primary, if not only, consideration for everyone.”

Republicans in the House argued in a hearing last week that Amtrak has a “monopoly mentality” that has negatively affected commuter rail service in the U.S. The intent of this week’s hearing is to call attention to Amtrak’s "41 years of taxpayer subsidies," the GOP has said.

But the rail associations countered that Amtrak is “able to move one passenger one mile (the accepted industry measure of efficiency) at an average public cost roughly equal to shorter corridors outside the Northeast Corridor."
“Long-distance trains are cost-efficient — a finding that may surprise many,” the groups wrote. “This parity is hidden in Amtrak’s financial reports because they include state — but not federal — payments for service as revenue.”

The MHRSRA and the NARP said lawmakers should be looking to bolster Amtrak’s service, not suggesting that it should “get out of the commuter rail business,” as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) did last week.

“Since a substantial portion of the costs assigned to the various routes are fixed, there is an opportunity to lower units costs by adding more service,” the report said. “Congress could further improve efficiency and reduce cost by funding the replacement of Amtrak’s relatively old long-distance fleet with modern, high-performance trains.”

The full rail report can be read here.