GOP Rep. Mica: Amtrak concession losses 'staggering'

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Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman defended the agency's food service management at the hearing.

"Amtrak has been working hard to improve service, to realize our opportunities for growth, and to manage our company like a business," he told lawmakers in written testimony. "Food service for passengers is an essential component for any transportation service that operates scheduled trips that extend for more than a few hours." 

Boardman said Amtrak recovered 20 percent more of the money it spent on food and beverages in 2011 than it did in 2006.

"Part of what attracts people to Amtrak services is the availability of food, and the manner in which it is offered," he said. "If we were to eliminate food and beverage services, we would actually lose more money, because of the loss in associated ticket revenue."

Mica said Thursday however that Amtrak's "food and beverage operation has 1,234 employees, and taking into account Amtrak’s $84.5 million loss last year, that’s $68,476 per employee.

"What makes this more astonishing is that Amtrak food and beverage service is legally obligated to operate on a breakeven basis," Mica said. "Despite this requirement, and calls from Congress, GAO, and the Inspector General over the years to improve, Amtrak has still lost over three-quarters of a billion dollars in the last ten years. We have to end these unbelievable losses to the taxpayers.”

Mica has pushed in the past to privatize some of Amtrak's most profitable routes in the Northeastern U.S. The agency was set up by Congress in 1971 and it receives an annual subsidiary for its operations.

Boardman defended Amtrak's overall performance in addition to its concession programs on Thursday, however, saying that its ridership has grown 44 percent since the year 2000.

"We've set ridership records in eight of the last nine years," Boardman said. "We are also on track to complete the year with one of the lowest levels of operating subsidy Amtrak has ever required, including food and beverage service, in our forty-one years of service."