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Amtrak Disaster Averted (Except Not Really)

An Amtrak train carrying 207 passengers and 11 crew members derailed in rural South Carolina early Monday, but no cars overturned and no one was seriously injured. The incident occurred shortly after midnight about six miles southwest of Spartanburg, S.C. as the Amtrak Crescent was en route from New Orleans…

An Amtrak train carrying 207 passengers and 11 crew members derailed in rural South Carolina early Monday, but no cars overturned and no one was seriously injured.

The incident occurred shortly after midnight about six miles southwest of Spartanburg, S.C. as the Amtrak Crescent was en route from New Orleans to New York.

It’s not immediately clear what caused the derailment, but power was quickly restored to the train and passengers were eventually evacuated to buses, according to WSPA TV 7 (CBS – Spartanburg, S.C.).

Disaster averted, right? Sure … in this case.

The much larger disaster? Amtrak itself.

According to a 2012 policy analysis published by Randal O’Toole of The Cato Institute (.pdf here), Amtrak “has become the highest-cost mode of intercity travel and remains an insignificant player in the nation’s transportation system.”

“Amtrak has become a runaway train, eating up huge subsidies and providing little or no return,” O’Toole notes.

Even the man known as the “Father of Amtrak” – railway aficionado Anthony Haswell – now refers to the program as a “legendary boondoggle.”

“I am personally embarrassed by what I helped to create,” Haswell wrote … over a decade ago.

Sadly, government financial support for this “legendary boondoggle” has not abated. In fact Amtrak has received roughly $1.4 billion in each of the last two federal budgets.

That’s money taxpayer simply cannot afford to keep pouring into a money-losing, non-core function of government.

Amtrak’s assets are worth approximately $11 billion. They need to be liquidated immediately, with all future taxpayer subsidies cut off.

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11 comments

CNSYD November 25, 2013 at 2:53 pm

I know Sic Willie abhors doing research but was the derailment caused by Amtrak’s equipment or was the root cause the trackage? If the latter, whose trackage is it? Amtrak or Norfolk Southern?

Reply
Billy K Mulligan November 25, 2013 at 3:59 pm Reply
CNSYD November 25, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Billy, I knew the answer. My point was that Sic Willie has not a clue.

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Jackie Chiles November 25, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Just a way to get a cheap dig in at Amtrak. I’m of the opinion that federal funding shouldn’t go to Amtrak, but let’s not make everything their fault just because.

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9" November 25, 2013 at 2:55 pm

The Amtrak Club sure beats The Mile High Club,lemme tell you..

Reply
Smirks November 25, 2013 at 3:10 pm

What is it with South Carolina and trains? Seems like a lot of trains have accidents in this state.

Reply
TontoBubbaGoldstein November 25, 2013 at 3:57 pm

TBG’s Aspergery side is relieved that no trains were hurt in this unfortunate accident.

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Jim Loomis November 26, 2013 at 4:46 am

This isn’t a news story, it’s a fairy tale. You quote Randall O’Toole as though he were an actual expert in public transportation. He is, in fact, an anti-government ideologue and universally considered a crackpot and a fraud by all serious transportation authorities. Yes, the government does indeed provide minimal support for Amtrak, but for literally thousands of communities all over this country, Amtrak is the only public transportation available. And ALL public transportation is subsidized, from the airlines to bike lanes. The fact is that Amtrak operates a national rail passenger system that recovers almost 90% of operating revenue from ticket revenue. Its annual subsidy is a tiny fraction of one percent of the federal budget and that pathetic support enabled 32 million Americans to buy tickets on an Amtrak train last year, yet another ridership record. But, of course, since you personally don’t need Amtrak, you don’t want any of your tax dollars going to support it. Fine. Then give me back my tax dollars that paid for the roads you drive on every day, or that went to build and maintain the airport you fly out of, or that pay the salaries of the fire fighters who will rush to save your sorry, selfish ass if your house catches on fire!

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TontoBubbaGoldstein November 26, 2013 at 8:42 am

The fact is that Amtrak operates a national rail passenger system that recovers almost 90% of operating revenue from ticket revenue. Its annual subsidy is a tiny fraction of one percent of the federal budget and that pathetic support enabled 32 million Americans to buy tickets on an Amtrak train last year…

Surely many of those 32 million Americans would have still bought tickets even if Amtrak jacked their prices 12-15%.

… but for literally thousands of communities all over this country, Amtrak is the only public transportation available. And ALL public transportation is subsidized, from the airlines to bike lanes….Then give me back my tax dollars that paid for the roads you drive on every day, or that went to build and maintain the airport you fly out of…

TBG is a bit unclear as to your definition of “public transportation”. Are you saying that “literally thousands of communities” have access to Amtrak, but do not have roads?

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ColaTown November 26, 2013 at 5:16 am

Amtrak is one of the most unknown, undervalued, under-utilized, and under-managed entities in the country. I’d love the chance to get it out of the weeds – it has a ton of potential. Jim Loomis (below) has the facts straight. Will – why do you wanna be the feckless Jeff Wilkinson of blogtown? Firing pot-shots might be fun, but it doesn’t hide the increasing lack of content on FITS. How bout delivering on one of the many conspiracies and crimes alleged on this blog?

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ELCID November 26, 2013 at 11:46 am

Passenger rail is critical to US Businesses, particularly in the North Eastern Corridors.
Amtrak is a rottenly run mess. For example: Penn Station in New York’s main city area doesn’t even have benches where people can sit down. The ticketing is a night mare. The entire operation is a complete mess. The first thing to do is to fire all the leaders of Amtrak and bring in some professional business managers. If prices need to go up, then do it. But, for the Taxpayer’s sake, AmTrac needs to provide a professional & quality service, and not a complete disaster.

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