The Amtrak Media Follies Continue

The latest attempts by leftwing pundits to blame Republicans for the Amtrak derailment have shifted from Republicans’ vote to cut infrastructure spending (which didn’t happen until after the accident) to the claim that Republicans both don’t care about Amtrak, and at the same time care so much that they force Amtrak to keep unprofitable routes. To quote Kirsten Powers, for example:

“We’re spending a lot of money because there are actually conservative Republicans who want us to be having trains going in these areas that make no money.” (Fox News Sunday, May 17, 2015). Juan Williams echoes Kirsten: “There’s money that has to be spent in these areas where people aren’t riding the trains, but the Republicans insist we gotta keep these routes open.”

While Republicans are undoubtedly not immune to criticism for Amtrak’s inefficiency, the historical record implicates many Democrats as well. A 2010 report from the Cato Institute notes:

Right from the beginning, members of Congress have been burdening Amtrak with money-losing routes. In mapping out Amtrak's first routes in 1971, Montana's senators ensured inclusion of a sparsely-populated route in their state, Indianapolis received three routes but Cleveland none because of the political pull of Indiana senators, and West Virginia grabbed an extra route courtesy of one of its senators.

In 1971, all six of the Senators from these three states were Democrats. The same report also cites two other Democrats for scuttling a liquidation plan in 2001:

In 2001, Amtrak's deteriorating financial situation triggered a legal requirement that it develop a liquidation plan. Instead, then-senators Joe Biden (D-DE) and Ernest Hollings (D-SC) attached an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that prohibited Amtrak from spending funds to prepare the plan.

As for the causes of all the red ink, many have noted its money-losing food services, but its labor costs more generally are off the charts. From a Manhattan Institute study:

Amtrak’s largest expense is labor, salary, and benefits, which cost over $2 billion in 2014.  Maintaining fully-staffed trains on infrequently-traveled routes has contributed to high labor costs, but the pay rate of Amtrak’s employees raise its costs substantially. The average onboard employee made $41.19 an hour on Amtrak in 2012, while railroads that contracted out services to private companies paid their employees $7.75 to $13.00 an hour. 

These inefficiencies have persisted through both Democrat- and Republican-controlled Congresses and presidencies. The media should be ashamed of using this tragedy to score partisan points, but all the more so for not doing their homework.

The latest attempts by leftwing pundits to blame Republicans for the Amtrak derailment have shifted from Republicans’ vote to cut infrastructure spending (which didn’t happen until after the accident) to the claim that Republicans both don’t care about Amtrak, and at the same time care so much that they force Amtrak to keep unprofitable routes. To quote Kirsten Powers, for example:

“We’re spending a lot of money because there are actually conservative Republicans who want us to be having trains going in these areas that make no money.” (Fox News Sunday, May 17, 2015). Juan Williams echoes Kirsten: “There’s money that has to be spent in these areas where people aren’t riding the trains, but the Republicans insist we gotta keep these routes open.”

While Republicans are undoubtedly not immune to criticism for Amtrak’s inefficiency, the historical record implicates many Democrats as well. A 2010 report from the Cato Institute notes:

Right from the beginning, members of Congress have been burdening Amtrak with money-losing routes. In mapping out Amtrak's first routes in 1971, Montana's senators ensured inclusion of a sparsely-populated route in their state, Indianapolis received three routes but Cleveland none because of the political pull of Indiana senators, and West Virginia grabbed an extra route courtesy of one of its senators.

In 1971, all six of the Senators from these three states were Democrats. The same report also cites two other Democrats for scuttling a liquidation plan in 2001:

In 2001, Amtrak's deteriorating financial situation triggered a legal requirement that it develop a liquidation plan. Instead, then-senators Joe Biden (D-DE) and Ernest Hollings (D-SC) attached an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that prohibited Amtrak from spending funds to prepare the plan.

As for the causes of all the red ink, many have noted its money-losing food services, but its labor costs more generally are off the charts. From a Manhattan Institute study:

Amtrak’s largest expense is labor, salary, and benefits, which cost over $2 billion in 2014.  Maintaining fully-staffed trains on infrequently-traveled routes has contributed to high labor costs, but the pay rate of Amtrak’s employees raise its costs substantially. The average onboard employee made $41.19 an hour on Amtrak in 2012, while railroads that contracted out services to private companies paid their employees $7.75 to $13.00 an hour. 

These inefficiencies have persisted through both Democrat- and Republican-controlled Congresses and presidencies. The media should be ashamed of using this tragedy to score partisan points, but all the more so for not doing their homework.