Amtrak Is a Tax-Sucking Behemoth That Deserves to Die: Jim Epstein in The Daily Beast

I have a new story up at The Daily Beast on Amtrak and
it’s alleged resurgence. Here’s how it opens:

“We’ll take you across the mighty Mississippi through eight
states—past wheat fields and ranches, missions and pueblos,
mountains and deserts,” reads the promotional copy for
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, a sleeper train
that weaves 2,256 miles from Los Angeles to Chicago along
portions of the old Sante Fe trail. “You’ll see spectacular
landscapes and pristine vistas not visible from interstate
highways.” While gazing out at scenery worthy of the best John
Ford flicks, riders can chow down on offerings from Amtrak’s
full-service kitchen, such as the angus steak burger for $9.75, a
$16 Vegetarian Gemelli Pasta, or the wild caught Mahi-Mahi for
$23.25.|||Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty

This “journey of elevations,” as Amtrak describes it, may be a
bliss-out for passengers, but should taxpayers be forced to
underwrite the ride? In 2011, the Southwest Chief ran a $66.5
million deficit, meaning the federal government had to kick in $185
for every passenger on board. And to keep the Southwest Chief
running, Amtrak is now seeking additional state aid of $120
million over the next decade.

As any popcorn-stand profiteer posing as a movie
house operator can attest, captive eaters create golden
opportunities to supersize profits. But on the
Southwest Chief—and Amtrak trains in general—food and
beverages are a financial drain. Last week, the
inspector general revealed at a congressional
 that Amtrak lost $609 million on its meal services
over the past six years, citing all kinds of eye-popping details
about giveaways to staff, spoiled food, and service workers earning
about four times the standard industry wage. Defenders of Amtrak
argue that the report was just a headline-grabbing jab that
distracts from the larger story of the organization’s

Read the whole thing.

from Hit & Run

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