History of Neglect and Need ... Lateness: Cooking The Books ... Indemification ... Rail Media

Bad Practices at Amtrak

History of Neglect and Need

Since its creation, Amtrak has been the unwanted godchild of politicians. Born from the remnants of once prosperous passenger services, Amtrak has suffered neglect. Complaints about public subsidises for Amtrak ignore how out of a $300 billion national transit budget, Amtrak receives only 0.5% or about $1.5 billion. TSA receives $18 to $30 billion as part of the the federal subsidizing of the airline industry. Highways, of course, get the biggest chunk of federal funds. If global warming is a fact based on human generation of CO2, then humanity must turn to more CO2-efficient systems to solve our problems. Will the Bush administration help Amtrak meet the task of CO2 efficient passenger services? No.

It is no secret that the Bush Administration has implemented policies to ignore or revoke policies and laws passed by Congress. Nor is it a secret that the Bushitters have placed incompetent or unqualified bureaucracts in positions to didact the findings of field professionals, e.g., global warming. The secret, hidden agendas extends to an apparent "management of neglect and insult" for Amtrak by which a freight manager from Union Pacific,  Alex Kummat, has been appointed head of Amtrak. This is a conflict of interest, for revolving door politics means he will return to Union Pacific if he does not champion Amtrak over UP.

Lateness: Cooking the Books

A prominent Amtrak complaint is lateness. As a railrider who has had three 30-day passes in one year, personal experiences tell the story. On the average, one connection has been missed each week because of late trains. Passengers are not the only one's who complain about Amtrak lateness. Said one employee, "This job would be cool if the trains were on time."

The anticipation and acceptanace of lateness can be found in the Amtrak's scheduling system. Because some trains are consistently late by a consistent amount of time, Amtrak's computers are programmed not to allow you to book a connection even if the schedule shows a two hour or more time gap. Amtrak has an obligation to provide accomodations if it sells a service and does not deliver. You don't get your tickets based published schedules but unpublished ones. This railrider has run into this disception more than once.

The disception, or schedule book cooking, can be seen in the "between station" times at the end of the lines. Consider the following tables of trains from Amtark's Spring-Summer 2007 Schedule book. Notice how the Begin times between the two last stations differs from the End times.

Train Station Sation Miles Begin End Fudge
Empire Builder Chicago Glenview 18 24" 43" 19"
Seattle Edmonds 18 32" 72" 40"
California Zephyr Chicago Naperville 28 34" 103" 69"
Emeryville Martinez 27 39" 81" 42"
Southwest Chief Chicago Napervile 28 35" 66" 31"
Los Angeles Fullerton 26 35" 106" 71"
Texas Chief Chicago Joliet 37 55" 63" 08"
San Antonio San Marcos 53 92" 163" 71"
Sunset Limited Los Angeles Pomona 32 41" 115" 75"
New Orleans Schriever 55 90" 188" 98"

Note:

  1. Both the California Zephyr and South`gdwest Chief transit Napierville, Illinois, with basically the same beginning times (34" vs 35") but have very big ending times (103" vs 66"). The Zephyr's time to end the same 28 miles is almost twice that of the Chief's time.
  2. VIA of Canada's schedule does not show this kind of bookcooking.

In all listed conditions--not all trains were checked--the End times were longer. Perhaps it takes more time to brake a train than to begin a train? Of Chicago, it can be said to "Vote early. Vote often." Similarly, of Amtrak cone can say, "Be late early and be late often."

More time would be available for sightseeing if the trains ran on time. Every hour of late arrival is a lost hour of city seeing. Five times, late trains by several hours prevented making the connection. Amtrak's ticket program will not allow you to buy a ticket for a connecting train that departs within a "lateness" window. For instance, an attempt was made to buy a Miami Ticket from Washington that depart a few hours after the Capital Limited from Chicago. The agent said he could not sell me the ticket. If Amtrak is late and you miss a connection for which you have a ticket, Amtrak is obligated to provide room and board. The difference between the timiliness of the Northeast Corridor where Amtrak owns the tracks and the freight-based lines outside the corridor is how often freights are responsible for lateness of Amtrak. And, like Amtrak having to pick up the cost of wrecks caused by poorly maintained tracks, every Amtrak dollar for room and board of passengers inconvenience by fee-charging freight rail lines is a government subsidy not to Amtrak but to the freight rail lines. Will the CEO of Amtrak, a former and future Union Pacific vice-president, fight for Amtrak to not subsidize freight lines? If you say yes, I have two bridges in Brooklyn that you can buy for the price of one.

A website keeps track of the last three weeks of train timeliness--giiggle "Amtrak On-Time Arrival". If a train has not arrived at your station on time, then you should plan on a starting time about half of the shortest delay. Don't trust Amtraks on-line or telephone time reports. Some have been off by hours for hours.

Indemification

When Amtrak has an accident it is expected to pay for it.  This seems fair when first considered. However, consider the difference between you having an accident because you are driving dangerously and having an accident because the mechanic mis-installed your braking system. Likewise with Amtrak which pays railroads to use the railroads' tracks, e.g., Union Pacific, CSX, Norfolk & Southern and Burlington Northern/Santa Fe. If the railroads fail to maintain the tracks and an accident occurs, Amtrak has to pay for the accident. How can this be?

When Amtrak was formed, the railroads which contribute rolling stock ("consists") were the primary, powerful voice on the board of trustees setting up Amtrak. The board ruled that railroads could not be held responsible for Amtrak accidents regardless of any failure on the part of the railroads to maintain the tracks. An excellent article on the history of this conflict of interest is Death on the Tracks: Amtrak Pays Millions for Others' Fatal Errors. Continuing the conflict of interest is Mr. Uno Bad Problem, a former Vice President of Union Pacific, Alex Kummant. Who would select such a person to head Amtrak knowing that Mr. Kummant had not stock options in Union Pacific but expected to return to UP after his vacation as Amtrak's CEO? Who? Someone who was a director of Union Pacific with stock options, Vice President Dick Cheney.

Rail Media

For years, Amtrak showed free movies in the lounge cars. Suddenly, without notice in Fall, 2006, the movies stopped. Instead, booths at some stations started renting DVD players for twenty or more dollars. Consider the implications

  1. While some people take rails out of love, many take it because they cannot afford a plane ticket. People have less money for food.
  2. Not all stations have Rail Media booths. Thus, some people don't have any entertainment on long trips.
  3. Many passengers don't use the earphones as required by Amtrak policy so a crescando of competing dialogs dominates the coach car. Suffice it to say it was a lot quieter and less contentious in the passenger coaches when movies were shown in the lounge and cafe. Of course, some people take it very personal when asked them to observe the policy. More than one instance of rail "road rage" was observed due to noisy personal electronic equipment. One person kept saying he should not have to turn his CD player down since he had forgot his earphones.
  4. With captive audiences on a long train trip, Rail Media has a monopoly.
    1. This is an example of the free market philosophy of the Bush administration: free money for a few from monopolized markets wherein the privileged "free" the markets of money.
    2. This is an example of the Supreme Courts eminient domain of private property, that is, use it or lose it. For Amtrak, if people have money in their pockets, they are not using it so an eminent domain system must be implemented help the people lose their money.
    3. Governments can be gauge by whether they increase people's freedoms or decrease. Rail Media, compared to the free movies, does not increase the freedom of the passengers who lose money and quietude.
  5. Whatever Rail Media gains in funds is a loss for Amtrak as people buy less food. Importantly, Rail Media is not a subsidiary of Amtrak and does not pay fair market value for goods and services rendered from Amtrak, e.g., boothspace and marketing. An investigation would reveal cronyism in the Rail Media contracts.

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