For the past two years, Amtrak has been under constant attack from House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL), who has used his gavel to bully the rail company. He likes to call it a “Soviet-style” monopoly and he goads it for losing money on everything from long-distance routes to food service. His vitriolic diatribes against Amtrak have become white noise, and they’re about to fade into the background as Mica surrenders his post to Rep. Bill Shuster next year.
Still, Mica got a chance to trot them out yesterday at a Transportation Committee hearing on Amtrak’s reorganization plan.
Mica and Shuster teamed up last year to push a plan to privatize Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service – the only place where Amtrak makes money. Republicans have also ceaselessly advocated for ending – or at least dramatically cutting – Amtrak’s government subsidies.
That demand doesn’t sit well with Democrats like Rep. Laura Richardson, who pointed out in yesterday’s hearing — as some Democrat always does — that “we spent more in one year with the oil and gas and energy companies and their industry than we have spent in the life of the program of Amtrak.”
The Mica-Shuster privatization proposal also met with such a fierce backlash that Mica and Shuster were forced to shelve it.
Amtrak has a different idea for how it’s going to move into the 21st century and, they hope, become “more like a business and less like a government agency,” according to Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman. The Government Accountability Office criticized Amtrak in 2005 for not having a strategic plan, and the rail agency jumped into action – if acting six years later can be considered “jumping” – and is now in the middle of a reorganization that started last year and is due to be complete by the end of next year.
The strategic plan includes safety improvements, better risk management, energy efficiency, and lots of internal operational changes that the public will probably not perceive.
The plan’s main dish is to segment the company into six “business lines”: Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Investment Development, Northeast Corridor Operations, State Services, Commuter Services, Long-Distance Services, and Corporate Asset Development.
Again, such internal corporate restructuring may not get most people’s pulses racing with excitement – but Dan Schned of the Regional Plan Association says there’s a nugget of gold buried in there.