Monday, June 13, 2011

The Republican Urge to Privatize HSR Amtrak on the NorthEast Corridor

Yeah, deregulating is just what the passenger rail industry needs.  An "International Peer Review" for Amtrak on the NorthEast Corridor is a crock.  The so-called peers are European and Japanese HSR manufacturers and operators eager to get in on the ground floor of this enormous, government-paid-for market place.  

The US doesn't make any HSR stuff.  We barely understand it.  It will all have to be bought off the shelves of other countries.  Those countries' HSR representatives have been over here and have invited everyone in this country who has their finger on a decision-button to wine and dine them in order to get their business. Peer Review indeed!!

Amtrak tells us that it is getting "positive feed-back" from these European/Japanese HSR "peers."  Alf Engel was hired by Amtrak to spearhead their HSR efforts.  Does he need approval for his agenda from all these overseas HSR manufacturers?  Does he want to keep his job?

"We are pleased that many of the world leaders in high-speed rail have offered their ideas to help refine and improve our plans," he said.  I should think so, Alf.

What else have they offered you, Alf? Do you suppose that they might want to do business with you and sell you their HSR  stuff?  It's like a car dealer telling you that your plan to buy one of his cars is a good plan. 

Representative Bill Shuster is pretty much on our side.  He opposes High-Speed Rail.  However, to advocate deregulation, a standard Republican mantra, for passenger rail is nonsense.  There will be no competing rail operators on the same tracks and routes.  Each one will be a sole source contract.  It really doesn't matter whether it's Amtrak or some private money making contractor.  Either can do this well or badly.  His comparisons strain plausibility.   

The privatization obsession of the Republicans is to curry favor with profit makers.  Ditto de-regulation.  However, privatization "works" only if there is competition.  Competition, if regulated, increased product quality and reduces costs. Without that, sole-source privatization is merely pushing tax dollars to their croneys.

As I see it, it really doesn't matter whether a public service utility such as transit, is private or public, so long as it is well regulated with lots of oversight and accountability. Amtrak is indeed a lousy role model.

But a privatized passenger rail system is something that the rail operators gave up in the '70s and they certainly don't want to take that back. Why? It's a money loser.

Amtrak touts 'international peer review' of high-speed rail plans
By Keith Laing - 06/13/11 04:31 PM ET

The national passenger rail service, better known as Amtrak, said Monday that rail companies in Europe and Japan said its plan to build high-speed railways in the Northeast was the best way to increase the speed of rail travel there. 

The foreign opinions, which Amtrak dubbed an "international peer review," comes as Republicans in the House are pushing to plan to privatize rail service in the Northeast. 

The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has frequently referred to Amtrak as a "Soviet-style operation," but the agency said Monday that "leading European and Japanese high-speed rail operators" found Amtrak's assessment that it can gradually get trains up to 220 miles per hour was "sound and reasonable." 

"The positive feedback from our experienced colleagues around the world is encouraging and demonstrates that Amtrak's high-speed rail plan is a proper response to meet the region's need for increased transportation capacity and is a viable way forward," Amtrak vice president Al Engel said in a statement.

he reviewers found that "Amtrak's initial projections of ridership, revenues, and costs for this new system were appropriately conservative," Engel added. 

"We are pleased that many of the world leaders in high-speed rail have offered their ideas to help refine and improve our plans," he said. 

The reviews are unlikely to mollify Republican critics, who argue that the model of having one national rail company does not work in the United States. 

"By focusing on projects that make sense, leveraging private-sector investment and opening the door to public-private partnerships, we can do more with less and finally take our nation in a new direction," Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, wrote last week in an op-ed in The Hill. 

"It's time for passenger rail to enjoy the same success deregulation brought to the freight rail, commercial truck and airline industries," Shuster said.

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