Vittert: Amtrak is a useless waste of taxpayer money

On Balance with Leland Vittert

FILE – In this Feb. 6, 2014 file photo, an Amtrak logo is seen on a train at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Amtrak is modifying service in the Northeast and Midwest because of winter storms moving through the region. The Capitol Limited, from Chicago to Washington, and the Lake Shoe Limited, from Chicago to New York, are canceled on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

(NewsNation) — President Biden started his morning by celebrating an agreement that prevents a massive railroad strike. A potential strike could have crippled U.S. supply chains and supercharged inflation.

But the move also saves Amtrak, which is a real shame.

Once and for all, this planned strike would prove just how useless Amtrak is and what a boondoggle it remains. But sadly, no.

If the strike happened, Amtrak planned to shut down all of its long-haul routes. In fact, it canceled all of its long-haul trains earlier this week.

This was great, and I mean great, news, for taxpayers who underwrite the money-losing boondoggle of moving people like we did in the 1930s.

The only route they planned to keep operating was in the northeast, which is the only route that should ever operate. It’s the only route that makes money.

These are the facts. They are indisputable.

We’ve poured $100 billion into Amtrak over the past 50 years. Yet Amtrak’s share of passenger travel in this country is 0.1%.

If you want to get from Los Angeles to Chicago you could pay $183 for a four-hour flight, or you could save $7 and ride Amtrak. Your trip would take 43 hours.

Long-distance trips account for 15% of Amtrak’s total ridership and 80% of its financial losses.

If the strike went on long enough, maybe Amtrak would have died off like the horse and buggy or the telegraph.

We spend $2 billion a year to fund Amtrak. Year after year, the money goes right down the drain. The federal government just approved another $66 billion for Amtrak through the infrastructure bill.

We could’ve used that money to double the number of food stamps for needy families. Or as we talked about earlier, for our military families. We could build a house for every Iraq and Afghanistan veteran. Maybe the money could be put toward five new aircraft carriers to hold off China’s military aggression.

If that’s not enough, we could use the money to save the world from climate change — $66 billion could cover the cost of 2 million electric cars.

In case you’re wondering, it’s not like trains are much more environmentally friendly. Most of Amtrak’s fleet are diesel engines. They emit 167 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger mile. For planes, that number is 174 grams of carbon dioxide.

Within minutes of the White House announcement, Amtrak announced restarting all of its long-haul, money-losing routes. This proves the old Reagan adage, “The closest thing to eternal life is a government program.”

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