Amtrak President Exaggerates

Amtrak President Joseph Boardman scored a point when he announced that Amtrak operates the Rocky Mountaineer, a cruise train that takes passengers from Vancouver to Whistler and the Canadian Rockies. He made this announcement at the September 20 House Transportation Committee hearing about 41 years of Amtrak deficits.

The Antiplanner had offered the Rocky Mountaineer as an example of a private rail operator taking over when the government–in this case, VIA Rail Canada–stops serving a route. VIA ended service on the Vancouver-Calgary route in 1990 (the Antiplanner was on the last westbound train), and the Rocky Mountaineer almost immediately began offering cruise trains. Today this company offers several different routes, including some also served by VIA.

Not operated by Amtrak.

So when Boardman said the Rocky Mountaineer “is actually operated by Amtrak,” the mostly pro-Amtrak audience laughed at the Antiplanner’s silliness for using this as an example of privatization. The only problem was that Boardman’s statement was a slight exaggeration–as in totally untrue.

The Rocky Mountaineer uses its own railcars, hires it own staff, and runs its own locomotives. It negotiated with both Canadian Pacific and Canadian National to run its trains on their tracks. Amtrak has nothing whatsoever to do with any of these operations.

The Rocky Mountaineer also advertises a route from Seattle to the Canadian Rockies which would use BNSF tracks between Seattle and Vancouver. At first, I thought maybe the Rocky Mountaineer had somehow involved Amtrak in this segment, perhaps having its cars towed behind Amtrak’s International. But, as near as I can tell, the Rocky Mountaineer only planned to run one round trip on this route in 2012, and I am not even sure it ever happened.

Someone else noticed Boardman’s claim and posted a note about it on trainorders.com, bulletin board mostly used by passenger rail advocates. Commenters noted that Amtrak seemed to be clueless about its own operations, and breathed a sigh of relief that Amtrak “dodged a bullet” because House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica didn’t know enough to grill Boardman about this claim.

One of the writers added that “there was another goof . . . in the written, prepared statement that Boardman gave,” but that he wasn’t “giving it away” so rail skeptics couldn’t use it. The Antiplanner has reviewed that testimony but hasn’t found the error yet. If you find it, let me know–Mica plans to hold more hearings during the post-election lame-duck session.

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12 thoughts on “Amtrak President Exaggerates

  1. Sandy Teal

    The Cruise Trains are an entirely different market than passenger trains. I would love to take the Amtrack out of Seattle to the mountain states as a scenic ride, except that every Amtrak train leaves Seattle late at night and goes through the mountains at night when you can’t see anything.

    Cruise Trains can and should go slow through scenic areas. They could stop during the day at places want to get off. They can co-exist with freight trains because they don’t need to go fast all the time.

    the highwayman Reply:

    Though there are both slow and fast freight trains.

  2. Frank

    Amtrak: Not letting the facts get in the way of a good story for 41 years.

    the highwayman Reply:

    Amtrak does rent out locomotives for some cruise trains operations though.

    prk166 Reply:

    And it’s baffling as to why Amtrak does this. They’re undercapitalized and, as a result, are lacking equipment. They’re constantly having to borrow power – aka pay through the nose – to fill in on it’s trains. The only thing I can make of it is that it’s shell game. They can count the renting out of it’s locomotives as revenue while they turn around and point to their expenses and complain they need more money.

    the highwayman Reply:

    Freight locomotives can be rented to push or pull, though they still need a passenger locomotive on the train to provide HVAC.

  3. Frank

    You can’t blame this one on Amtrak. “the driver of the tractor-trailer carrying cotton trash failed to yield and hit the train”. Don’t be so lazy, reader. (Also, it’s its not it’s.)

    In this situation, we can be thankful hardly anyone rides Amtrak, or their might have been more injuries. Only 169 passengers When each Superliner has a capacity of 96? There are at least four rail cars in the photos, indicating that the train was not even half full, and if there were six cars, the train was only a third full. We can also be thankful it wasn’t traveling at 200 mph.

    Frank Reply:

    And wouldn’t you know that when I criticize grammar, I would use their and not there. Geesh. No more comments until I have my morning coffee.

    the highwayman Reply:

    Frank; In this situation, we can be thankful hardly anyone rides Amtrak, or there might have been more injuries. Only 169 passengers When each Superliner has a capacity of 96? There are at least four rail cars in the photos, indicating that the train was not even half full, and if there were six cars, the train was only a third full.

    THWM: So most automobiles go around at 1/4-1/5 full, also with the train people are getting off and on along the way.

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