After four years the Amtrak Reform Council finally presented its recommendations to Congress and it seems to come at a good time, particularly since the council urges lawmakers not to bail out the agency to the tune of $1 billion. (Before Sept. 11 Amtrak wanted the bailout because it had too few passengers; since Sept. 11 it says the bailout is needed because it has too many passengers. Heads I win, tails you lose.)
Except for opposing the bailout, the council's recommendations are of dubious practicality. For instance, the panel calls for more rail competition. On the face of it, that sounds great. Amtrak is, after all, a monopoly.
But then Amtrak wouldn't exist at all if there was money to be made in train passenger service. The government created Amtrak because private firms found the service a money-loser.
The reform council now says some private companies are interested in competing with Amtrak. Yes, and no doubt those are on the eastern routes where Amtrak does turn a profit. It makes no sense to privatize Amtrak's few lucrative routes unless all the routes are privatized. We don't think Congress will let that happen. Don't bet against the $1 billion bailout.
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