From time to time I keep up with the happenings of Amtrak. For those that aren’t aware, Amtrak holds the vast majority of passenger rail service in the United States and consistently manages to lose money. It’s also part of the federal government.
A recent article that detailed a problem they had caught my eye and made me wonder if this shows a time for a change. The article talked about a recent power failure that was experienced in the Northeast section of the country and how Amtrak responded. The result of it pointed to a 20th century view of what to do. Of course, we’re in the 21st century, so you can see what I’m getting at.
Passengers that waited on their train to arrive checked the company website and social media to see if they could find out what was happening with their trains. They got nothing. Meanwhile, Amtrak worked itself to death on the phone trying to let the media know what was going on. Their spokesperson said, “We always reach out to the media first, because overall, they reach the greatest number of passengers.” As a former member of the media, I do find that flattering, but as a member of the American public that has become used to the idea of social media, I am appalled. Twitter, Facebook and other outlets can easily reach your public without too much effort. In the time that I’ve been talking, I could have updated Twitter at least twice if not more. Given the media’s savvy when it comes to hooking up with social media, you would be able to reach both passengers and the media with one swift stroke.
This article, along with the general struggle of passenger rail in America, got me to thinking if it was time to spin Amtrak off as a private company. The main problem with Amtrak is the age old problem that the government has. They can’t seem to do anything well apart from putting together the world’s best military.
My solution? Make Amtrak private and come up with ways to compete with an industry that is crying out for competition…the airlines. High speed rail is huge in Europe and everything there is a lot closer together. Such a thing would be great in America if we would simply have passenger rail in private hands. Since the government currently sinks tons of money into the company so it can lose it every year, wouldn’t it be nice to have private hands taking care of that expense so the government can do less? Passenger rail in America is an idea that should be pursued, but by private industry and not by the government. That clearly causes what happened with their problem response. Private management would make outdated response by this albatross a thing of the past.