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"A Dark Day for Long Distance Trains"
http://www.trainweb.com/advocate/2002/2002f28a.html

A letter to the membership of the Train Riders Association of California
after the $100 million DOT loan guarantee to Amtrak.

Subj: A Dark Day for Long Distance Trains [TRAC E-Bulletin / Editorial]
Date: 6/28/02 2:54:50 AM Pacific Daylight Time
From: trac@omsoft.com (Train Riders Association of California)

TRAC Members & Associates--

The press has spoken: once again the feds bail Amtrak out at the last moment, this time for a few weeks. Some are breathing a sigh of relief. I am not. I haven't felt so disheartened since we lost the Pioneer, the Desert Wind, the National Limited, the Floridian, the Lone Star and the North Coast Hiawatha.

Let's cut right to it here: California's corridors will survive, although the loss of a federal partnership may force frequency cuts. They'll find a way to run our commuter lines, possibly after a few days without service. But . . . . .

THIS IS AN ATTACK ON THE LONG DISTANCE TRAINS

If you doubt this, read today's (Thursday) article by Bob Withers of the Herald-Dispatch in West Virginia. This is the finest article I've read on the national situation and is worth reading it total [ http://www.herald-dispatch.com/2002/June/27/LNtop2.htm ]. Here are the important paragraphs not reported elsewhere:

" . . . . . A key sticking point in the debate has been what to do about Amtrak's long-distance trains, including the Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

Mineta met with new Amtrak President/CEO David L. Gunn about 10 days ago and offered the carrier a $100 million bridge loan to cover operations through the end of August, said Karina Van Veen, an Amtrak spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.

But Gunn, who is committed to saving the national Amtrak system in its entirety, turned him down because the deal would have required Amtrak to immediately begin dismantling its long-distance network and concentrate services in corridors only.

Gene Poon, a travel agent with Sheehan's Travel in Rohnert Park, Calif., whose specialty is Amtrak, told The Herald-Dispatch that he was told the Cardinal was the No. 2 train on the cut list, second only to the Los Angeles-Orlando Sunset Limited.

"They would probably be the first to go," Poon said.

Next, Mineta met with the Amtrak board of directors Monday to make the same offer over Gunn's head. The board also turned him down. Gunn has made his position clear since assuming office May 15 that Amtrak's national system should be preserved, not dismembered . . . . . "

GIMMIE A "YOU", GIMMIE A "PEE"

Why is the Bush Administration gunning for our long-haul trains? Well . . . . .

* Vice Presidient Dick Cheney served on the UP Board of Directors until recently.

* UP laid a half mile of temporary track to the 2000 GOP convention site in Philadelphia to accommodate UP business cars.

* Union Pacific Railroad was honored Tuesday night by the Newcomen Society of the United States at the Petroleum Club in Houston. Dick Davidson, chairman and CEO of Union Pacific Corporation, was the guest of honor. Former President George Bush introduced Davidson.

* After Semptember 11, UP made a commitment to paint American flags on all it's road units (red-white-blue & yellow? Uk!) while continuing to employ a full time lobbying group in DC which, among other things, lobbies against Amtrak.

* The recent anti-Amtrak New York Times article "Amtrak Must Die" spent multiple paragraphs attacking just one train: the Sunset Limited. The author actually argues "Cutting the Sunset Limited might actually result in fewer trucks on the roads because it would be easier to ship freight by rail if Amtrak weren't given priority on the Union Pacific's tracks." (Writers note: If you want a guaranteed laugh, tell Sunset Limited passengers Amtrak has priority on the Sunset Route.)

* Secretary Mineta said in his speech Monday "[Amtrak] has embraced numerous business plans--including some that have set it in competition with the freight railroads . . . . . Amtrak's current route network provides too many services with limited market appeal at high operating costs to the federal government."

A REPUBLICAN RAIL-SUPPORTER CAN BE OUR BEST ALLY

This isn't a rant against corporations in general or the Republican Party. Indeed, passenger rail has some strident supporters in the Republican Party and they may be our best allies of all--they have influence within the party and may prove to be the swing votes that turn this thing around. A true conservative understands the overall economic truths of transportation, a false conservative with power gives favors in exchange for gifts.

TRAC SUPPORTS ALL CALIFORNIA RAIL SERVICE

TRAC's mission is to better inter-city rail service in California. We are as committed to supporting the four interstate trains that run within and terminate in our state as we are to California's corridor services and future services (such as an overnight San Joaquin and high-speed rail). Zephyr, Southwest, Starlight, Sunset. I don't intend these to be historical references.

A large percentage of our members are older members, and many are TRAC members precisely because long-haul trains are how they travel from state to state--indeed, how YOU travel from state to state. This is why we partner with NARP in the national campaign to save Amtrak. We at TRAC have heard you--preservation of the long-haul trains is one of your highest priorities. I wish to assure you that I have put aside nearly everything the last two weeks to assist in the national fight. And let me thank all of you who have done your part by writing and emailing--it has made a difference.

AMTRAK'S SHINING STAR

There is one amazing bright ray of hope in all this darkness, and his name is David Gunn. As stated above, Gunn refused Mineta's offer outright, and in a show of support the Amtrak Board rejected Mineta's offer as well. An Amtrak conductor told me today that in that now famous Gunn statement--"It's OK to call our guests 'passengers' again"--he won the loyalty of tens of thousands of Amtrak employees. On Monday Gunn told his employees in a letter, "You can depend on me to do everything possible to keep our operations going; that's my commitment to you. I did not take this job to shut down our railroad."

DOES THE SUNSET RUN TOO FREQUENTLY? OR NOT FREQUENTLY ENOUGH?

Mr. "Ga Ga Choo Choo" Tierney, writer of the 'Amtrak Must Die' article, states that the Sunset Limited lost more per passenger than any other train and prompted Representative Harold Rogers to ask "Why is this route still being run?''

I turn Mr. Roger's question around and ask "Why is this route still being run TRI-WEEKLY?" Did Tierney every consider that maybe the reason this train loses so much per passenger is because it is one of only two trains which still run less than daily in the entire Amtrak system and thus the Sunset Limited's labor and fixed facilities are being horribly underutilized?

HALF THE AMOUNT / TWICE THE CIRCUS

The Bush administration is reportedly miffed at David Gunn for making the Amtrak debate a 'public spectacle'. I am miffed at a large corporation for wasting all our taxpayer dollars to fuel a huge national debate that may, in the end, if they are lucky, get a few trains off their rails. This may take a few million off Amtrak's operating costs but won't amount to a hill of beans in the overall picture.

The Bush Administration only gave Amtrak $100 million in this weeks final deal. Thanks to Gunn, the strings to dismantle the long distance trains were not attached, but it leaves open the need for Amtrak to ask for an additional $100 million in August. Do we go through this whole circus again? Giving half the amount needed keeps travelers and all those that do business with Amtrak in a state of uncertainty which only hurts Amtrak's ability to generate revenue and maintain business relationships.

TIME FOR AN OFFENSIVE STRATEGY

The Sunset Limited has been a tri-weekly train for three decades now, and that is INSANE. This is economically unsound and has kept this train on the bottom of Amtrak's performance list too long. I call on rail supporters everywhere to abandon the defensive plan and go on the offensive by demanding of our politicians:

* AMTRAK MUST GET THE FULL $200 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATION

* AMTRAK MUST BE FULLY FUNDED FOR FY2003

* ROUTE AND FREQUENCY CUTS ARE UNACCEPTABLE, PERIOD

* THE CARS AT BEACH GROVE MUST BE REPAIRED

* THE CARDINAL AND SUNSET MUST BE UPGRADED TO DAILY SERVICE IN FY2003

This is not a slippery slope argument--this IS a slippery slope. The Sunset Limited runs on--um--whose tracks? The Starlight and the Zephyr run on those same company's tracks.

[FROM THE TRAC OFFICES] I SEE TRAINS, PLANES & AUTOMOBILES

As I started writing this E-Bulletin this afternoon, the California Zephyr drifted by, visible from the TRAC offices through a break in the trees just east of the Sacramento Amtrak station. That's a sight I intend to see for just as long as I see cars (and trolleys) on the streets below and planes in the skies above.

Rest now, fellow rail supporters, as congress does. We'll need that energy again in a few weeks. Thanks for all you have done.

--
--Alan C. Miller
Administrative Director
Train Riders Association of California
(916) 557-1667


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