Ed Driscoll

There's Something About A Train That's Magic

Except for the enormous maintenance costs. UPI notes that Amtrak may–if such a thing is possible–quietly divest itself of ownership of the Northeast Corridor. The corridor is an asset that Amtrak has maintained since it was given to them by Congress, back when Conrail was launched in 1976:

The Amtrak Board of Directors has quietly approved a plan to create a subsidiary to maintain track and stations in the Northeast Corridor.

The national rail passenger agency did not announce the proposal, which was adopted Sept. 22. It became public Wednesday in the newsletter of United Rail Passenger Alliance, a Jacksonville, Fla., advocacy group.

In most of the country, Amtrak trains operate on track owned and maintained by long-distance freight railroads. In the Northeast Corridor, between Boston and Washington, Amtrak owns and maintains the track, which is also used for freight and by state-subsidized commuter lines.

The alliance supports the proposal, saying Amtrak “will finally be able to be run as it was originally intended, without the millstone of the NEC around its corporate neck.” The group believes Amtrak executives have been able to play financial games while forcing rail passengers in California to subsidize commuter service in the northeast.

But the plan has its critics.

“The Bush administration wants to hold a fire sale on Amtrak and dump its best asset, the Northeast Corridor,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said in a statement reported by the New York Times.

Why not do the reverse? Hold the fire sale and dump everything else but the corridor? It’s the only place where Amtrak has a shot at turning a profit.

Incidentally, if this proposal goes forward, what will this do to Amtrak’s ownership of the current underground dive version of Penn Station? Will it give them the opportunity to put the NASA-style “ABANDON IN PLACE” sign on the door and move in to the swanky new Penn Station being built across the street?