Sunday, November 27, 2005

All Aboard the Amtrak Grousing Express!

It's truly amazing to see how one can worry about the wrong thing. Take for example, in this story in the Albany Times-Union:

Amtrak starts with food

Amtrak's move to have the Subway restaurant chain provide food on board trains originating or terminating in Rensselaer is the kind of efficiency move U.S. Rep. John Sweeney, R-Clifton Park, would like to see more of. The congressman says he has been thwarted in his efforts to get a full accounting of Amtrak's assets and to learn what's making money and what isn't. Food service has been a sore point among some in Congress who think it's not earning enough for the government-supported passenger railroad. Amtrak discontinued its own food service on the trains that originate and terminate in Rensselaer last summer, saying it was losing $1 million a year. Sweeney wonders what else needs to be changed. "They were mandated by Congress to produce this information," said Melissa Carlson, a spokeswoman for Sweeney. "They have just not done it." Sweeney last week fired off a letter to Amtrak's acting president seeking answers. As of Friday, said Carlson, he hadn't received any. Meanwhile, the food service now is a source of earnings for Amtrak, with Subway paying Amtrak a portion of its gross receipts. And Amtrak passengers won't have to go hungry. "It addresses the passengers' need for food," Carlson said.
First off, it's an easy target to grouse about the food anywhere, and Amtrak is everyone's anti government favorite whipping boy. So, Sweeney can look like a hero on this one. But wait. Amtrak service to his district is frequent daily stops in Rhinebeck & Hudson, and one stop each way every day in Saratoga, Fort Edward, Whitehall, & Ticonderoga. The 20th's problem with Amtrak is not that there are overpriced sandwiches. The problem is that there's no flippin' service. But where is our sense of priorities? How does Old Sweeney get a free ride on this? He can claim some kind of credit (and what weak credit it is) for pointing out something utterly unimportant to his constituents while totally ignoring a significant failure of the Federal Government in his district.

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