Alas, Amtrak

July 7, 2008

With gas prices up in the stratosphere, Amtrak is getting a lot of attention these days. Here’s an essay I wrote a few years back, after riding the California Zephyr to Denver. I can’t imagine much has changed. /sm

After huffing down $25 Billion in tax crack since 1971, and with a deficit that’s mounting despite growing ridership and a Congressional mandate to balance its books, you’ve got to ask the question: is Amtrak worth saving? That’s precisely what Mrs. M and I set out to discover when we booked passage on the California Zephyr from Martinez to Denver.

The Zephyr is one of America’s great historic rail routes, crossing both the Rockies and the Sierras on its way from Chicago to Oakland. You know the story: the line with the gold spike in it, the one that opened up the West to millions of Yankee yahoos. Today it’s one of the biggest money-losers in a money-losing system, and a prime candidate for the budget axe. We figured if we were ever going to experience this slice of living history, we’d better get aboard pronto. As it turned out, we were indeed taking a trip back in time, but not to the era we thought. Instead of the old West, it turned out to be more like a ride through communist Russia. Read the rest of this entry »