Northeast Corridor Privatization

Representative John Mica (R-Florida) and Representative Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) have proposed opening Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor route to the private sector.

The short story is that the Northeast Corridor would be taken away from Amtrak and taken over by the USDOT. In turn, the USDOT would lease the corridor to a newly created Northeast Corridor Committee. This Committee would then take bids from interested private-sector parties to operate and develop the corridor. This is basically taking the template for private operations of a toll road and extending to a rail line. I think there are some merits to the idea. It brings an element of competition to the corridor. It ensure further development, improvement, and efficiency along the corridor.

The proposal does not give a lot of specifics… and there are a lot of specific questions that need answering before moving forward with something like this. Here’s a few from Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic:

How would intercity rail operators interact with the freight and commuter railroads that also use the tracks, in the Northeast and elsewhere? If a PPP were implemented, how much would the government agree to commit to pay for improvements?

I’m all for trying to put as much of our transportation infrastructure into private operation as possible. However, it needs to be a well-thought-out action. I see how the Northeast Corridor Committee is going to be structured (see page 10, starting with line 4) and it’s clear to me that politics will trump solutions.

I’m afraid though that this proposal will be scorned by Democrats (who in general think its a bad thing to place “public” services into private hands) before its even give much thought. Rather than just shooting it down why not give it some thought? Poke some holes in the idea and let Mr. Mica and Mr. Shuster try again.

Even Ray Lahood is pretty much dismissing this:

At present, we believe Amtrak is the entity most capable of taking the next steps to modernize rail service in the Northeast Corridor, which is why the administration has serious concerns about any proposal to privatize Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. The administration also has the responsibility to ensure that taxpayer investments are protected and well-managed.

Is Amtrak currently an example of well-managed taxpayer assets? Let’s be honest. The system currently in place is broken. Amtrak, as it stands now, is not the solution to our countries rail-transportation needs.

I’d actually favor the reverse of what Mr. Mica proposes. Lets allow Amtrak to quit operating all their routes that generate massive loss. Lets give them the chance to focus on the routes they can make profitable. Make them the Northeast Corridor Committee.