End of the Line: The Failure of Amtrak Reform and the Future of America’s Passenger Trains

by Joseph Vranich

If you thought that Amtrak had some redeeming features, you will have forgotten them by the time you reach the end of this well-researched book.

Author Joseph Vranich, a former Amtrak public affairs spokesman and a member of the Amtrak Reform Council from 1998 to 2000, has marshalled a formidable array of arguments against National Rail Passenger Corp. He describes Amtrak as ’the Enron and the WorldCom of transportation’, noting that the corporation ’got off lightly’ after a 2002 accounting irregularity which he believes was ’as serious’ as those two notorious cases.

It is no surprise to find that ’by far the greatest portion of Amtrak’s operating cost is labor’, but unfortunately there is no detailed account of the practices that hamper cost reductions and productivity improvements. These lie close to the heart of Amtrak’s problems and would have made illuminating reading.

Vranich claims that ’for rail passenger service to prosper, the federal government needs to establish an environment that makes operators accountable through market forces, rather than a political process that gives Amtrak increasing amounts of public funding.’ He concludes that ’the sensible solution is to separate the future of passenger rail from the future of Amtrak’.

The author believes that ’rail passenger transportation in a post-Amtrak world would result in more financially viable trains in healthier transportation markets’. Short-distance and regional trains would thrive under a competitive franchise system with private-sector participation, and tourist or land-cruise trains could operate profitably.

Appendices cover a list of warnings about Amtrak’s financial condition, a summary of the development of the Acela Express project, and a brief review of world railway privatisation projects.

US$25 from the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, AEI Press, c/o Client Distribution Services, 193 Edwards Drive, Jackson, TN38301, USA.


Outside the USA, £16·95 from Eurospan, 3 Henrietta Street, London WC2E 8LU, UK.


Rail re-opening toolkit

Subtitled ’A complete guide to the process of re-opening a disused railway’, this publication from Britain’s Countryside Agency and the Association of Community Rail Partnerships is aimed at local authorities, campaigners and other parties interested in reviving passenger services on a disused railway.

The 62-page ’toolkit’ has been created to provide a consistent approach to evaluating the viability of closed routes, as well as a guide to developing structured proposals for reinstatement. Independent Rail Consultants Group spent six months reviewing the processes required to reopen a line in Britain, and the results are divided into four sections covering Process, Making the Case, Making it Happen, and three case studies.

The book is designed for use with projects to enhance the transport infrastructure, and stresses that ’re-opening disused rail lines should not be based on nostalgia’. Nevertheless, much of the guide will be helpful to promoters of ’free standing, tourism-based and heritage’ lines.

ú5 from ACoRP, Canal Side, Civic Hall, 15a New Street, Slaithwaite, HD7 5AB, UK.