Home > Commentary > An amusing ‘fact’ about the Northeast Corridor from the Eno Center for Transportation

An amusing ‘fact’ about the Northeast Corridor from the Eno Center for Transportation

August 20th, 2012

Progressive Railroading’s HSR Updates online service has a story today (August 20, 2012) about Governor Mitt Romney’s potential for eliminating Amtrak subsidies. The story goes on at length about various scenarios and has quotes from interested parties, including a quote from the Eno Center for Transportation, located in Washington, D.C. The folks at Eno say they are a “neutral, non-partisan think tank” working to promote transportation.

Too bad they’ve been drinking the Amtrak Kool-Aid about the Northeast Corridor. Here’s the quote about eliminating all Amtrak subsidy, including to the NEC: “It would reduce the amount of overall travel in the Northeast Corridor because there is not enough capacity on highways and airports to accommodate all the passengers. … Airlines would increase flights, which would drammatically increase delay times, traffic on the I-95 corridor would dramatically increase and it would have severe economic consequences.”

The article goes on to say, “Because of those dire outcomes, it’s more likely that a new administration and/or Congress would propose to cut Amtrak’s subsidy rather than eliminate it altogether.”

One has to wonder exactly what planet the folks at Eno are using as an operations base. In Fiscal Year 2011, Amtrak carried 3,378,800 passenger on Acela on the NEC, and 7,532,800 passengers on Northeast Regional trains, for a total of 10,911,600 passengers. Numbers are only available for the full NEC, from Washington, D.C. to Boston; also remember the heaviest traffic is between Philadelphia and New York City, for a total of 91 miles.

But, for argument’s sake, let’s say all of those travelers are going the entire route between Washington and New York City.

First, there is no air traffic between New York City and Philadelphia, because the distance is only 91 miles. So, the crowded airline argument is moot for the heaviest traveled part of the NEC.

Do the math presuming everyone takes to Interstate 95 between Washington and New York City. Presume 100% of the traffic is in an 18 hour a day period, from 6 A.M. to midnight. That’s 10,911,600 divided by 365 days, giving you an average of 29,894 travelers a day, if everyone traveled independently in an automobile. Over an 18 hour period, that’s an additional 1,660 cars an hour, and, if you break that down further to 50% traveling north and 50% traveling south, that’s only an additional 830 cars an hour in each direction. For I-95, an additional 830 cars an hour is akin to a blip on radar, barely noticeable; it’s more like a pre-rush hour surge of people leaving early from the office.

Simply put, this type of rhetoric out of a think tank is hardly neutral and non-partisan. It heavily favors government intervention and funding allegedly because a service provides sparse utility for a part of the county which would hardly face dire economic circumstances or consequences if that service stopped running.

Should the NEC be shut down? Definitely not. Should the NEC be owned and controlled by someone other than Amtrak? Most definitely yes, and allow Amtrak and and other operators access to the corridor to operate trains as Amtrak does in the rest of the country.

As the election comes closer, we’re likely to hear more such rhetoric that sounds good on the surface if you’re advocating for a specific position, but makes no sense in the real world. Everyone is going to have to figure out reality on their own, and learn to forget the Amtrak company line, which hasn’t been based on reality for decades. – J. Bruce Richardson


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