GOP Rep. Blames Amtrak’s ‘Soviet-Style Operation’ For Fatal Crash

Representative John Mica (R-FL), along with other Congressional Republicans, doubled down on their plans to cut Amtrak’s funding in the wake of the horrific crash in Philadelphia. Mica said that privatizing Amtrak and allowing competition would make the train system run more efficiently, and for less cost. He also said, according to CNN:

“There’s no question the United States has a third-world rail system. It’s a monopoly run in a Soviet-style operation.”

What Republicans are really trying to do is sabotage Amtrak the way they’re trying to sabotage the public school system and the Post Office. If you cut funding enough, the system struggles, which justifies further cuts because they’re obviously wasting money, which makes the situation even worse, and voila! You have the perfect case for privatization, at least, in the eyes of uninformed members of the public who don’t understand how this works.

The problem is that privatizing something like Amtrak is similar to privatizing utilities and the schools. You’re handing a monopoly over to a private company with a profit motive. Companies with monopolies have zero incentive to run things efficiently and cheaply, and every incentive to be as inefficient and expensive as possible, because that brings in more profit and consumers have zero choice but to deal.

Amtrak isn’t the only passenger rail system to use the Northeast Corridor, but it also doesn’t exist only in that part of the country. There are lots of places in this country where Amtrak is the only passenger rail system there is. So while there could potentially be competition in the Northeast Corridor, that wouldn’t be true elsewhere, even if different regions were sold to different companies. They’d still have their little regional monopolies.

As anybody who’s ever dealt with regional monopolies, like electric companies and telecom companies, can attest to, even regional monopolies lead to high prices and bad service.

According to the CNN piece, Democrats have been pushing for a $1 billion increase in Amtrak’s funding, with Sen. Chris Coons saying that, if we actually invested in our rail system the way other industrialized nations do, we’d have a modern system already. However, Republicans seem to think that cutting Amtrak’s funding will force it to be more innovative, because that totally always works.

Additional funding means Amtrak might also have already implemented a certain safety system if they’d had the funding, but Republicans argue that the FCC’s regulatory burdens have prevented Amtrak from doing so in a timely manner. However, CNN reports that a spokesperson for the FCC said that Amtrak struggled with securing the radio frequencies it needs for the system, and that once they finally signed that contract, the FCC greenlighted it within two days.

Pennsylvania’s governor blasted Republicans for wanting to slash Amtrak’s funding, too, calling them “S.O.Bs” in an interview with MSBNC’s Chris Hayes. He said that they “didn’t even have the decency to table the vote,” which they could have, and probably should have, done. Instead, they were opportunistic, and pushed the vote through right after the deadly crash.

Cutting funding to a government agency as a ploy to make it more efficient rarely works the way Republicans tout, if it’s ever worked. It’s a means of sabotage, so Republicans can justify dumping the agency altogether. For the families of the eight who died in the crash, and for everyone who was injured, what they’re doing is the absolute height of insult.


Featured image by Douglas Rahden. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons