Derailed: What Went Wrong and What to Do about America's Passenger Trains

Joseph Vranich, Author St. Martin's Press $24.95 (258p) ISBN 978-0-312-17182-7
Reading this expose of Amtrak is like studying a statistical chart; the material may be revelatory, but the presentation is boring primarily because Vranich seems to be lobbying Congress rather than the reader. A former public affairs spokesperson for Amtrak, he now calls his former employer a ""failed program"" that should be jettisoned. Included in his dossier of complaints: derailments; an on-time performance in 1996 of only 70.9%; ridership of 22 million, virtually unchanged since 1979; an employee contract providing furloughed workers full wages for up to six years. Vranich's solution is to privatize this ""subsidized monopoly"" and devolve it to state governments. He proposes a moratorium on capital funding, then the formation of an independent transition agency that might follow the guidelines formulated by the Japanese National Railways Privatization Study. Among its provisions, routes must show promise of profitability and pass a social-value test. To further discredit Amtrak, Vranich makes unfavorable comparisons with privatized train systems around the world--but makes no mention, for example, of safety complaints in Britain, which were especially vehement following the most recent derailment--all of which he considers well-managed. Only Amtrak's Washington, D.C.-to-Boston Northeast Corridor, ""one of the most important transportation assets in the United States,"" should be salvaged, he contends, and his solution is to ""give"" the corridor to the states to franchise. Vranich builds such a convincing case that it's unfortunate he undermines it with tediousness. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
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