Stephen Smith emails to respond to the reaction to his post:
I don't have the patience for a point-by-point rebuttal of the Amtrak-will-never-be-profitable emailers, but this: "There is no passenger train system in the developed world that makes a profit" is simply not true. There are dozens of private Japanese passenger railroad companies that make money and even pay taxes (outside of Japan, I believe that only France's SNCF pays taxes). JR East, JR West, and JR Central, better known as the three largest Shinkansen companies (with JR Central even building an unsubsidized maglev line!), are the largest three profitable private railway companies (they were successfully privatized a decade or two ago). But there are also a bunch more that have always been private and, on average, profitable (for example…).
Another reader joins the discussion:
I would put to you and your readers that no system of transporation is "profitable" and no system would be profitable were it subject to the same restrictions that Amtrak is. Amtrak is required to pay for much of its track maintenance. As a Dish thread noted last year, comparing the price of cheap DC-NYC bus lines to Amtrak, the government – federal, state, and local – wholly subsidizes the cost of roads.
Were those bus lines or any other private organization, required to do the entirety of all new road construction and maintenance, they would not be profitable either. Similarly, huge tax breaks are given to airlines, who are barely profitable as it is, and certainly would not be absent the huge efforts of the federal government to subsidize fuel costs, as well as making efforts to bring down general oil prices. But Amtrak opponents hold Amtrak to a standard that they would never hold for public roads, canals, or air travel.
Transportation, ultimately, is a public good provided by the government. For centuries, Federal, State, and Local governments have endeavored to increase commerce (using the word in the broadest sense) between peoples by constructing faster and more efficients means of transporation and communication. Opponents of Amtrak seem to have singled out rail as a form of transporation that does not deserve the subsidies of the government, while roads and air travel do.
I still don't see the arguments against Amtrak privatization. Is access to passenger rail a public right? Why is it acceptable to privatize transport rail – a move that was hugely successful – but not passenger rail? Are we supposed to subsidize passanger rail simply because the Europeans do?