(Alexandria, VA) -- The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) Operations Board should stand up for Virginia taxpayers and commuters by standing up to Amtrak. That's the view of the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU), which sent a letter to Board Chairman John Jenkins today recommending the railway break free of Amtrak's grip by competitively contracting out the system's services. The citizen group has 8,500 members in Virginia.
"Over the past thirty-plus years of Amtrak's existence, the railroad has hindered, not helped, the development of rail networks," said NTU Director of Government Affairs Paul Gessing. "Amtrak has repeatedly threatened commuter rail systems like VRE with shutdowns and work stoppages, while offering services that are often not even competitive on a price basis when compared with those provided by outside contractors."
The NTU letter noted that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) bid out Amtrak maintenance contracts and awarded a contract to the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, resulting in a cost savings of $100 million over a five-year period and improvements in system on-time rates and breakdowns. Similarly, Southern California's Metrolink recently severed its 12-year relationship with Amtrak by approving a contract with Connex -- the private firm now managing service for MBTA -- to replace Amtrak by mid-2005.
"In spite of strong opposition from Amtrak and the monopolistic railroad's repeated attempts to foil competitive contracting efforts, more and more commuter railroads are successfully embarking upon such endeavors," said Gessing. "The VRE Operations Board should follow suit and stop Amtrak from taking taxpayers for a ride any longer."
According to Gessing, the VRE system's managers have a special responsibility to make cost control and reduction a primary goal since Virginia taxpayers alone provide approximately $15 million in annual subsidies to VRE. NTU even recommends that VRE officials "take any necessary anti-trust actions" if Amtrak attempts to stand in VRE's way, as it did in the Massachusetts case.
"Regardless of whether Amtrak or a private entity ultimately wins, under a truly competitive bidding process, taxpayers and commuters are the ultimate winners," Gessing concluded. "VRE should blow the whistle on Amtrak's railroad robbery and hop off at the next stop."
NTU is a non-profit, non-partisan organization working for lower taxes, smaller government, and more accountability from elected officials at all levels. Note: NTU's letter to VRE Operations Board Chairman Jenkins is available online at www.ntu.org.