By now, it is well known that Amtrak is bleeding money and not even coming close to breaking even on the majority of its routes—with one notable exception being the popular northeast corridor routes between Boston and DC. But running profitable train lines isn’t Amtrak’s only problem; it is equally bad at the much simpler task of selling food.
The Times explains:
Amtrak lost more than $800 million on its food and beverage services over the last 10 years, largely because of waste, employee theft and lack of proper oversight, government auditors have found.
Mr. Alves, who issued a report on the problem last year, estimated that theft by Amtrak food service employees could cost the agency $4 million to $7 million annually. According to charts shown by Republican committee staff members during the hearing, Amtrak charges about $2 for a soft drink, but the cost to taxpayers is about $3.40 when labor is included. A $9.50 hamburger on the train costs taxpayers $16, the charts showed. Labor adds nearly 60 percent to food and beverage costs.
Only a government subsidized operation could sell hamburgers for $10 each and lose money. People who use Amtrak know that the food is overpriced and not very good. But, hey, it’s a captive dining audience, right? The dining car should be a way for Amtrak to recoup some of its losses from running its expensive trains. Instead, the food system is so badly managed that somehow it also loses a lot of money, apparently because of theft, bad management, high labor costs, and other problems.
Meanwhile, Amtrak wants another $150 billion to speed on faster trains on the Boston-Washington line. There’s actually a way to speed those trains without spending a dime: cutting out the unnecessary stops that rent-seeking politicians impose on Acela trains. Newark, Metro Park, Wilmington, Baltimore, BWI airport? For shame. And the same on the Boston-New York route.
This is no way to run a railroad, though one somehow suspects that a lot of union officials and politicians disagree.