Saturday, September 09, 2006

Does Amtrak Control NARP?

From the Boston Globe...

Amtrak critics are fuming after learning that Amtrak pays $30,000 a year to the National Association of Railroad Passengers. The NARP, a not-for-profit organization representing passenger needs and concerns, claims autonomy from Amtrak, but critics note that NARP's publications regularly defend Amtrak and echo the company's perspective on government funding (they want more), on-time service (Amtrak blames freight companies) and long-distance trains (they insist we still need them). Critics would like to see NARP devote more of its energy to addressing customer needs along the Northeast Corridor (including commuter rails, in which Amtrak has a stake in most instances), where Amtrak produces its biggest profits.

While it's true that the NARP has become a bit of an apologist for Amtrak (I've received their publications), these accusations of impropriety are ridiculous. The 30 thousand was used not to line the pockets of NARP officials but to pay for a part-time liaison who communicates to Amtrak customer complaints and suggestions collected by the NARP. What use would NARP have it it couldn't pass on to Amtrak the information it gathers. That NARP stands behind Amtrak on most issues suggests to me that many of its contributors are individuals committed to long-distance trains, to quality service aboard those trains and to increased government investment in passenger rail (in countries lauded for their rail service, there is almost always massive government support). Should the NARP be criticized for representing its contributors' interests and pursuing their demands?

That said, this story shouldn't be ignored, because several of the critics mentioned above used to be on the NARP board. Sounds as if the NARP is as internally riven as Amtrak--with some members wanting to focus on what Amtrak does best (the Northeast Corridor) and others wanting to resuscitate service that has declined in recent years (i.e. most long-distance trains). Amtrak's dissolution, or at the very least, the dissolution of the long-distance service that makes Amtrak a name recognized across the Lower 48, has been a possibility for some time now. Might it finally happen?


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