Acela Express, Amtrak\’s hope for the 21st Century, shuts down because of faulty equipment, safety concerns.

WASHINGTON – Less than two years after being introduced, inspectors have found cracks in the suspension pieces of three high-speed Acela Express locomotives, forcing a cancellation of most high-speed service. Only 2 of 18 trains will be running, and a 19th train was turned back to the manufacturer because key modifications were not made.

This shutdown is only the latest example of the profligate expenditures, mismanagement, and general incompetence at the nation\’s publicly subsidized monopoly rail company. After spending billions of taxpayer dollars to introduce high-speed service, Amtrak declared earlier this year that it needed a $1.2 billion dollar cash injection from Congress or it would shut down all service. The government kicked in $205 million to keep trains running, yet in the month of July alone, 35 of the brand new Acela Express trips were cancelled, mostly due to equipment problems.

"How many billions do we have to give these rail monopolists before their trains run reliably?" asked taxpayer Advocate Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform. "For 30 years we have experimented with a government-run railroad, and all we get are dilapidated trains, unsafe tracks, and gaping budgetary holes plugged with taxpayer money. The time has come for rationalization, and privatization, of Amtrak."

Created 30 years ago to modernize passenger rail travel and to make it profitable, Amtrak has operated in the red every year, receiving over $15 billion in taxpayer subsidies. In 2001 alone, Amtrak lost $1.1 billion. Its 13 separate unions and mandated service on unprofitable routes destroy flexibility and drain money out of the few profitable lines in the system. In 1997, Congress passed a reform plan that provided over $5 billion in further subsidies in exchange for restructuring toward self-sufficiency by the end of 2002. Unfortunately, it appears that Amtrak will need a bigger subsidy than ever in 2003.

"Acela Express was supposed to drive Amtrak into the 21st Century," Norquist continued. "But Acela is driving nowhere, because the locomotives keep breaking. With service shut down, it seems taxpayers are the only ones being taken for a ride."