Boeuf en Croute a la Amtrak, Comrade?

| June 20, 2013

Someone hold John Mica back.

The Florida Republican representative and former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is still knee-deep in transportation issues on The Hill, but none wind him up as much as Amtrak. And Mica can be so much fun when he gets rolling. My favorite–oh, so many to choose from–is his charge that Amtrak is America’s “Soviet-style rail system.

So it’s no surprise the Floridian exploded when he read this in The Washington Post:

“Amtrak has gone gourmet—or at least it’s trying to. In exchange for frequent traveler miles, the rail agency has hired some of the most accomplished chefs in the country, who come together each spring to brainstorm new dishes for Amtrak’s menus.”

Mica is delightfully uninhibited when it comes to letting us know how he feels.

He responded to The Post story by pointing out that, “Despite Amtrak food service losses over the past eleven years now topping $906 million dollars, Master Gourmet Chefs continue to dish up recipes for costly gourmet train cuisine.

“With a $72 million food service loss in 2012, it’s time for Congress to stem the financial bleeding from chef-inspired gourmet meals on Amtrak’s money losing routes. I intend to have our Government Operations Subcommittee investigate these outrageous expenditures and have asked Rail Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham to also review these practices. With a total $1.4 billion Amtrak taxpayer subsidy for just the last year, extravagant chef-designed dishes need to be considered for the chopping block.”

Mica points out that Amtrak’s heavily subsidized long distance routes, “whose losses continue to mount,” currently feature lamb shank and spice-rubbed Atlantic salmon filet.  And, he says, in 2012, every Amtrak passenger ticket sold was underwritten $46 by taxpayers. What’s more, he notes, taxpayers subsidize every hamburger $4.37 and every soda sold is underwritten by taxpayers by $1.40.

The Post reports that the annual chefs’ gathering is, “part of an effort to change the way riders think about train cuisine. The goal is hipper, more healthful food to tempt the palates of the millions of annual passengers. After all, in a world that embraces designer doughnuts and upscale ramen noodles, why not gourmet train food?”

Train cuisine, I guess, can be a little like airline cuisine (hey, two oxymorons in one sentence). Consider this man’s experience from The Post story:

“Have I eaten on the train?” Todd Valentine of Bethesda said as he waited for a late-afternoon train to New York. “I have, and that’s why I have this bag of nuts.”

So Amtrak has its defense, but Mica is hammering away at a very easy-to-hit nail. With losses upon losses is spice-rubbed Atlantic salmon filet going to help? Mica makes the point that the losses aren’t going away, so gourmet is not the way to go.

Unless Amtrak can find a way to pay it’s own bills without taxpayer help–and Mica knows this isn’t going to happen–the Congressman is going to stay frustrated as the losses/subsidies get bigger and more of those deficit dollars go to delicious but oh-so-expensive lamb shanks

If Southwest gave me more peanuts (I average 11 to a bag) would I fly the airline more often? No.

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