Double the dollars for not-so-high-speed trains

Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Chris Woodward (

cash in handTaxpayers may be paying a lot more for new Amtrak trains than they should be.

Amtrak has announced 28 new trainsets from manufacturer Alstom that are due to launch in 2021. The so-called Acela Express trains will feature more spacious seats and better Wi-Fi access.

"Amtrak is taking the necessary actions to keep our customers, the Northeast region, and the American economy moving forward," says Amtrak President & CEO Joe Boardman in a press release. "These trainsets and the modernization and improvement of infrastructure will provide our customers with the mobility and experience of the future."

Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute is not surprised by the announcement.

"Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) leaked details about this contract, and at that time, Amtrak said that the reports were false, but actually they turned out to be true," he explains. "One takeaway that I think the press has generally missed so far is that $2.5 billion for the 28 high-speed train sets."

According to Scribner, the price for these similar train sets in Europe, Japan, or China would be about half of what Amtrak is paying through this contract with Alstom.


"So, comparing this Amtrak contract with the rest of the world, I think the major takeaway is that the United States, and really the taxpayer, is paying twice what they should be," he says. 

Amtrak depends on ticket sales for revenue, but it also receives federal funding. 

"But this should be booked as a taxpayer expense, and the taxpayer should be aware they're paying twice as what they should be if we were to go with international standards and Europe and advanced countries in Asia," Scribner insists.

Still, Amtrak forges ahead, saying the new trainsets will operate along the Washington – New York – Boston Northeast Corridor initially at speeds up to 160 mph and will be capable of speeds up to 186 mph and thus will be able to take advantage of future NEC infrastructure improvements.

"That's the only place currently in existence in the United States where you could actually call service truly high speed, but again, to put that in global context, the United States' Amtrak's high-speed trains are near the bottom of what the rest of the world considers high speed," Scribner reports. "So when I was saying that the United States is now spending twice what the rest of the world is paying for similar trains, those similar trains and the rest of the world move much faster and are using more advanced power trains."


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