Friday, February 18, 2005

Fast Company on Amtrak, PBS

Fast Company has ssome interesting thoughts today concerning Amtrak, a recent topic of conversation at my main journal. They tie it into the recent problems at PBS as well, and bring up some intriguing questions regarding a unique American phenomenom - that of supposedly private companies which nonetheless serve the public good and rely on government subsidies to stay in business. America never has been quite comforable with anything smacking of socialism, which is why you see the creation of such things as Amtrak and PBS to begin with; we recognize that these things need to exist, and that they need government money to stay afloat, but prefer to pretend in our minds that they're private companies that live and die by their own success.

FC makes a good point in their article, which is that part of the reason Amtrak has not been able to compete with low-budget airlines is that they offer nothing worthy of competition. (Install some bullet trains, they argue, like the ICEs in Germany, and especially concentrate them on popular regional routes, and then maybe you'd see some actual competition.) That's something important to remember about Amtrak, I think, when first tempted to simply shrug your shoulders and go, "Airlines are destined to kill rail service;" in a lot of European countries, where rail is run as an actual effective alternative to planes (especially in our Homeland-Security, three-damn-hours-in-line-at-the-airport days), rail is thriving in a way people weren't expecting. The same could happen here in the US, too, if we took the time and money to build something that was actually as effective as hopping on a Southwest flight from Chicago to St. Louis..