Remember when Congress responded to the alleged malfunction of Toyota brakes by offering the company $1 billion and telling its heroic employees to keep up the good work? No, neither do we.
Remember when the feds handed out cash to those Chinatown bus companies, whose unsafe practices led to passenger deaths, calling it a moral imperative for the sake of public safety? Again, we don't either.
But somehow, it is different when a government-run company, Amtrak, kills and injures people through incompetence. On Tuesday night, Train 188 from Washington to New York City, along the most trafficked route in Amtrak's system, jumped the rails, killing seven and injuring 200. Accidents do happen in even the best conditions, but this one happened because the train went into a 50 mile-per-hour curve at about 107 miles per hour.
It isn't a lack of money that causes train operators to speed. But Democrats responded immediately with a hand darting out to grab more taxpayer dollars. Without knowing the cause of the accident, they demanded a doubling of Amtrak's budget. You almost have to admire the brazen opportunism — making such demands while the wreck was still smoldering and most of the victims' identities had not been made public.
The news media were little better until the cause of the crash was revealed. Confirmation bias and punditry-by-the-seat-of-one's-pants produced its own sort of train-wreck on the morning after the real crash.
The Washington Post started the day asserting that Amtrak is underfunded because its trains don't run through many Republican districts. MSNBC's was replete with calls for infrastructure investments as a matter of public safety. Host Joe Scarborough complained of America's "Third World infrastructure," and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, D, made the amusing case that if only they had built the Northeast Corridor rail lines with no curves in Philadelphia, this sort of thing would never happen.
Lying amid its own ruin, Amtrak 188 may be regarded as a tragedy, a symbol, or a cautionary tale, but it cannot legitimately be another excuse for throwing more good money after one of America's worst companies. Amtrak is a government-run money-losing machine with appalling management practices that would never fly in the private sector.
Taxpayers have thrown $45 billion into the Amtrak sinkhole since the company was founded in 1977, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Given how it operates, its track record is easy to understand.
Only Amtrak can lose more than $70 million per year on its food service, which consists of selling overpriced food and snacks to a captive audience. Only Amtrak would operate 41 out of its 44 routes at a loss for decades without seriously considering a change in business strategy. Only Amtrak would complain that the federal government gives only about a $60 subsidy for each train ticket it sells.
There is no demand for passenger rail in the United States outside of the Northeast, where it is mostly used by people who can afford to pay the full cost of their ticket. Government does not need to subsidize what people do not want and will not use. The world will lose nothing if the government winds down Amtrak by selling off its profitable lines in the Northeast to a competently-managed private company and scrapping the rest.
In the meantime, let's hope that liberal lawmakers and pundits control the urge to exploit a disaster to extract more money from taxpayers.