Feb 20, 2019

Axios PM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen
1 big thing: Amtrak's big, unlikely idea
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

America's only real passenger rail company wants to ask Congress for permission to stop losing tens of millions of dollars on long-distance routes, the WSJ reports.

  • "Amtrak says it will need $2.2 billion to $2.7 billion between now and 2030, as part of a total $3.8 billion it expects to spend on replacing the long-distance fleet, including locomotives Amtrak has already ordered."

The big picture: All 15 of Amtrak's long-distance routes lose money. The bottom 10 lose an average of nearly $10 million a year, each.

  • The Northeast Corridor — from Boston to D.C. — is the only Amtrak route to run a surplus, Bloomberg notes.
  • Amtrak wants to establish others by investing more heavily in city-to-city routes where a reasonable person might opt for a train over a plane — the WSJ lists examples like Charlotte to Atlanta and Cleveland to Cincinnati.
  • This means more frequent trains outfitted to move lots of people, instead of infrequent trains with sleeper cars utilized by hobbyists. 

Between the lines: U.S. passenger rail is having a miserable 2019. California is dialing down expectations for the much-vaunted high-speed line from San Diego to Sacramento and San Francisco, which now will focus just on the Central Valley.

Why it matters: A strong passenger rail system would help America reduce greenhouse emissions, ease the stress on our degraded road infrastructure and provide an option for young urbanites to keep avoiding cars.

The bottom line: Amtrak will struggle to make this happen. The Senate blocked a proposal to convert part of one long-distance line into a bus route last year, by a vote of 95 to 4, the Journal notes.

Bonus: Pic du jour
Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Cyclists during Stage 4 of the 10th Tour of Oman.

2. What you missed
  1. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that the 8th Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause applies to state and local governments. Go deeper.
  2. Samsung unveiled a $1,980 smartphone today that unfolds into a tablet. Details.
  3. Southwest Airlines says the partial government shutdown cost it $60 million in revenue, more than 4x what it had originally forecasted. Go deeper.
  4. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has paved the way for Jewish supremacists from the "Jewish Power" party to make it into the next Knesset. Go deeper.
  5. Venture capitalist Keith Rabois is leaving Khosla Ventures in order to join Founders Fund as a partner, Axios' Dan Primack scoops.
  6. P.S. Fox News has run more coverage on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez than on any of the likely or possible 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls apart from Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Go deeper.
3. 1 stressed out thing

Teens are more likely to say stress and anxiety are of major concern for their peers — more than drug addiction, bullying or poverty, Axios' Stef Kight reports, citing new research from Pew.

Expand chart
Reproduced from a Pew Research Center report; Chart: Axios Visuals
Mike Allen