EDITORIAL: Monumental waste

Time to derail Amtrak’s $7.5 billion Union Station face-lift

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Government waste is so prevalent that it rarely comes as a surprise. Bureaucrats partying at public expense, inefficient labor-union contracts and massive cost overruns are the natural consequence of giving civil servants the ability to spend money earned by others. Amtrak wants to take waste to new heights. On July 25, the government railroad service proposed to give Washington’s historic Union Station a $7.5 billion face-lift. And that’s before the budget goes off the rails.

Apparently, no expense is to be spared if it furthers the Obama administration’s high-speed-rail scheme. “Today’s plan ensures that Union Station will continue to serve as the gateway to our nation’s capital, providing growing numbers of passengers with even greater transportation options,” Deputy Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari said upon the proposal’s announcement. “The Department of Transportation is committed to Union Station’s future, both as an important part of the local economy and of the president’s vision for a revitalized Northeast Corridor.”

This $7.5 billion won’t build a wholly new station; it merely will add a bit of additional capacity to the existing location. There will be new passenger concourses, wider platforms for stepping off the train, a few new street entrances and a shopping area that will be built over the tracks. It’s a “visionary and practical approach to revitalize the terminal” that will take from 15 to 20 years to complete.

To the delight of Washington’s car-hating liberal establishment, the plan includes bulldozing the existing Union Station parking structure — one of the cheapest and most reliable places to park for an hour or two in the city. The liberals have been itching to replace it with an expanse of modernist glass architecture, destroying the beauty of the existing station’s classic lines, which were drawn by architect Daniel Burnham in 1903.

Amtrak claims the renovation will stimulate $15 billion in gross regional product over the next couple of decades. Given government rail’s profitless track record, such predictions are wishful thinking. As House Transportation Committee Chairman John L. Mica, Florida Republican, artfully pointed out Thursday, Amtrak can’t even sell a hamburger without taking a loss. In 10 years of selling food and beverages on its choo-choos, Amtrak has racked up a staggering $833 million loss.

As Mr. Mica explained, McDonald’s can sell a hamburger for $1, but Amtrak needs to sell it for $9.50. Yet even that inflated amount can’t cover the staggering $16.15 per-burger cost to taxpayers.

This is all to say it’s not a surprise that Amtrak and the Obama administration could conceive of a train-station rehabilitation with double the price tag of the Freedom Tower in New York City. It will cost $3.8 billion to construct that hub of commerce standing 1,776 feet tall out of the rubble of the World Trade Center. The contrast is poignant. One project is a symbol of America’s determination to succeed; the other is a symbol of the audacity of waste.

The Washington Times

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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