I’m a big fan of train travel in the Northeast, at least relative to the other options. I’ve never understood people who fly between DC and New York instead of taking the Acela or even the regional, which get you from D.C. to midtown Manhattan much faster and more reliably than the alternatives.

That said, this post by the New York Times’ Eleanor Randolph, which claims that Amtrak is “not a money pit, after all,” is amazing for what it does not say. Here’s Randolph:

[Despite Hurricane Sandy-related disruptions], Amtrak had one of its best years ever. Amtrak officers boasted this week about carrying 31.6 million passengers this year, up from 31.2 million last year. And ridership increased even in the Northeast Corridor where Sandy did her worst. As a result, the railroad will ask for less federal help. That old story about how Amtrak is a transportation money pit has, once again, been proven false.

What evidence does Randolph offer that Amtrak is having a great year? Well, ridership is up, slightly. But that tells us nothing about whether Amtrak is a “money pit,” or put more charitably, whether Amtrak is heavily subsidized by taxpayers (which it is).

The headline aside, there’s little in the post about the railroad’s finances. Randolph never cites a dollar figure or percentages to give readers the slightest inkling of what’s really happening to Amtrak’s bottom line or taxpayer subsidies. The headline hints that Amtrak’s becoming independent. And that’s just not the case.

That’s unfortunate. We should be discussing and debating the future of passenger rail in America, not suggesting–as rail fans have been doing for years–that profitability is just around the corner.

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