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OPINION - Hiawatha blues

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I like trains, and ride them often as I travel to and from my vacations. I also hate to see wasted money surrounding train operations. The finances of rail service stink. Wasted money just vanishes into thin air (or someone’s pocket), and it can’t be used to make things better. I’m well aware that many people see train travel as an entirely unnecessary boondoggle. They’d like to scrap Amtrak altogether and put the money towards cutting the deficit.

Amtrak will drop snack food service on it’s Hiawatha Service trains between Milwaukee and Chicago. Good. It was a money-losing waste.

If you ride the Hiawatha, you can buy snacks, soda, and beer from a rolling cart that’s staffed by an on-board employee. The service operated at a loss of about a quarter-million dollars last year. Actually, that’s a much smaller loss than other routes. Amtrak’s Empire Service trains from New York City to Albany in 2006. That service involved a special snack car and a stand-alone commissary that added to the costs.

Truth is, the train ride between Milwaukee and Chicago takes about two hours. If you’re hungry you have many food choices at the stations in either city.

The state DOT is considering whether to add WiFi to the Hiawatha’s passenger cars. Let’s hope they don’t think too long. The Hiawatha’s passengers can already ride a bus instead, with internet access, for $9. The train costs $22. The loss on the food cart – about 75-cents per passenger – is almost enough money to give everyone a small pack on peanuts and a soda as part of their ticket, like the airlines do.

Chris Conley
6.25.13