NARP responds to Anderson Cooper's attack on trains

NARP President Ross Capon responds directly to a CNN report that questions the value of passenger rail investment through a skewed scope.

The “Keeping Them Honest” report on high-speed rail on the Jan. 25 edition of Anderson Cooper 360 presumed that investing in rail is wasteful if the trains do not go very fast and very often. Steadily rising ridership on most Amtrak services—not just the Northeast Corridor—over the past decade shows that American travelers do not agree.   

CNN interviewed a well-known opponent of public spending on passenger rail (Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute) without interviewing one who supports it. It is not “balance” to interview an official from one state and ask them questions pertaining to that one state. I would have been happy to be interviewed for this story. 

O’Toole is wrong to claim that all one needed to get a federal rail grant was a completed environmental statement. This was a competitive program. Applications far exceeded available funds. The Government Accountability Office said the Federal Railroad Administration “established a fair and objective approach for distributing these funds and substantially followed recommended [grant-making] practices used throughout the government.” GAO found that “an application’s technical review score was largely the basis for the selection process.” 

Total planned investment in the Vermonter—including in Massachusetts and Connecticut—will reduce New York-St. Albans travel time by about two hours, far more than the 28 minutes you cited. Moreover, it is absurd to imply that extending the train north to a major destination like Montreal would not produce a big ridership increase. As for the present service, talk of putting Essex Junction passengers on a bus ignores the many intermediate stops the train serves.   

As for California high speed rail, it takes time to build new rights-of-way in a democracy, unlike in China. California has awarded a contract, and construction is to begin this summer.

The federal High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program aims to make train travel more reliable and attractive for many Americans. When the program was launched, President Obama himself made clear that much of the money would upgrade “existing infrastructure.”  

The $52.7 million that the federal government spent to upgrade the Vermonter route within Vermont is small by transportation standards. The Vermont Agency of Transportation received $241.2 million in Recovery Act money, most of which was spent on roads. The federal government spent $6 million in 2012 to repave about six miles of two-lane highway between Chelsea and Vershire, VT, and $6.3 million was spent to improve just one airport runway in Barre, VT. All of these infrastructure elements, including rail, will serve surrounding communities for decades.

Finally, walking along railroad tracks, as Mr. Griffin was seen doing, is trespassing and unsafe. Even on a lightly used railroad, one should always expect a train. Did Mr. Griffin check freight train movements before walking on the tracks? Do you think that viewers who might be tempted to follow his example would do so?

In future coverage of passenger train development, we urge you to consider the points raised in this letter and not to confine advocacy interviews to the Cato Institute. For further background on our views, see my testimony before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. Links to the two recent hearings where I appeared can be found on NARP's website, here (which is on exactly the subject of your piece) and here (on a panel that also included Mr. O’Toole), and also archived on the Committee's web site.   

--Ross Capon, President & CEO, National Association of Railroad Passengers


0 #22 michael kors 2014-04-12 14:27
In addition, a 20,000 square foot H&M joins the retail mix
January. 12. I like Chicago, it's a rather cool city, vibrant and happening.
All teachers are welcome, including retired
educators and school admin.
0 #21 Susan Stewart 2013-02-01 15:39
In California, our public likes rail travel. Especially, during the appropriate seasons when people get out and about. We have tremendous amouts of cars, air flights and air pollution. We voted for taxes accordingly and use our stations and trains.This, of course, was done at a time when many of our state leaders did not agree to implementing such an expensive project idea. But intercity rail and commuter trains are for the masses; offering a more relaxed travel option. Shouldn't some of our goals ($$'s) be "earmarked" to promote the environment and how we move about in it? As for Europeans, it obvious they value promoting their infrastructures and relaxed lifestyle, which in turn brings in more resources ($$'s). Providing for high-speed rail takes decisive and deliberate steps as we face the changing environmental issues currently causing concern. Eventually, the public gets what it needs as nothing ever stays the same.
+1 #20 Ronald Degray 2013-02-01 13:22
CNN/ Anderson Cooper/ Brian Griffin and the Cato Institute's attempt at brainwashing - they selected to report from one of the most remote Amtrak stations in Vermont and were surprised that no passengers were boarding to go north to the end of the line station at Saint Albans (which is only 26 miles ahead near the Canada border).

A major plan is to extend service to Montreal but they barely mentioned that. Extending the service would open better trade between the U.S. and Canada.

The sad part is that CNN's biased reporting may be believed by those who do not engage in critical thinking nor in news analysis.
+1 #19 Rutledge Webb 2013-01-31 18:35
@Dan Allison. Thanks for posting that. Excellent article.
I guess HSR is just fodder for the media to spin as the like just like everything else we try to do in this country.
The media's problem is that HSR is in Europe and it works quite well. And is actually profitable in some country's. but they dont want us to know that.
0 #18 Dan Allison 2013-01-31 17:35
See the post on Streetsblog DC at
0 #17 Keith 2013-01-30 18:48
I am a big supporter of developing high-speed rail in the US; at the same time, I am also a big supporter of eliminating our trillion dollar deficits which pose an dangerous threat to the long-term viability not only the US economy, but US society in general.

$52.7 million might be "small by transportation standards"; however, $52.7 million is still an enormous amount of money. When spending this amount of taxpayer money, it is certainly not enough make highly generalized comments in support of the project. The benefits that the project will provide need to be quantified in much more detail, to justify the $52.7 million investment in the first place. While I (nor CNN) am in no way denying the value that this project brings, my belief (and the whole idea of the CNN report) is that this value is far less than the $52.7 million investment that was made.

As I mentioned previously, I am a big supporter of developing high-speed rail in the US. However, my support is not indiscriminate - any given project needs to make fiscal sense on an individual basis. The value that high-speed rail would provide to California should far exceed the investment; unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case in Vermont.
+1 #16 Patrick Santell 2013-01-30 01:44
One of the many reasons that I DO NOT view programs, such as Anderson Cooper is because more than likely it is Bias in its content one way or another. I don't Drive or Fly. If I cannot get wherever I am going by TRAIN (AMTRK), I DO NOT GO!! I am a NARP Member and who ever reads this and is not a NARP Member, NOW is a good time to join. Thank You Ross~!
+6 #15 Judy Beers 2013-01-29 23:58
Trains offer a relaxing way to travel & see our country in a very cost effective & environmentally friendly way. It is one of the single best options toward opening our great nation for Americans & others to enjoy. For far too long tax dollars have been extravagantly spent for more roads which leads to more cars, more fuel consumption and pollution.
+5 #14 Michael Christensen 2013-01-29 19:15
Thanks Ross. I wish the media would value facts rather than valuing sensationalism!
+6 #13 Joe Krause 2013-01-29 17:11
Ross, good job in criticizing the CNN program. I was disappointed to hear of its unfairness in using only a CATO representative. . That organization clearly has a bias. What is needed is balance as we too (NARP) have a bias as well. But we need to hear really fair comparisons. and so does the viewing public.

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