Column Was Filled
With False StatementsNeil Peirce's recent column on Amtrak (Sept. 3, JofC) is filled with misleading and false statements. Ignoring the heavy auto and air subsidies that ultimately forced passenger trains out of the private sector, Mr. Peirce suggests that Amtrak management incompetence is the reason passenger trains require operating subsidies today.
This theory is not supported by those best able to judge Amtrak. Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole and Federal Railroad Administrator John Riley have repeatedly and publicly praised Amtrak management. Last year, the secretary told a House subcommittee that Amtrak President "Graham Claytor and his team are performing superbly with the resources that have been given them."
Most of the suggestions in Mr. Peirce's column are already being implemented (which Mr. Peirce fails to make clear) or cannot be implemented within available resources. Selling the Northeast Corridor sounds great, but DOT in effect put it on the block in 1985 and no one bought it. At a ceremony last October, Mr. Riley - a Reagan appointee - called the Corridor "a combination of foresight and good management."
Mr. Peirce's charge that the association I serve "rarely questions (Amtrak) management's judgment" is false. Up to 1984, we often criticized Amtrak publicly. We believe our criticism of Amtrak's advertising helped push the company toward a greater region-specific emphasis.
Since President Reagan began his attempt to end funding for - and thus kill - Amtrak, we have generally not criticized Amtrak publicly but frank private communications have continued. We are especially concerned about the
alarming drop in Amtrak's on-time performance.
On the other hand, most of the criticisms in the column ring hollow. We agree Amtrak should lease "stations to travel agents . . . who'd agree to sell tickets and announce trains," just as Greyhound is converting most company-owned terminals to commission agencies - but Amtrak faces ironclad union opposition.
Perhaps Amtrak should take a strike on this, but not while in the midst of implementing another major labor breakthrough: the direct employment - under more efficient, passenger-oriented work rules - of the freight-railroad engineers and conductors who operate most Amtrak trains nationwide. These vital and complex "takeovers" looked like "a long shot" a few years ago, so it is possible that new station agreements may likewise be reached without a strike.
Amtrak, like most companies and individuals, will always have room for improvement. Indeed, for the past four years, Amtrak's revenue-to-cost ratio has been improving. But the key barrier to "subsidy-free" passenger trains is public policy that emphasizes public subsidies to highways and aviation and this lies beyond Amtrak's control.
Ross Capon Executive Director National Association of Railroad Passengers Washington, D.C.
Column on Standards
I fail to see the point Stanford Erickson is making or trying to make in his column "Breaking the 11th Commandment," JofC Sept. 8.
According to autopsy reports, Jennifer Dawn Levin was strangled by Robert Chambers Jr. An 18-year old girl was murdered by a 19-year old boy.
Apparently Mr. Erickson is trying to establish whether Miss Levin was an innocent sort of young girl, or was she "simply naive." And he complacently adds, "that Jennifer died is tragic. But it would be an even greater tragedy for us to confuse ourselves about what innocence is."
I strongly would like to contradict Mr. Erickson. There is no greater tragedy than the loss of a young life, be it innocent or naive. And if he were confronted by the parents of the young girl, I doubt that they would consider anyone's misunderstanding of his concept of "innocence" as being a greater tragedy than the loss of their young daughter.
I am at a loss to comprehend what he is trying to say by stating "that we have lost that quality that seeks excellence, that maintains high standards." If Miss Levin, or Mr. Chambers, for that matter, had attained these high standards in their brief lifetimes, is he trying to say this senseless murder would not have happened?
And what does his own high moral standards have to do with the murder of this young girl? In my own opinion, I am quite remarkable myself. And, while I agree that many of the young (and the old) could benefit from some such qualities, I would hope they would also be blessed with an equal amount of compassion, which, in my opinion, he is lacking completely.
Ella T. Ellington Woodlands, Texas