Amtrak ridership drops after deadly derailment; Oregon taxpayer - KPTV - FOX 12

Amtrak ridership drops after deadly derailment; Oregon taxpayer money at stake

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Amtrak ridership in Oregon has dropped considerably since last month’s deadly derailment in Seattle, and leaders with the Oregon Department of Transportation are working to make sure Oregon taxpayers aren’t on the hook.

The train service is subsidized by taxpayers because the costs to run it exceed the fares that come in, so when ridership drops taxpayers pay more to bridge the gap.

According to data from ODOT, there was a 25 percent drop in passengers who boarded Amtrak trains in Oregon in December 2017 compared to December 2016.

Hal Gard, the administrator of the rail and public transit division of ODOT, told FOX 12 he has to believe that drop is directly related to the derailment near Tacoma on Dec. 18 that left three people dead and dozens of others hurt.

Even before the derailment, Gard said keeping ridership up has been a struggle in recent years, and taxpayers are paying an average subsidy of $118 per Amtrak ticket in Oregon.

Now, he’s determined to make sure that if Amtrak is found to be negligent in the crash, Oregon taxpayers aren’t on the hook.

“As a result of this derailment, the state of Oregon, in conversations with me and conversations with [ODOT] Director Garrett, have made it very clear to Amtrak that any additional costs that the state has incurred as a result of this derailment will be borne by Amtrak,” Gard said. “Now, what that actually means, the details of those conversations, how we determine exactly what additional costs are, we need to continue to negotiate and work out. But the message has been, I think, very clearly delivered, and I don’t know how else to say it. That’s the expectation of the state of Oregon.”

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board issued earlier in January found that the train was traveling 78 miles per hour in a 30 mph section of the track. A full investigation is still underway.

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