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Derailed: What Went Wrong and What to Do About America's Passenger Trains Hardcover – October 15, 1997

4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Former Amtrak official Joseph Vranich blows the whistle on his onetime employer. The federally financed passenger-train company is a complete waste of money, writes Vranich. Instead of subsidizing inefficient rail service, the government should liquidate Amtrak and allow market forces to exert more influence over the train business. This would provide the double benefit of improving service for commuters who depend upon railways and saving taxpayer dollars. Derailed is a surprisingly accessible book on public policy; it would make fine reading on the ride to work tomorrow morning, or at least on the platform while you're waiting for the train to show up.


“Amtrak is a cruel disappointment. Derailed shows the way to the kinds of passenger trains that will make sense in the twenty-first century.” ―Anthony Haswell, founder of the National Association of Railroad Passengers

“Is there a future for rail passenger service beyond Amtrak's interminable history of mediocrity and disappointment? Yes, Vranich reassures us, but only of-- along with Amtrak-- we dump our self-serving myths. Finally a book that is hard-hitting, courageous, and chock full of new ideas.” ―Alfred Runte, author of Trains of Discovery: Western Railroads and the National Parks

“At last, the dismal truth about Amtrak from a passenger-rail insider, along with a workable plan for its replacement. Vranich's book is required reading for everyone concerned with the future of U.S. transportation.” ―Robert W. Poole, Jr., president of the Reason Foundation


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 258 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (October 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031217182X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312171827
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,273,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Joe Vranich has provided a thought provoking and well written account of the sad state of US passenger trains. Mr Vranich, a former Amtrak official, is now one of the most vocal critics of the US national passenger train service.
The book provides a detailed accounting of the many management failures and broken promises that have bedeviled Amtrak for the past 30 years. However, it is clear that Mr. Vranich has an ax to grind, and indulges in selective presentation of facts. For example, he devotes considerable space on the inability of Amtrak to meet average travel times common in the 1920s to 1940s, laying blame totally on Amtrak inepitude. Yet Amtrak is at the mercy of the freight railroads over whose tracks it runs, and many of the most direct routes between city pairs were abondoned decades ago.
Half way through the book, the reader finally gets to Vranich's main thesis: highspeed rail technology (e.g., maglev) is the only viable future for passenger trains in this country. A reasonable conclusion. Yet he undermines his position by blaming Amtrak and Southwest Airlines for the cancellation of highspeed rail projects in Texas and other states. If they can't make the trains run on time, and clean the bathrooms, and refrigerate the food, how could they possibly conspire to stop a major project funded at the state level? These projects failed because of "not in my back yard" attitudes, and a total lack of interest in the US Congress to put rail on equal footing with highways and aviation.
Vranich gets the big picture right, but falls into a polemical trap made from his own biases.
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Format: Hardcover
What strikes me about "Derailed" is that the author admits he's been wrong in the past. How often do we hear such candor from well-known experts? Joseph Vranich, who lobbied on Capital Hill to create Amtrak, now regrets his work. He admits that Amtrak is incapable of running fast trains that are convenient to American travelers. By the time I finished with the book, I agreed with him.
Amtrak imperils its own future. The author explains that Amtrak for the most part ignores market clues about changing travel needs. Instead, Amtrak works to please members of Congress by running trains on an old-fashioned network. Amtrak's political maneuvering means the railroad is headed for higher financial losses and needs more pork-barrel money for questionable projects. Billions more in government subsidies are sure to follow the billions already spent.
But there is much here that's positive about passenger trains in the United States and around the world. Also, "Derailed" offers an imaginative ten-point plan to replace Amtrak with innovative organizations. I've never read anything quite like it. The plan also is a courageous stance for an admitted train-lover like Vranich to take.
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Format: Hardcover
In "Supertrains", Joseph Vranisch introduced the reader to the vital link in mass transportation taking shape in all corners of the world: high speed rail. In "Derailed", the author critically examines Amtrak, meticulously explaining how America's publicly financed passenger rail program has been an abject failure in carving out an important niche in the transportation arena as well as directly and indirectly sabotaging high speed rail programs along the way. Drawing on numerous statistics, Vranich illustrates how, with the exception of the Northeast corridor, Amtrak has done little more than provide Americans with a passenger rail service on a level only encountered in several developing nations. An early chapter also makes note that most of Amtrak's trains currently have longer schedules and endure more mechanical problems than the trains of the 1940's and 50's.
Later chapters of the book outline the success enjoyed by other rail systems that are either a private enterprise or formed by public-private partnerships: commuter rail systems such as those in Chicago and New York, the freight companies such as Burlington Northern and Conrail and the tourist trains such as the Alaska Railroad, which, since its privatization has enjoyed its greatest financial success.
The final chapters center on Vranich's arguments for the dissolution of Amtrak, a 10 step phase-out plan and his proposal for public-private partnerships in future passenger rail service as witnessed by the successful TGV in France. His convictions in this area are both passionate and highly cogent. One can only hope that the leaders of our nation will read this book and use it as a blueprint for reshaping America's transportation infrastructure.
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Format: Hardcover
Vranich's latest publication "Derailed" gets right to the point. High-speed rail is best because they make money. Commuter trains are good because they carry millions and millions of people to work, the Northeast Corridor is ok but could do better and the long-distance trains must go because they lose lots and lots of money. But there is little in the form of valid facts to back up his theories.
Some not very admirable traits about the modes he advocates just are not mentioned.
Virtually no mention is made of the costs a high-speed rail customer will encounter and what kind of customer would use high-speed trains. Financing costs alone figure from 50 cents to a dollar per passenger mile based on patronage of the highest usage rates by air travelers on the busiest routes. Air travelers in these travel market categories of 200-300 miles tend to be corporate travelers on expense accounts only, not average Americans on a budget.
Although commuter trains get! credited with carrying millions of people annually, only 505,000 customers use these services nationally everyday to and from work. Most of these customers reside in New York City and Chicago only.
Long-distance trains get branded as hopeless losers but the author doesn't mention that it takes only 6,000 employees out of a total of 24,000 Amtrak personnel to operate the national long-distance network.
Although Amtrak's Metroliners get the best reviews we are not made aware that actual transportation provided in terms of passenger miles, is minimal. More passenger miles are generated on the Empire Builder, a single daily train from Chicago to Seattle than the dozens of daily Metroliner departures per day combined.
Costs for users are outrageously high on Metroliners now averaging 58 cents per mile versus an airline average of around 15 cents per mile and around 13 cents on the Empire Builder.
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