Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ski Train Derailed By Federal Red Tape

Who put Colorado's Ski Train out of commission, just days before it was about to begin it's 70th year of service between Denver and Winter Park? A federal judge did, technically. But the impasse that led to the lawsuit, which led to Wednesday's ruling that derailed the service -- perhaps temporarily, buy maybe permanently -- can almost certainly be traced back to federal rules and red tape.

The company that's trying to keep the trains running (Iowa Pacific), after the long-time operator (The Anschutz Co.) pulled out, was forced by rail line owner Union Pacific to crew the trains with Amtrak personnel. Why that should be a requirement, no media report explains. But that was probably the kiss of death for the Colorado Ski Train, since any operation involving Amtrak -- the train wreck of federal bureaucracies -- is bound to get bogged-down in union-mandated staffing requirements and federal red tape. And sure enough, that seems to have happened here.

Iowa Pacific, believing it had reached agreement with Amtrak, began selling tickets and promoting the service. That's when Amtrak began making additional demands -- one of which boosted the company's liability insurance requirements from $2 million to $200 million for the season. The safety of the trains also became an issue, with the company insisting that it meets all standards, while attorneys for Amtrak waived red flags. The most detailed coverage of the conflict can be found in The Denver Business Journal: here and here.

If you dig a few layers deeper, you'd undoubtedly discover many costly and unreasonable demands made on Iowa Pacific as a result of its forced partnership with Amtrak. Nothing is simple, affordable or efficient once the federal government is involved. The history of Amtrak testifies to that. Iowa Pacific may not be blameless in this situation. But my best guess -- based on years of watching the federal government in inaction -- is that the company is being railroaded by Amtrak, unions and federal bureaucrats.

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