Amtrak has been heavily subsidized for years, and you probably already vaguely knew that it operates at a loss, but the extent of the loss it takes on food -- $833 million over the last ten years, we learned in a congressional hearing Thursday -- is just staggering. For anybody who's ever boarded a train hungry and been forced to cough up the better part of $20 for a burger and a beer, it's terribly frustrating to learn that that sad $9.50 hamburger actually costs taxpayers more than $16. The main reasons government auditors found for that: Theft, waste, and bad oversight.
Amtrak has been trying to figure out how to break even on food since Congress required it to do so in 1981, and it's never been able to, The New York Times' Ron Nixon reports. That's because two different Amtrak departments oversee food service, and they haven't coordinated with one another to stop losses, largely from employee theft, Amtrak inspector general Ted Alves told the hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Some 87 percent of that theft happens on long-haul routes, Alves said. In a report last year, he outlined some of the schemes, including shorting cash register sales, inflating first-class meal checks, selling non-Amtrak items, and plain old stealing. Amtrak has some plans in place to counter that theft and waste, including a loss-prevention unit, more cashless purchases, and a better inventory-tracking system. But so far, Amtrak's food service program still costs it, and by extension us, a fortune.