Officials: Amtrak's 'culture' rankles
By Chip Smedley, Staff Writer email@example.com
It's not all Amtrak's fault.
But local leaders do say there's an ingrained culture at Amtrak -- as well as at freight carriers -- that they can do things their own way and at their own pace.
It is a culture, said Bob Shoemaker, of the Lancaster Alliance, which has been 150 years in the making.
In the second half of the 19th century, as railroads became critical to the nation's growth, they demanded -- and got -- concessions from the federal government to fuel that growth. Concessions included complete control over rights-of-ways, expanded use of the law of eminent domain and unlimited access to halls of power in Washington. They also received a federal exemption from all municipal laws.
"At the time it was necessary," Shoemaker said. "Railroads are expensive to build and these powers made it easier to acquire land and build the facilities they needed to expand."
But the exemption, which continues to exist today, has created a culture among the railroads, Shoemaker said, that they can essentially do whatever they want.
Terry Kauffman, chairman of the Lancaster County Transportation Authority, provided an example of how this affected one aspect of the local station project.
"City ordinances require that shrubs must be planted around newly installed parking lots to screen them," Kauffman said. Trees and shrubs are also required in newly landscaped areas.
So plans were drawn up to suggest to Amtrak where everything could be planted.
The plans, Kauffman said, were instantly dismissed.
"They just looked at them and said, 'We don't have to do this.' ''n