Trains For America

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Fantastically desperate arguments against Amtrak

While reviewing the morning news, TFA (mercifully) passed over the latest pious ejaculation from Cato Institute highway mouthpiece Randall O’Toole. Alas, when Texas Republican United States Representative Ron Paul sinks to the kind of statements he must know to be untrue, somebody has to say something.

This essay (with which the author agrees in part) comes from a group calling itself the Tenth Amendment Center. That presumably has to do with the “unenumerated rights” reserved to the people and the states. The philosophic and constitutional concept is, we think, laudable in its proper context.

The headline, however, just about knocked me off my chair; “An increasingly Fascist America.”

Fascist? Well, I have been called a lot of things but that’s a lu-lu. Let me be fair to Congressman Paul. As a regularly published newspaper columnist, I can attest that the headlines are frequently written by  editors to conform to particular content and space requirements. We may not automatically presume that Mr. Paul is the source of the inflammatory and abusive  language.

The rest of what he had to say was bad enough.

The promise that this is temporary and will eventually be profitable is supposed to ease the American people into accepting this arrangement, but it is of little comfort to those who remember similar promises when the American taxpayers bought Amtrak.  After three years, government was supposed to be out of the passenger rail business.

40 years and billions of dollars later, the government is still operating Amtrak at a loss, despite the fact that they have created a monopoly by making it illegal to compete with Amtrak.  Imagine what they can now do to what is left of the great American auto industry!

Here goes.

  • Paul makes a point about government’s involvement in GM. History teaches us that the federal takeover of railroads in the first world war was a disaster. (No, that is NOT from persnal memory, thank you.) This is the last item we are willing to concede Ron Paul.
  • Amtrak was created in 1972 as a piece of Nixon Administration corporate welfare. Amtrak (Railpax in the original) was intended to take over operating railroad’s labor protection obligations and pay railroad retirement benefits of passenger employes. This is the Reader’s Digest version.
  • Amtrak survived because congress insisted on it. Rail passengers and local communities expressed a need for an alternate form of transportation. Please note that most of the operating rail lines (all?) were originally constructed with some sort of public-private partnership which envisioned hauling freight and people.
  • Those “billions of dollars” have, among other things, paid state and local taxes and many retirement benefits. Amtrak has been, otherwise, consistently starved of the necessary capital to make sensible business decisions. (This might become part of Ron Paul’s objection to government control of GM. We do not necessarily dispute that point.)
  • Illegal to compete with Amtrak? Ron Paul should go on the Tonight Show. Where are the competitors? President Bush promised that there were private operators just chomping at the bit to show Amtrak how it should be done on the northeast corridor. Where did they go? Better question: where is the competition for interstate highways. Why has not Southwest Airlines made a bid to build and maintain a road from Dallas to Little Rock?
  • The “great American auto industry” is getting just what’s coming to it. In fact, it is getting better than it deserves.

The arrival of an administration with a reasonable transportation policy means that Amtrak is suddenly able to devote some management energy into route improvement and passenger service. Look at what is happening with the Sunset. Amtrak is able to talk about how many more passengers will use the daily upgraded trains All of this was done without a single piece of new equipment. It is the result of being able to concentrate on the core business instead of politics.

Again, we make the argument, at implication at least, against the GM takeover. Let us hope the feds really get out of auto manufacturing quickly. By contrast,direct transportation policy is obviously a role for government.

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Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

7 Responses

  1. [...] above all other considerations. Interesting stuff, especially in these times of stimulus. Also, Trains for America looks at the latest attacks on Amtrak, and Copenhagenize urges Londoners to bike the Tube [...]

  2. [...] above all other considerations. Interesting stuff, especially in these times of stimulus. Also, Trains for America looks at the latest attacks on Amtrak, and Copenhagenize urges Londoners to bike the Tube [...]

  3. [...] above all other considerations. Interesting stuff, especially in these times of stimulus. Also, Trains for America looks at the latest attacks on Amtrak, and Copenhagenize urges Londoners to bike the Tube [...]

  4. [...] above all other considerations. Interesting stuff, especially in these times of stimulus. Also, Trains for America looks at the latest attacks on Amtrak, and Copenhagenize urges Londoners to bike the Tube [...]

  5. Anonymous says:

    In regards to the “disaster” of wwi, the only analysis i’ve seen dine of the railroad nationalization came to the opposite conclusion, sith higher on time rates and more passengers moved than before the war.

  6. lexslamman says:

    What about the fact that at the same time as Amtrak the government took over freight service on a bundle of lines that became ConRail, which was then successfully spun off?

    What about the fact that the government just successfully spun Chrysler Motors off?

    What about the FDIC, operated successfully since 1933?

    Government involvement doesn’t equate to disaster, permanence, or incompetence. This argument falls on its face.

  7. Blah says:

    Amtrak loses $34 on each and every customer. I know of no business that could survive that for 3 years let alone 30+. That is all the argument you need for it to go away.

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