Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

East Texas HSR Discussion (lies, damn lies and statistics)

The Longview, Tx. News-Journal is running a significant and long story dealing primarily with developing a high speed rail corridor running from Dallas east to Shreveport. There is also coverage of the Texas, Eagle and the story is, for the most part, on point with the facts.

There are several things which should be highlighted here, but the most egregious misstatement was cited from a former employee of an outfit called the Goldwater Institute who is some sort of graduate student.

Despite the increase and ridership and revenue, only one Amtrak route — the high-speed service between Washington, D.C., and New York City — captures enough revenue to cover its costs, according to Salya Thallam, a former fiscal and urban policy analyst for the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute. He is now a reseach fellow and graduate student in Washington who has written and spoken on issues of urban growth, transportation, fiscal and tax policy and regulation.

Thallam said New York City and Washington are ideal places to subsidize rail transit, but the issue transforms when considering Western cities and states where growth and a dependency on cars developed during post-World War II growth. The landscape of cities like Houston and Dallas is spread out, to less densely populated areas away from the central core, which lead to the development of regional cores, or suburbs.

“All this said, a new rail line may have at best an initial minor effect on adjacent traffic. But as cars become cheaper and cheaper (relative to the median income), people will always prefer to travel by car and truck when they can, and they will be able to do so more and more,” Thallam said in an interview. Thallam noted that total transit-miles have increased several-fold since the 1950s while total passenger-miles carried on rail has fallen from near 50 percent during World War II to less than 2 percent now.

Let me grab a shovel. This stuff is pretty deep.

Since when does the northeast corridor cover even its’ operating costs? I do not recall hearing or reading that anywhere. Considering the costs of maintaining track and associated signals to 125 mph standards, not to mention the tunnels and bridges, the enormity of this misstatement is nothing but breathtaking. Such talk is absurd.

Query: if it covers the costs, why does it need a subsidy? Do they teach logic at your graduate school, Salya? Maybe you could audit that one with the underclassmen.

AND FURTHERMORE …There was that little thing called the national interstate highway program in which billions of taxpayer dollars were expended to create giant slabs of concrete on which truck and travelers could pass, thus diverting passengers and freight from railroads, most of which were built with some sort of public private partnership. So, yes,  passenger train ridership had been on a downward spiral for some time. In the present context, that information is meaningless.

There is more important information in this story which demands commentary, and most of it is based on a more reliable source.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

One Response

  1. Peter LeCody says:

    Why hasn’t any state or regional governmental agency or any elected U.S. Senator or Representative from Arkansas taken an interest in developing the South Central “High Performance” Rail Corridor? After all, part of the federally designated rail corridor goes from Texarkana to Little Rock. Oklahoma’s portion of the corridor has already seen some upgrades and regional government authorities in Texas are banding together to cooperate in developing a better passenger and freight rail corridor. Where is Arkansas?

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September 2007


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