Trains For America

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Cato Institute strikes again

From our fellow Americans out in the Pacific Ocean, a note on the latest objection from the Cato Institute. In the interest of fairness, Cato is strictly libertarian in philosophy. I often find myself in agreement with these fine intellectuals, however, they suffer from a severe distrust of all government and disdain for governmental services.

Understanding that they are usually 100% wrong on Amtrak and transportation, here is the latest. Warning: not for weak stomachs.

Rails Won’t Save America
By, 11/7/2008 8:34:49 AMThe Cato Institute has published Randal O’Toole’s carefully documented study, “Rails Won’t Save America,” about rail transit’s costs, emissions, and energy use. Following is the Executive Summary:

“Rising gas prices and concerns about greenhouse gases have stimulated calls to build more rail transit lines in urban areas, increase subsidies to Amtrak, and construct a large-scale intercity high-speed rail system. These megaprojects will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, but they won’t save energy or significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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

3 Responses

  1. Adron says:

    I’m rather Libertarian in my viewpoints on MOST things, including rail to some degree. But the fact that the whole industry is practically nationalized already, I find the CATO Institutes ideals about pro-auto and anti-rail very skewed. Especially since the later really created its own infrastructure, system, standards, etc, and the automobile did nothing of the sort.

    It really leaves me wondering sometimes how they seem to skip that entire segment of history. But then of course, the pro-transit folk often seem to skip that entire part of history also. It generally seems that there are very few people who actually admit, acknowledge, and realize the history of rail and what it could do, without being limited by the nationalized manipulation of the transportation (specifically the passenger transportation) industry in this country.

    But I digress… it seems regardless people are finally becoming more aware of rail.

  2. Allan says:

    I too have libertarian tendencies and, as in most things, find that the reality lies between the extremes.

    I must agree with the statement, “Rail won’t save America.” That’s true, it won’t. However that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for it in an intermodal transportation system.

    In most, not all, cases I believe that “light rail” projects are expensive boondoggles. Anytime a LR system has to share the street or takes a lane away from a street, it is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

    Rail transit must be either grade separate or elevated … otherwise, put a bus on the route. And to be quite honest, all those catenaries stretched across streets for LR are really, really ugly.

    As for Amtrak, I think a lot of it nowadays is a management problem. There is a role for rail but it won’t “save” America.

  3. a.chydenius says:

    I just reviewed this document as well as some of the data that O’Toole cites. I believe he has misstated the total subsidies for highway transportation, possibly by as much as $70 billion. Correct me if I am wrong, but he also does not count property and sales taxes that divert their revenues to road funds as subsidies, even though that is exactly what they are.

    Moreover, he compares ALL road finances to Amtrak finances, when those comparisons are improper. Amtrak does not pretend to be a suitable substitute for rural transportation. As per the U.S. DOT rural driving constitutes 33% of all passenger-miles. In contrast, I suspect urban and inter-urban/state road spending probably constitutes the lion’s share of all road financing. So as a starting point, O’Toole should have compared urban and inter-state road spending to Amtrak spending, although personally I think a more apt comparison would have been just urban and interstate highway spending to Amtrak finances (all in per-passenger mile terms, of course).

    There are other problems, and new ones keep coming to mind: O’Toole ignores costs due to fatalities, congestion, policing, noise pollution, returns to scale–all of which probably favor rail transportation over (urban and interstate) roads on the whole.

    The work should not be taken seriously.

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November 2008


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