Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Cato clashes with high speed rail

Logan and I are both being held hostage by the academic forces of darkness, but I thought I would grab an item out of the Cleveland Plain Dealer penned by a Cato operative. This supposedly libertarian think tank perfectly parrots the clock stopping opinions of truckers and airlines.

Even if we take Cato seriously, which is difficult on matters of transportation, most of the arguments are the same old stuff. Cato’s position is entirely anti-government. At least, that is the Readers’ Digest version. The author is well rewarded for his opposition to modern transportation.

In 1900 Randal O’Toole would have been against automobiles and paved roads, except that blacksmiths and buggy whip makers were generally small businessmen who would not be able to lay out big bucks for fancy academic mouthpieces to back up our outdated industry. He has even found time to write a book for his greedy corporate masters.

O’Toole unwittingly makes the case for HSR as it is working out. America will, quickly and for reasonable fiscal outlays, receive much faster and better rail passenger service. Americans will ahve a choice (something airlines desperately resist).

Here is the astounding conclusion to O’Toole’s essay. Sit down.

Interstates paid for themselves out of gas taxes, and most Americans use them almost every day. Moderate or high-speed rail would require everyone to subsidize trains that would serve only a small elite. Which symbolizes the America that Obama wants to rebuild better?

So the interstate highways paid for themselves? Since when? What exactly are those gas taxes for and (help me out now) which special interest group is it that tears the roads and bridges to shreds with vastly over-sized cargo loads? Was it one of those paid for interstate highways that just collapsed in the middle of downtown Minneapolis?

O’Toole’s retreat into class warfare is especially entertaining especially from the likes of an east coast ivory-tower “intellectual.” Sorry, Randal, but your mask is off. If elites ride good trains, I will see you on board. I’ll look for you in the bar car.

What kind of America will we live in? Will we have an alternative to driving for the increasing number of older Americans? Will the United States pave over every last blade of grass for the high way special interest lobby? Make no mistake about it, airlines and highway interest groups have a bottomless pit of money to influence bad government policy. They have been hard at work for decades.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

10 Responses

  1. Allan says:

    “So the interstate highways paid for themselves? Since when?”

    Almost since the beginning! Money is now diverted from gas taxes to “transit”.

    In the numerous studies I’ve read about road funding, the only way you can say that roads don’t pay themselves out of gas taxes is if you include city streets which are funded from property taxes.

    The Tennessee legislature has even been known to raid the road budget to pay balance the state budget.

    Roads are an absolute necessity … railroads aren’t. We might be more efficient with railroads but we could survive without them. But if you were to crater evert interstate, highway, or other roads so as to be unusable, society would collapse.

    Furthermore, as I’ve stated before. I can use my private automobile on public roads … I couldn’t use a private, modified car on the tracks.

    So which is more important? Roads or railroads? Which is the public going to support more?

    Stop crying and whining about subsidies or the lack thereof … complain and whine about the fact that Amtrak management is lousy and their accounting is even lousier.

  2. Kyle says:

    The absurdity of the post above is astounding!

    Which is more important? The correct answer is neither, they both have an important role to play in different aspects. Just because something has been done a certain way for a long time (highway construction), doesn’t mean that it is the right and only way.

    If an argument is made to dismiss increased railroad construction and HSR outright, it is an unfounded argument.

  3. NikolasM says:

    Agree with Kyle. Wow.

  4. John Bredin says:


    * What’s with the scare quotes around transit?! Transit in the federal transportation context means transit, not a euphemism or substitute for something else.

    *a gas tax is still a TAX. It’s not a fee like you have to pay before you get a copy of your birth certificate. It’s not a fare like you have to pay before you can ride transit.

    *Railroads aren’t a necessity?! How much more would the roads be (1) congested to the point of gridlock and (2) beaten into decrepitude if all the goods that travel by rail were in trucks on the road?

    I can assure you that business in Chicago would grind to a halt if Metra and/or the L were out of service for more than a couple of days. Sounds like a necessity to me.

    * “complain and whine about the fact that Amtrak management is lousy and their accounting is even lousier.”

    Amtrak management and accounting?! Seriously?! 1999 called, it wants its schtick back.

    There wasn’t a need to link to the Cato material, because Allan summarized the Cato/libertarian position and attitude towards rail quite succinctly for us.

  5. Tim Lynch says:

    I wouldn’t trust anyone from CATO to handle the Estate on a Crib Death.

    These people (Wendell Cox et al) have the most mysterious financing ever seen. or rather not seen.

    They certainly do have Hutzpah!

    FOLLOW THE MONEY. Who is paying their mortgages, kids school fees, retirement and all the concerns we have.

    Are they working in the Public Intrest?

  6. Spokker says:

    Click to access railcrit.pdf

    A lot of ammo to use against this O’Toole clown.

  7. Edward says:

    Train and mass-transit construction should be funded from a tax on the tickets rather than diverting gas tax dollars from highways.

  8. Joshua Skolnick says:

    And trucks should pay 4000 times the road usage fees/taxes that cars do, and even more if they ram through the proposed heavier loadings. Roads are constantly pounded to pieces and the maintenance costs alone of major interstate highways run in the several hundred thousand dollars per mile range. And that is just one negative externality of roadways. There are myriad others, from the fact that most roads are built from oil (asphalt) a resource that hit peak in early 2008, the wasted land as a result of the infrastructure, the increased flooding from the impermeable roadways and parking lots, the 45,000 deaths a year, the fact that American car companies are dying and cars will soon be affordable only to elites, the fact that in northern climates the frost heave destroys pavement in a few years, the fact that snowstorms snarl and gridlock roads and airports while the trains run on time (just compare Metra to the road system anytime it snows in Chicago), and the toxic runoff, including road salt and other chemicals.

    Rail, with its permeable beds and lower infrastructure maintenance costs, greatly reduces many of these external costs of the auto-truck industrial complex.

    O’toole can add but not subtract, and libertarians have never heard of externalities, other than making sure someone else pays for them.

  9. octagon says:

    As someone with strong libertarian leanings, this kind of stuff really bothers me, and makes me question my other libertarian beliefs.

    From a purely technical perspective, railroads are much better for certain things.
    The fact that trains are centrally queued and dispatched means that far more capacity is available.
    Cars have the intelligence of a herd of cats, and will quickly clog even the widest roads.

  10. Chris says:

    Funny no one has mentioned this yet. So the highways pay for themselves, huh? Then how come the Highway Trust Fund just received a big bailout from Congress in late 2008 because it was about to be depleted? And how come it looks like the HTF is going to need the same thing this year and for the next few years?

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