Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

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.


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

NYT Randy Cohen: Don’t sell Hummer, kill it

A delicious commentary generally favoring high speed rail and sensible transportation  is set forward in today’s New York Times. It is a comprehensive argument and you must read it all.

For the foreseeable future, the private car will necessarily play a key role in how we get around, but we can wean ourselves from utter dependence. We can build high-speed rail for city-to-city trips of under 500 miles, reducing highway traffic and unclogging our airports, an idea favored by the White House. Within our cities, we can develop eco-friendly public transportation including bus rapid transit, a success around the world.

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

Rail transport quote of the day

Congressman John Mica (R-Outer Limits) addresses the miserable performance of the Florida legislature (he used more nuanced language) in effectively killing the SunRail commenter project. TFA mentions this because SunRail is an important “feeder” to any HSR operation.

The News-Journal Online filed the report and a load of tragically misinformed comments. No wonder Congressman Mica is always so grumpy!

“Some may wonder why a right-wing conservative . . . why do I support a left-wing idea like mass transit,” Mica said. “It’s pretty easy. All you have to look at is the cost.”

SunRail, the proposed Central Florida commuter rail project, was projected to cost $2.7 billion over 30 years, split among the federal and state governments, as well as five local government partners — Volusia, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Orlando.

Widening Interstate 4 by two lanes for 20 miles through Orlando would also cost about $3 billion, but Mica said the rail project would provide more bang for the buck. It would move an estimated 13,000 people per hour, compared to 2,000 cars per hour on the widened interstate.

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

China promises new generation of bullet train in 2011

OK, consider the source.

Nonetheless, China shows real determination in its high speed rail policy. TFA is obligated to note that, as is the case in the good old USA, China is a big ‘ol ramblin’ country where cities are not always close together. The plan is to test trains that will operate up to 248 mph, but they are expected to operate at 236 mph.

As the United States improves existing conventional rail corridors, this technology may be perfected at the same time we are ready to move up to true HSR. Instead of saying “European-style” HSR, we may be saying “Chinese-style.”

China Newswires reports.

The new train, which will be operated at 350 km/h, will be designed to travel at speeds up to 380 km/h and will be tested for travel at 400 km/h, said Zhang, adding that the four critical factors in the design of the train are stability, safety, reliability and comfort.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail

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June 2009