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Friday, May 15. 2015
These things keep people and goods moving, and keep the economy going. (Freight railroads make money.)
I like Amtrak. You can ride from Boston to New Orleans, from NYC to Chicago and to California, or from NY to Montreal. Good stuff. And their high-speed Acela is very busy on the Boston-NYC-Philly-Baltimore-Wilmington-DC route. Very pleasant too, and easier than air. Their labor contracts are, of course, insane.
An occasional accident is not statistically meaningful, in contrast to automobile fatalities and injuries. Ten thousand car accidents are not big news. A train wreck or a plane crash is news because they are so rare.
Here's one view: Amtrak Doesn’t Need More Taxpayer Cash, It Needs To Be Given Away
Why not give the highways away too? I know plenty of people who could run I-95 at a nice profit.
What's your view?
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PRIVATIZE! What private business would spend $16 to make a sandwich, all inclusive, and sell it for $10? Why does it cost that much to make in the first place? A myriad of answers. But privatize now or get out of the business.
Here in Michigan we have a luxury bus service that travels from Detroit to Chicago, making a few stops along the way, that takes less time than Amtrak, costs anywhere from $35 to $60 round trip (depending on the times), and receives NO government subsidy. As a matter of fact, from time to time the Feds and State have tried to shut them down by regulation because they don't want the competition and want to spend a couple $Trillion on high speed rail.
Some random thoughts from someone who likes railroads too:
Mass transit: I believe much of it could turn a profit if rates were allowed to rise to cover costs. I recall in the 1960s, the Chicago & North Western's commuter service in Chicago turned a profit, but because they were regulated they had to continually ask permission to raise ticket prices, requests that were generally denied. Eventually it began to lose money and was ultimately taken over by Government.
My guess is that this is what happened everywhere. Because ticket prices weren't allowed to rise, taxpayers ended up subsidizing commuters' trips to work.
As for Amtrak, it is hopelessly uncompetitive on what I would call the land cruise routes, and this is old news. The economics went away with the advent of paved highways and jet travel in the 1940s and 1950s. There is absolutely no reason to run intercity trains outside the Northeast and there is no technology that is going to make them competitive. No one could make them profitable. However when Government is dispensing the money and if you need the senators' votes from flyover country to fund the North East Corridor, you have to give them trains as well.
So yeah, privatize the Northeast Corridor and junk the rest and hope the NEC can pay its own way.
And the recent wreck? The technology exists to run trains without engineers. Why have them in the locomotive cab at all?
Of course all that flies in the face of what the Left wants. They don't even want the little people to own cars. They want them on trains. Trains that are jobs programs for minorities. Trains run by Democrat supporting union trainmen.
I am with you. The East Coast sees the Amtrak service as necessary and useful...move out of that small area of the country, and nobody really uses Amtrak. Because it is SLOW and EXPENSIVE. It is faster and cheaper to drive and/or take a plane.
We have an Amtrak that passes through our area...it is gorgeous here...but yet the train only comes through at 2 in the morning. Around here, the Amtrak is seen as a 'vacation' type thing. No one takes it for regular commuting anywhere...so if it is for tourism, why travel through some of the most beautiful parts in the middle of the night? It doesn't make sense.
For most of America Amtrak is a huge waste of money. And why should be subsidize the East Coast for this??
That's how it is here, the trains come through at approximately 1:30 and 3:30 a.m. but the schedule is little more than a suggestion, and therein lies the rub. You can't rely on Amtrak to get you anywhere on time from this part of the country. If the traveler has a very leisurely schedule, no big deal, but if you have to make a connection or have to be somewhere at an appointed time, better choose a mode of transport other than Amtrak.
Trains are just an attempt to lock into place via subsidy dead and dying cities which peaked early 20th century. Without subsidy, the jobs would migrate out to the suburbs where the people live and then the high mayor muckity mucks wouldn't have anything to lord over.
As it is, NYC has finance and DC has government. Both where the bosses gain status by having buildings full of people who could be working in lower cost areas. Elsewhere cities have legacy factories, government (again) and new "urban" entertainment. Factories are not economical in dense development anymore. Their sq ft/employee is to large these days and they need good open freeway transport.
We travel between Salt Lake and Denver a lot. We usually drive or fly, but last December decided to take Amtrak for something different. I can drive to Denver in about 9 hours with two tanks of gas ($50). I can fly for about $150 to $200 per person round trip which takes about 3 hours (1 hour flight time). On Amtrak it was slightly less than flying (maybe $100 for three of us). The time on the train is between 15 and 16 hours one way. So on the train we take twice as long and pay 4 times as much a driving. Oh, and the train makes one trip a day and leaves at 3 a.m.
Maybe all the folks in the northeast think the train is a good deal, but in the rest of the country it isn't. I can understand you wanting to get train service for less than it costs, and have it paid for by people like me. I don't feel quite so excited by the deal.
Well, I'm glad the folks at the Federalist have come around to my point of view (see my comment #2 to the Friday Morning Links)! :-)
I live near Savannah, Georgia. To go to Texas on AMTRAK I have to go through DC and Chicago (!). It will take days and is expensive (~$1222 r/t). And that's without a bed ("roomette").
But if I want to AMTRAK between Savannah and New Orleans, it's still 600+ bucks one-way, and STILL goes through DC and Chicago. Again, no roomette.
Both look like they'll take more than a day of travel to get from A to B.
Now THAT's economical, comfortable, and convenient!
Who would have thought that a transportation type running in one dimension would be less effective than modes which run in two dimensions, like cars and trucks, or three dimensions, like aircraft?
I hate subsidized mass transit.
Mega Bus and Bolt do alright w/o subsidies.
Furthermore, mass transit makes the crowded coastal cities possible, where values are twisted and based on unreality. Get rid of the subsidies, and the economics change, suddenly that hectic, expensive life on the E Coast is even less appealing, and a new migration to Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Muncie is not only possible, but probable. And that is a better use of resources for the entire country.
Instead, Middle America is pillaged by taxes to keep those mass transit systems running, allowing the urban dwellers to keep believing that their fantasies of centralized gov't control and operation is feasible (but only until they run out of other people's money.)
That they pay for with tolls, vehicle licencing and gas taxes.
You don't seem to understand what the word "subsidized" actually means.
To make it simpler, you're wrong.
We have a couple of new private bridges and highways.
I wouldn't mind using them if the taxes I am already paying were not so outrageous.
Of course, we have 2 new bridges on opposite sides of the island that require different pre-pay/EZPay systems.
The DHS and 'Security Theatre' have made flying short distances too expensive.
To cross from Canada to the US, I have to be at the airport 2 to 3 hours ahead. That's almost half the time to drive from Montreal to New York.
For rail, we have Via Rail which offers service across Canada. For short distances I take the train because I can relax and work using the free wifi. The train is cheaper, but takes longer and has a much more limited schedule.
About 20 years ago we took the Skeena from Jasper to Prince Rupert. Best train trip ever, including the Rocky Mountain Express.
It always baffles me how even otherwise logical conservatives get mistyeyed over trains (they are not train buffs by the way, it is not the technology). We have a superb surface transport system with near infinite flexibility (cars and trucks) with really heavy stuff moving by train better than anywhere else in the world. I can get in my truck, leave my driveway and get anywhere in the lower 48 in 3-4 days max. Such freedom should be prized. For long distances trains are beat handsdown by planes. For shorter distances they need huge volumes. Dear old Amtrak costs over $120 dollars round trip to get me from Hartford to NYC (90 miles) and takes 3+ hours. The busses are half the price run a better schedule and take pretty much the same time (with wifi too!) Without subsidies they would have to run a better schedule, stop featherbedding and be price appropriate. Now they can't lose so who cares?
I am a conservative, and I like trains. That said, I see no reason for the government to run trains. The next Republican President and THIS CONGRESS had better start prying government's hands off the cookie jar. (Wanna bet?) Privatize and compete! The train from Spokane to Milwaukee stops just about once an hour. It's not efficient, and, worse, it has to give way to freights on the same rail lines.
Freeways, yes - I pay for those roads, they're for the common use, and we all use 'em. I do not want to both pay the taxes AND pay a private operator to use the freeways (is that an oxymoron?) which is what you can bet will happen.
"I like mass transit, and I love railroads"
The problem is each kind of mass transit is different. What might make sense for Amtrak may not make sense for light rail or city busses. But there is a common denominator; unions. Unions are the reason a $7 sandwich costs $15 to make but is sold to a captive audience for $10. Unions are why even in a city that needs bus service there are bus lines that drive around empty half of the day. Each city as it grows and acquires a transit system evolves into a situation where the transit agency is dominated by the unions and the goal becomes pay, more hires/workers and benefits. I live in a small city with three bus routes for 12 hours a day 6 days a week. The busses are never full and often almost empty. So what is the focus of this small town transit system? Expansion! They keep asking to buy more busses and create a forth and fifth route (to nowhere). They lose money and the property taxes subsidize them (income taxes too since they used a federalgrant to buy two replacement busses just recently). Everyone qualifies for a discount. I can take the bus for $.50 ($1 is the standard) because I'm a senior. All the school kids, K-12 and community college, pay $.50 too BUT in fact they get a better deal through their school so they pay about $.30 a ride/day. While these discounts may be justified the simple truth is nobody who doesn't qualify for the discount even uses the bus line. Every rider is subsidized and the bus loses money every day and every mile. By my computation if everyone paid $1 a ride the bus would come close to breaking even on day to day operating costs but the new busses would still require that taxpayers buy them.
Light rail is a whole other story. Light rail is so expensive that in Portland Oregon they could have bought every rider a new car cheaper then the cost of building the systemand operating it. The day to day cost per passenger mile is about $20 and their gross reciepts per passenger mile is about $.50 for a $19.50 loss per passenger every mile they travel 365 days a year. The worst part about Portland's light rail is 100% if it merely replaced existing bus lines with a net loss of about $1 per passenger mile. In other words they spent a lot of up front money to get a system that lost close to 2000% more per passenger mile than the old system did. By comparison Amtrak is a success.
But California's new/proposed high speed rail will put them all to shame with it's loss rate. Estimates are it will cost $100 per passenger mile to operate (that's day to day costs not including the billions it will cost to build it).
Building light rail is all about, and only about, union construction jobs. It makes no sense economically or in terms of relieving transportation congestion.
Honolulu is building such a boondoggle. Only a small portion is built (nothing running), is already falling apart in places, and it is already a billion dollars in the hole. Which taxpayers are going to have to pay for.
But the unions have such power they can buy the politicians and put them in office, who will then do anything the unions want.
And re the comment about the Big Dig--the head of Honolulu's railway authority to nowhere is Dan Grabauskas, the guy that was fired from the MBTA. But the leeches must move from one place to another, and he has imported rail transit authority workers from all over the Mainland---hundreds and hundreds of them, but nobody seems to know what they do. They sit in plush office in the nicest office building in town--the private tenants all moved out because they couldn't afford the rent--and now the building is full of transit authority and other government offices.
Fred Z..."Who would have thought that a transportation type running in one dimension would be less effective than modes which run in two dimensions, like cars and trucks, or three dimensions, like aircraft?"
Depends what you're carrying, and where. Freight rail is still a single-degree of freedom mode of transportation, but it is highly efficient for cargoes that can sacrifice a little time-criticality.
Subsidizing rail travel in the NE is no smarter than subsidizing waterworks for the SW. Let the financial burden of living in these places be paid by the locals. I have had enough Boston Big Digs and California moonbeam dithering to last a lifetime.
It seems to me that the element that has not been mentioned in this discussion is service. When I say service I mean asking the client what they need or want. The east coast system works so well for so many because of numbers and ratios, etc. HOWEVER, in the west we get 0100 departures that take us 500 miles out of the way to go somewhere we could drive to in 3 hours. Why would you expect anyone to support that
'service'? Well designed trains systems do a great service for a large portion of any population. HOWEVER, the system needs to be designed with the word "FROM" having as great a value as the word "TO". If all you can do while designing a route and service is to think of places to go to without asking the question about the population who lives at the "FROM" part of the equation you will never have a well designed system. The second most important part of any train system is a willingness to have two classes of service, with the more expensive class being well worth the increased ticket price. If you still want me to sit in the back with people pissing in their pants, throwing up in the aisle,etc. forget it myself and millions of others will take our own car. If, on the other hand, you would care to respect my desire to have a clean, quiet, comfortable trip with a well designed route and schedule in place then you can sell tickets that will fill the seats. I know the union won't let us do that--we have to all be like the communists!
Rail subsidies are the progressive homage to Europe, where the dense urban population will take trains rather than cars. If the Washington DC -> Boston corridor is similar, than trains there shouldn't need subsidies to run this route. Amtrak passenger trains make NO sense for the rest of the country, and the money should be cut off.
Freight rail (as their ads keep reminding us) DOES make money, so there is no need to force oil from N. Dakota, Montana and Alberta to use freight rail, when a pipeline makes more sense.