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Amtrak may be near end of the line in Congress

RRHoward

Member
Messages
2
Points
0
Most Amtrak critics in Congress and the Bush administration harp on ideological concepts that have little or no connection with transportation realities. Amtrak is expected to be profitable but no similar demand is made of highways, airways, or waterways. Federal funds totalling literally trillions of dollars have been "invested" in highways and airways during the 30+ years of Amtrak's existence, but the ideologs complain about the $30 million "wasted" on Amtrak during that same period. The waste at Amtrak has been caused largely by Congressional failure to identify a functional role for intercity rail and then fund it accordingly.
Ideologs cite "Privatization" as the cure for Amtrak's financial woes, but they forget that Amtrak was formed as a mechanism to rid the private railroads of the financial burden of "unprofitable" rail passenger service. These same ideologs deny that passenger transportation is virtually never profitable for its providers [Warren Buffet asserts that the commercial airline industry has never made a profit in its history]. But the existence of such transportation is vital to the economic and social health of the nation.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
Let me invoke 9-11 and ask if that did not show us the importance of having a diverse transportation system. When the planes were grounded the trains still ran, whether they were subways or intercity rail. I have even used Amtrak to get to Washington DC, when DC airports were closed and the closest I could get was Philadelphia.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
I was talking with our freight guy - just a general discussion on problem areas in our region (double stack clearance, passenger freight conflicts,etc) then it turned to passenger operations and i said:

"What we really need is a flyover down where the airport line hooks in with the Northeast Corridor"
(trains often have to cross over 5 sets of tracks as they approach 30th St and long delays are common)

and a lightbulb went off in his head and he said - "yeah, you know trucking is considered the perfect mode because there are no scheduling constraints and any construction and most accidents can be avoided with a little forewarning. But if railroads had the same sort of interstate highway style ramps and flyovers the time constraints would dwindle significantly.
This is why i'm saying i'm not opposed to a railroad monopoly at this point if it means moving more freight, faster, with less trucks on the road"

I replied - "That's ridiculous. Who owns the interstates? The ports? the airports? They're all publicly owned and they are open to any competitors. Why should the railroads be any different? If there's one job the federal government has it's to build and maintain a national transportation network."

So in conclusion - We should have an interstate rail system that is maintained by each state. Dispatching should become federalized like air traffic controllers. The system should be open to freight and passenger services with enough segregation between the two in high traffic areas to ensure timely service.

Certain companies may have to bid against each other for service on certain routes. Contracts should be reviewed every year or so and if sub-standard performance is detected the bidding should be re-opened with the offending carrier barred from entering a bid until the next round.

If (especially) passenger railroads are freed from infrastructure concerns there's no reason they shouldn't turn a profit. Amtrak already turns a "profit" on a lot its routes but when it has to be poured into a nationwide rail infrastructure it quickly turns into a deficit. The states/federal government who award service contracts can charge the providers for using the route and funnel this money back into the infrastructure.
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
jresta, I really like that idea. Where/how do you suggest it get started?
 

biscuit

Cyburbian
Messages
3,904
Points
25
It's a good idea. The big probem however is that, unlike highways, the train tracks themselves are mostly owned by private companies, not the public. The only real way to make rail a viable alternative to highway or air travel would be for the tracks to be publicly owned and used by private freight/passenger carriers. This is unlikely to happen because the rail companies probably have no interest in giveing up the tract, much less the massive and valuable right of ways they were granted when the tracks were laid.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
biscuit said:
It's a good idea. The big probem however is that, unlike highways, the train tracks themselves are mostly owned by private companies, not the public. The only real way to make rail a viable alternative to highway or air travel would be for the tracks to be publicly owned and used by private freight/passenger carriers. This is unlikely to happen because the rail companies probably have no interest in giveing up the tract, much less the massive and valuable right of ways they were granted when the tracks were laid.
If you can find a road in the Northeast that has the word "pike" after it that means it used to be a privately owned, toll road. Towns and states had no problem using the law 100 years ago to change that. I understand that railroads won't give up their exclusive rights without a fight . . . and as much as i don't like Ronnie Reagan . . . he didn't have much of a problem federalizing the air traffic controllers.

Property is different, sure, and I'm not suggesting that railroads not be reimbursed for their property but i can't see a better use for eminent domain than this one. I don't even think that all of a railroad's property would have to be condemned - just the most valuable corridors.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
Huston said:
jresta, I really like that idea. Where/how do you suggest it get started?
It's actually not entirely my idea.

Some people are out there lobbying for what they call Interstate II . It called for a 2 penny national gas tax to pay for it. I read something about it awhile ago and got to thinking that the DOT should just own and maintain the trackage like they do with the highways.

Who knows - maybe it would be cheaper to just put tracks down in Interstate medians than it would be to buy up active ROW's.
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
jresta said:
It's actually not entirely my idea.

Some people are out there lobbying for what they call Interstate II . It called for a 2 penny national gas tax to pay for it. I read something about it awhile ago and got to thinking that the DOT should just own and maintain the trackage like they do with the highways.

Who knows - maybe it would be cheaper to just put tracks down in Interstate medians than it would be to buy up active ROW's.
Interesting. I noticed its dated 1999, any momentum on Interstate II? I googled it; but there was not anything more recent that I saw.
 

biscuit

Cyburbian
Messages
3,904
Points
25
I think the idea of an interstate II type initiative would be great for this country and a 2 cent gas tax is ery little to ask for it's development. I'm sure the highway lobby will allow it to happen any day now. ;)
 

simulcra

Member
Messages
127
Points
6
interstate ii seems like a great idea and a great investment and deserves lobbying support.

just in support of the article's argument, did anyone read the article about the suppossed interchange traffic relief at one of chicago's interchanges (i htink the spaghetti bowl one)? millions of dollars went to streamlining the interchange and making it more convenient. years afterward, restrospect revealed that the only change that happened was: the traffic jam/bottleneck was moved down a few exits. net improvement in commute time and congestion? zilch.
 
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