Thursday, July 07, 2005

Related To The Railroad Authority Thread

A few days ago I posted a link to a commentary by the Sacramento Bee's Dan Walters on the North Coast Railroad Authority. I sent the link the the editor of the Times Standard suggesting he run that commentary in our local paper. He actually ran it on Sunday, I believe. I was eager to see who would pipe in to defend the NCRA after that commentary ran. Didn't take long, as Supervisor John Wooley had a My Word column in the paper just a couple days later defending the NCRA. As expected, he simply said that rail service was extremely important to the economic development of our port and the county in general. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a link to his column online but a strikingly similar column was written by someone in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat a few days before Wooley wrote his. You can read that one here.

Well, they can say we should keep throwing more money at the railroad so some day the ship will come in but I don't think so. I have no problem with a railroad that can pay for itself but I doubt one up here ever will, at least for the forseeable future. In fact, I understand most rail, including these new "light rail" systems so in favor with politicos nowadays, never pay for themselves, if only because ridership levels are so low.

Received the item below in today's news digest from the National Center for Policy Analysis. While it specifically deals with Amtrak, which might well be a worst case scenario of rail service, it shows just how expensive these rail subsidies can be. It points out that congress would save money if it bought Amtrak riders plane tickets instead of paying for the rail service. While the author suggests privatization of Amtrak, I question if that would make things better, but wouldn't mind seeing it tried.

While the dollar amounts are much lower, I wonder exactly how the figures would look if compared to the NCRA?
Since the ill-fated day in 1971 when Uncle Sam took over control of
rail passenger service as a "temporary" experiment, the federal
government has spent almost as much money bailing out Amtrak as it cost
to put a man on the moon. All of this money for a train service that
doesn't reduce traffic congestion, doesn't cut pollution levels,
doesn't save energy, and isn't integral to intercity travel because so
few people ride the trains, says the Wall Street Journal.
Trains can be a great way to see America, but Amtrak has poorly
served customers and taxpayers alike and is arguably the nation's
worst-run commercial enterprise, says the Journal:

o It loses $1 billion a year ($45 per rider) and that doesn't
include some $10 billion in deferred maintenance costs.

o Every route run by Amtrak loses money, and some are
horrendously unprofitable; the long-distance route from Los
Angeles to Florida loses $400 for every passenger who comes

o It would cost taxpayers less if Congress purchased free
discount airline tickets for every traveler.

Meanwhile, the $3 billion high-speed Acela trains on the Northeast
Corridor, which were promised to be the financial savior of the
railroad, have also been losing money, and are now shut down for
several months because of faulty braking systems on the locomotives.
The good news is that there's no law of economics that train
service has to lose money -- although it's a pretty sure bet that a
train run by the government will. A Congress serious about fiscal
restraint would privatize Amtrak, lift its indefensible monopoly status
as the sole provider of rail passenger service in America, and let the
market determine where and how train service can operate in the black,
says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "The Little Engine That Shouldn't," Wall Street
Journal, July 7, 2005.
For text (subscription required):,,SB112069871777079130,00.html


At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, you operate on a principle that is simply crazy for how America functions today. Self sufficiency isn't in the equation. We would be choosing for our tax money to assist in its operation like we do in all sorts of other areas. Hey, roadways are not self-sufficent. Do you advocate privatizing roads and bridges, as is beginning to happen elsewhere? Heck, even profitable companies don't build new production plants unless they are heavily subsidized by the city that most wants to see the facility located in their town. Until Humboldt County realizes how the real world works, it will always suffer a depressed economy, or worse.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

I wish I could find the article where the engineer states that it is geologically impossible to build a sustainable track through the section that keeps sliding out. No amount of subsidy or ridership can change that if it's true. A new route is required.

At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then pick a new route around that problem area.

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Fred said...

In other words, "Start over again"?

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Start over? No. The track would need massive overhaul anyway to keep it in its current location. Starting over? No. Work for CalTrans for one week. This is normal for any kind of pathway.

Again, should we make car roads private because they don't turn a profit? Of course not. Re-establishing a rail track will cost money. Crying out, "But it costs money!" is beside the point.


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