By on June 8, 2009

We have met the Obamamobile, and it is a train. Just ask Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Locke was in Michigan recently, while SecTrans Ray LaHood, VP Joe Biden and MI Governor Jennifer Granholm were discussing a Detroit-Pontiac-Chicago high-speed rail line in Washington, D.C. The HuffPo‘s Susan Demas asked Locke if he saw the rail project as a way to wean Michigan’s manufacturing base off its centuries-long auto addiction. To which Locke replied, “Oh, yeah,” faster than the Kool-Aid man after a post-college Eurorail adventure. “As you see more construction of rail cars, high-speed cars, it’s going to require new engineering, new products and services and that’s the natural fit and extension for automotive dealers and suppliers and manufacturers.” And Demas agrees, arguing that “linking up with rail makes perfect sense for a contracting industry, at a time when environmental and economic factors make expanding public transit a necessity.” Yes, necessity. As in the mother of invention. And political intervention.

Demas does point out that the rail project in question could face political opposition. “It will take a real will on the part of the states and the Congress to get it done,” she quotes former Rep Joe Schwarz (R-MI) as saying. “Members of Congress from non-high-speed rail states will fight it.” Meanwhile, the self-serving dynamic identified by Schwarz illustrates a major problem with the US rail industry, and how (car-to-train transition aside), the US ownership of GM could make it a political pawn at every turn.

Over at The Daily Beast, former GM and Amtrak man James Langenfeld recounts how the publicly-owned rail firm has become a perennial victim of DC’s politics-before-economics. “Amtrak had a government-affairs department rather than a finance department,” he writes. This “proved to be an omen: Train service was provided to states with powerful senators, even if this involved huge losses and few passengers.” A preview of coming factory placements? Meanwhile, at “38 years old and [showing] no sign of moving out of the taxpayer’s house,” Amtrak subsidies are currently $85,000 a year for each employee, or about $35 every time Amtrak sells per ticket sold. In the absence of profitability, Amtrak and now GM merely provide another opportunity to send pork home to the district.

And Langenfeld isn’t the only one who sees parallels between Amtrak and the new Government Motors. “I see no hope whatsoever for the situation,” says Wendell Cox, who served as a policy consultant for the government-appointed Amtrak Reform Council a decade ago. Cox tells Fox News that political considerations have led to poor decisions at Amtrak, “like maintaining costly, long-distance lines and setting up inefficient routes that detour through low-population areas.”

Even among those who support the bailout and improvements to America’s rail system, there should be concern about any mention of the auto and rail industries in the same breath. After all, the government’s open-ended commitment to GM is sure to become a focal point for political opposition to the Obama administration. And for those who are already disposed towards criticism of Obama, Amtrak is a preeminent symbol of government mismanagement. From George Will to the National Review‘s K-Lo to Ron Paul, GM-as-Amtrak is becoming the meme of choice for the emerging anti-auto-bailout mainstream. Anyone who thinks GM won’t be held hostage to political battles clearly has another think coming.

And though Amtrak has the excuse that rail industries are typically subsidized by governments, GM can’t fall back on the “everyone’s doing it” argument. Meanwhile, suggesting that the auto industry should look to yet another government-stimulated sector as a way forward provides further incentives to accept mediocrity in its automotive products. All of which illustrates how slippery the bailout slope really is. Remember, the bailout has been justified since day one with rhetoric about the unique role of the automobile industry in American life. If there’s any possibility for hope in the emerging American Leyland, it comes from the ability to invest huge amounts of money at a time when the auto industry is going through a period of transformative change. Rail business is a distraction at best, and a life sentence of government angency-dom at worst.

Locke’s talk of “transitioning” the auto industry towards rail shows exactly how far politics could go towards affecting the future of the new Government Motors. And without a clear exit strategy, there’s no telling where it could end. There’s nothing inherently wrong with more rail transportation in the US, but painting the rail biz as an alternative for a struggling US auto industry ignores the ugly reality of public Amtrak ownership. As badly as GM has done building cars for several decades, it will either exit Uncle Sam’s nest on the strength of its cars or face a downward spiral into political adventurism to which there is no bottom. In the case of the latter scenario, the last 30 years of GM’s decline will look like the work of true genius.

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92 Comments on “Editorial: American Leyland Watch: Plans, Trains and Automobiles...”


  • avatar
    BDB

    Train service was provided to states with powerful senators, even if this involved huge losses and few passengers

    This is different from the Interstate Highway System, how?

    Ever heard of Interstate 99?

    Or been to West Virginia? WV has the best roads in the entire nation, even though it is an extremely poor state. Why? Because Bobby Byrd has been in the Senate since the Korean War.

  • avatar
    RetardedSparks

    No passenger rail system in the world operates privately, or at a profit. So if America is going to be buying rail equipment with tax dollars, I’ve got no problem with those dollars going to US companies.
    Of course, absent massive protectionism, there’s no way the rusting hulk of GM will start cranking out well engineered, economically built rail equipment that will win a fair contract bid against Bombardier or Siemens anytime soon…

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Passenger rail (and mass transit in general) is the right answer to the wrong question of “What do we do about the fuel used to move goods from A to B”

    The question should be “Why are we moving people and stuff so much and so often?”. We build communities that are useless, if not hostile, to pedestrians, cite workplaces tens of miles from where people live, and truck food and supplies across hemispheres and timezones. This is not sustainable.

    And yes, it impinges on the Freedom and Mobility That Made America** Great. It has to, because the cost of unfettered mobility is finally coming home to roost after decades of being externalized. Time to pay for all that freedom you’ve enjoyed.

    ** Canada counts, too, but it’s not as dramatic, so I’m not adding it as a footnote.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    Roads don’t operate at a profit, either. More trains along specific corridors makes sense.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    People who malign Amtrak usually don’t know much about it.

    There’s really two Amtraks – the one in the Northeast, and the one in the rest of the country.

    In the Northeast, there are heavily-used corridors with electric trains that can travel at relatively high speeds and have frequent service. These lines tend to not share the tracks with freight.

    In the rest of the country, there are diesel trains that run very infrequently and service relatively few locations. These are chronically late, not necessarily because Amtrak itself is so bad, but because the lines are owned by freight rail, and if Amtrak gets behind by even a few minutes, freight rail has precedence in using the track, which in rural areas is often just one set. So Amtrak ends up needing to “pull aside” quite a bit and then delays just end up snowballing.

    People who use Amtrak in the non-Northeast are usually well aware of this, as they mostly take the train because it’s enjoyable and nostalgic. They usually have open schedules and are not riding the train to meet deadlines. In the Northeast, it’s an entirely different matter. Just go to DC’s Union Station and watch the people coming off the trains, then go to a place like Denver and contrast it. Totally different purpose.

    Consequently, I’m sure the vast share of subsidy, on a per passenger basis, is to the non-Northeast portion of the system, which is kept intact with the support of non-Northeast politicians of both parties.

    What would change the dynamics of intercity rail travel would be if the passenger lines started to have their own tracks, and if the network was more extensive. Then travel times might become more reasonable and competitive vis-a-vis air.

    And if one thinks Amtrak is a money pit, then they’re willfully ignoring the abundant subsidies that are given to commercial aviation and commercial airplane manufacturing. Same goes for every other mode of transportation, here and throughout the world.

    I bet most people don’t even know how much Amtrak’s subsidy amounts to on an annual basis.

  • avatar
    paulie

    BDB
    There are many who think the interstate system ruined many things.
    My god, didn’t you learn anything watching “CARS”, the animated feature!?
    :D

    Now to the madness flowing over the country…

    For many months now and many TTAC editorials, there has been a fantastically circular discussion going on, with many people trying to support the government involvement with Detroit.
    And it will go on until it fails.
    And fail it will.
    From all the ridiculous attempts to say there isn’t going to be any government interference or management when shown over and over and over examples of just that, to now even this…the government now deciding which way to the future.
    Imaging this or any government deciding what is the future of industry and public need for all of us.
    It’s the epitome of hubris.
    Madness.
    What has happened to the thought process in America?
    The fools you see talking on TV every night.
    The Barney Franks.
    The Cris Dowds.
    The Harry Reids.
    The Nacy Pelosis.
    The Byrds…oh, my god…this class act is to be trusted by this TTAC crowd to determine investments in the future?
    You are believing hey will not be influenced by the unions and power wielders in the lobby of Congress?
    I cannot believe or understand what is happening when I read this on TTAC.
    Its madness.
    Just run amuck madness.

  • avatar
    tced2

    I don’t understand how my local Pontiac dealer is going to transition to supplying high speed rail cars? Or anything to do with rail? There doesn’t seem to be any commonality between autos and rail cars. They both have wheels that’s about it.

  • avatar
    geeber

    psharjinian: We build communities that are useless, if not hostile, to pedestrians, cite workplaces tens of miles from where people live, and truck food and supplies across hemispheres and timezones. This is not sustainable.

    The idea that we should only build workplaces close to where people live only works if people stay at the same job for their entire career. People switch jobs all the time; some of those jobs are located in other areas. They may choose not to move their home for a variety of reasons (relatives are close by; spouse still works in same area; there is a fondness for that particular area).

    I’m not going to limit potential jobs to those located in areas where I can walk, bike or ride the bus to work.

    We truck food and supplies over vast distances because people like to have a wide variety of foods throughout the entire year. We don’t grow fresh fruits and vegetables in Pennsylvania from December-April. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to eat them during that time. Transporting them from other areas makes sense.

    I’m not giving up fruits and vegetables during the winter months.

  • avatar
    mocktard

    @BDB

    Here is a list of disbursements by state since 1984.

    http://www.allcountries.org/uscensus/1020_disbursement_of_state_highway_funds_by.html

    I happen to live in West Virginia.

    Some of the side-roads are so bad I’m surprised they don’t simply chop them up and return to dirt and gravel. I would be afraid to own a street motorcycle in this state.

    If you want to see some of the best roads in the country, you have to look south, outside of the rust belt. The Carolina foothills have some of the smoothest blacktop I’ve ever seen.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I’m not going to limit potential jobs to those located in areas where I can walk, bike or ride the bus to work.

    Ok, but should we defer the cost of doing so by subsidizing roads instead of trying to keep business local? Why let small towns and cities rot?

    Second, do we really need to build communities that are hostile to people only because they generate easy tax revenue and are simple and cheap to build, again deferring the cost?

    We truck food and supplies over vast distances because people like to have a wide variety of foods throughout the entire year. We don’t grow fresh fruits and vegetables in Pennsylvania from December-April. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to eat them during that time. Transporting them from other areas makes sense.

    Again, true, but only part of the story. We also ship foods from South America and China because we get a better deal on them, even in-season, vis a vis local producers.

    We could also store food. I know this seems anathaema, but we used to freeze and can locally before modern logistics, huge buying groups and subsidized roads made it impossible. It’s still done, especially in placed (eg, nearer the arctic circle) where it’s unprofitable to deal with the shipping and waste. But we’ll have to do so again, because the marvel of logistics that allows our current lifestyle is far too expensive.

    I’m not giving up fruits and vegetables during the winter months.

    You may have to, if they become expensive enough. I’ve taken to canning and freezing where possible because of how costly food has become as of late.

  • avatar

    In the rest of the country, there are diesel trains that run very infrequently and service relatively few locations. These are chronically late, not necessarily because Amtrak itself is so bad, but because the lines are owned by freight rail, and if Amtrak gets behind by even a few minutes, freight rail has precedence in using the track, which in rural areas is often just one set. So Amtrak ends up needing to “pull aside” quite a bit and then delays just end up snowballing.

    This is a common misconception. I work for a major freight railroad. I deal with Amtrak every day. Amtrak gets absolute priority over freight trains – that’s part of the deal made when Amtrak took over passenger service from the freight railroads. So if Amtrak falls behind (which can happen for any number of reasons attributable to Amtrak, the freight railroad, or outside factors) we bust our butts to help him make up that time. It isn’t always possible, especially when there are a lot of trains running (congestion is a factor on railroads too, although not as much lately) – but Amtrak goes first.

  • avatar
    M1EK


    Amtrak gets absolute priority over freight trains

    This is a complete and utter lie. From memory, the Amtrak train between Austin and Fort Worth averages something like a three hour delay on what’s supposed to be a four-ish hour trip.

    Averages three hours of delay.

  • avatar
    BDB

    mocktard–

    I used to live in Jefferson County. Compared to northern Virginia, the roads were great.

  • avatar
    geeber

    psharjinian: Ok, but should we defer the cost of doing so by subsidizing roads instead of trying to keep business local? Why let small towns and cities rot?

    The road network already exists – it existed before the automobile became common (farmers needed to get goods to the towns). It is needed to ship goods to various towns and cities.

    Many small towns and cities are rotting because of a. lousy local and state governments; or b. the collapse of a local industry; or c. a combination of (a) and (b). It has nothing to do with people being able to seek work in areas more distant from their homes.

    Finally, many people in towns do not want businesses located near them. They don’t want the associated traffic – including mass transit traffic – and they don’t want a large business structure (office building, warehouse, etc.) located near their homes or neighborhoods.

    psharjinian: Again, true, but only part of the story. We also ship foods from South America and China because we get a better deal on them, even in-season, vis a vis local producers.

    I’m sure that growers are not eating the costs of shipment, and know what is economically feasible. Unless the growing operations are being supervised by former GM and Chrysler managers.

    psharjinian: We could also store food. I know this seems anathaema, but we used to freeze and can locally before modern logistics, huge buying groups and subsidized roads made it impossible. It’s still done, especially in placed (eg, nearer the arctic circle) where it’s unprofitable to deal with the shipping and waste.

    My wife canned food with her mother and grandmother in the 1980s when she was a young girl. Her family lived on a farm in western Pennsylvania, and thus canned not only fruits and vegetables, but also meat.

    She used to spend the entire month of August canning.

    You can come to our house and suggest that she do this again…I will not, however, be responsible for removing her shoe from your posterior.

    psharjinian: You may have to, if they become expensive enough. I’ve taken to canning and freezing where possible because of how costly food has become as of late.

    If the market makes them more expensive, I’ll deal with it. If they become more expensive because the price is artificially inflated because someone has decided that it is not “sustainable” to ship them from elsewhere, that is another matter entirely.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    This is a common misconception. I work for a major freight railroad. I deal with Amtrak every day. Amtrak gets absolute priority over freight trains – that’s part of the deal made when Amtrak took over passenger service from the freight railroads. So if Amtrak falls behind (which can happen for any number of reasons attributable to Amtrak, the freight railroad, or outside factors) we bust our butts to help him make up that time. It isn’t always possible, especially when there are a lot of trains running (congestion is a factor on railroads too, although not as much lately) – but Amtrak goes first.

    That’s just patently false.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/04/opinion/04hallock.html

    Having ridden Amtrak all over the United States, I must have been imagining all those interminable stops for freight traffic to pass by that resulted in delays of 6-8 hours or more.

    One can also verify that by looking at a sample Amtrak route’s monthly route performance data.

    http://bit.ly/7kLiv

  • avatar
    johnthacker

    Amtrak gets priority in a signaling sense, but certainly not in a track improvements sense. There are generally insufficient sidings, etc. for passenger operation. Freight doesn’t worry about being on time nearly as much.

    And if one thinks Amtrak is a money pit, then they’re willfully ignoring the abundant subsidies that are given to commercial aviation and commercial airplane manufacturing. Same goes for every other mode of transportation, here and throughout the world.

    Much greater subsidies are given to small private aircraft/general aviation than commercial aviation, actually, at least on a congestion-causing basis or per-passenger basis, due to how landing fees are levied. Amtrak is a money-pit on a per-passenger subsidy basis. Especially a federal level. Roads are not subsidized at the federal level (except in the stimulus package and in the last transportation bill); drivers subsidize other transit systems are a federal level. Of course the state and local issue is different, and varies considerably by state.

    Transit and railroads average $100 to $200 subsidy per thousand passenger-miles. General aviation averages around $60 to $100. Commercial aviation averages around $10, buses around $4, and highway drivers tend to subsidize everyone else at around $1 per thousand passenger-miles.

    Again, at the federal level.

  • avatar
    johnthacker

    It’s true that the total amount of federal subsidy given to commercial air exceeds that of rail, but commercial air has well over twenty times as many passengers.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    If there’s one thing that national socialists love, it’s railroads.

  • avatar
    Jathnael

    No passenger rail system in the world operates privately, or at a profit.
    You know the old saying, if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes fact.
    Having such a absolute statement makes it easy to pick apart.
    the JR(Japan Railways Group) makes money and they are a privatized series of corporations from the former JNR and they make money, lots of it. Same with the 16 major privet railroads in Japan.
    But that is Japan you say..
    Well in the USA there are a number of Tourist railroads that haul passengers and make good money.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    Again, at the federal level.

    That’s the key caveat. Passenger rail is completely federal when it comes to subsidies. Road financing using this framework completely skews the picture, as the vast majority of lane-miles are not federally-funded roads. Nor does this begin to address the massive subsidy difference between rural and urban roads. Rural roads probably get on the order of 10 times the dollar per utilized road-mile compared to urban areas.

    It also doesn’t split out Northeast from non-Northeast Amtrak, a split I took care to make explicit from the beginning.

    To give a basic example, imagine living in a dense urban area with high property values and average levels of property taxation (percentage wise). The person who lives there probably pays fairly high property taxes compared to the American norm, since they live in relatively expensive housing, and a good chunk of that money goes to pay for local roads, alleyways, etc.

    In a fairly dense urban environment, it is not that uncommon for a person to not even own an automobile (9% of American households are like this).

    Yet here they are putting a ton of money into roads and not driving.

    The figures you cite completely ignore a huge part of road funding, and the air transportation numbers leave out big parts as well — especially when you start talking about manufacturing.

  • avatar
    AG

    RetardedSparks, you’re right about the fact that no train system runs privately, but not about the profit part.

    SNCF in France is in fact profitable.

  • avatar
    BDB

    “If there’s one thing that national socialists love, it’s railroads.”

    What? Hitler loved freeways.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    JR(Japan Railways Group) makes money and they are a privatized series of corporations from the former JNR and they make money, lots of it. Same with the 16 major privet railroads in Japan. But that is Japan you say.. Well in the USA there are a number of Tourist railroads that haul passengers and make good money.

    Nice try at a little sleight of hand.

    There are a number of separate legal entities that were formed out of the former public railway system in Japan. The reason it may not have made money in the past is that it was a national system, and exactly like I explained with the two parts of Amtrak, it’s the rural areas which are the money hogs. So these new JR entities are regional and they have very different financial profiles. I would also love it if you would name these “16 major private railroads” that are supposedly profitable. Most likely, the majority are private subway lines in the Tokyo region.

    The mention of dining car tourist “rail” in the US as being profitable is plain silly. That’s just entertainment, not transportation, and those things fail all the time anyway.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    What? Hitler loved freeways.

    Ha – good one.

    I love the tired refrain of “they called themselves ‘national socialists’ – that means Hitler was a lefty!”

    Yeah, and if I call myself Kal El then I’m from Krypton and can fly at the speed of light.

  • avatar
    BDB

    I love the tired refrain of “they called themselves ‘national socialists’ – that means Hitler was a lefty!”

    The official name of North Korea is “the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea”.

  • avatar

    M1EK :
    June 8th, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Amtrak gets absolute priority over freight trains

    This is a complete and utter lie. From memory, the Amtrak train between Austin and Fort Worth averages something like a three hour delay on what’s supposed to be a four-ish hour trip.

    Averages three hours of delay.

    It is so nice to be called a liar by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Come back when you have some numbers.

    long126mike :
    June 8th, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    That’s just patently false.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/04/opinion/04hallock.html

    Having ridden Amtrak all over the United States, I must have been imagining all those interminable stops for freight traffic to pass by that resulted in delays of 6-8 hours or more.

    One can also verify that by looking at a sample Amtrak route’s monthly route performance data.

    Ah! Numbers. Rough ones, though. And an op-ed piece from two and a half years ago. OK, two years ago it was bad. Lots of congestion, lots of improvements being made to the physical plant, unrealistic scheduling, poor coordination. 6-8 hours was rare, and if Amtrak was delayed that long it almost certainly wasn’t just to run the freight. That’s not the way we do, or did, things. But things were bad, so Amtrak and the freights got together to fix it, because we knew it was broken. And it’s gotten a lot better since then – just got a nice letter thanking us for how much service has improved, actually.

    Look, I used to ride Amtrak a lot and I’ve missed connections too. It sucks. But the freight railroads – mine, anyway – do give Amtrak priority, and those who say otherwise, frankly, don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re not there. You don’t know what’s going on. I sweat the daily Amtrak every time I go to work, because if he gets delayed somebody is going to ask me some very pointed questions and I really don’t want to have that conversation.

    All that aside, if you’re in a hurry, fly. High-speed passenger rail works in areas of dense population and short distances (ie, the Northeast Corridor.) Long-distance passenger rail is never going to be high-speed – the cost of infrastructure is astronomical and the distances over most of the country are just too great. We can, and are, improving infrastructure and service on the long-distance routes. But we can do a lot more on the short runs. There you can be competitive with airplanes, you can be competitive with highways. That’s where the focus needs to be. The long-distance runs are mostly a waste, but if they buy support for shorter, more viable services, they’re money well spent.

  • avatar
    RetardedSparks

    Jathnael, AG:

    I’d be very curious to see those numbers on profitability and subsidies. I’d also be very curious to see who paid for the majority of their infrastructure.
    This isn’t meant to sound confrontational – I’d genuinely like to know.

  • avatar
    tpandw

    One of the ironies of this whole thing is that GM was once very successful in the railroad business. Back when there was far-sighted leadership there (before WWII in this case) GM bought ElectroMotive Corporation, a small outfit which made Diesel locomotives. The suits at GM figured that Diesels would replace steam wholesale at some point, and after the war they were right in spades. ElectroMotive Division became the dominant manufacturer of locomotives, with few other survivors. (The GM of steam locomotives, Baldwin, was unable to adapt, closed factories, eventually went bankrupt and disappeared–there’s a moral there if GM would care to see it.) GM had in fact a larger market share in the rail industry than it ever did in automobiles. So what happened? They eventually screwed it up, lost market share to more nimble GE, and sold EMD.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    @Theodore

    OK, now you’re changing your argument pretty substantially.

    The way you phrased it the first time was starting with an appeal to authority (“I work for a rail freight company”), then claiming that Amtrak always has the right of way (which they may have in theory, but as you can easily see from that op-ed, is not followed in practice), and then saying how you personally bust your butt to make it so.

    While your company may do that, and do it now, this is a big difference from the general situation as it has stood since Amtrak was effectively nationalized. And that is the situation upon which most people level their complaints about the quality of service, not about some improvements one particular freight firm may or may not have made in the past two years to help the Amtrak trains in its specific service area.

    I am not endorsing Amtrak as it is as a viable source of efficient and cost-effective transportation. But it’s easy to put the hate on something that’s intentionally designed to stink. It’s not unlike the self-fulfilling rancor about transit, when most of the reason transit stinks is because its poorly funded and even more poorly designed and implemented.

    Fact is, many countries have decent intercity rail service with fairly wide coverage areas. Part of that is reflective of greater overall density, but that’s not the entire picture. The reason I separated out Amtrak into two logical pieces is to demonstrate that those two pieces are functionally two entirely different railway companies, and I’m sure the economics of the Northeast part of it performs pretty well financially. Just look at the people riding it — almost all business people.

  • avatar
    M1EK


    Roads are not subsidized at the federal level (except in the stimulus package and in the last transportation bill);

    This isn’t true, either. The roads most of us think of as ‘federal’ are in fact subsidized – local money is often used in Texas to sweeten the pot to get the DOT to choose your area for interstate improvements over competing areas. This also, of course, ignores the fact that you are assessed the federal gas tax when driving on locally-funded roads.

  • avatar
    M1EK


    And it’s gotten a lot better since then

    Evidence, please. The Amtrak site provides all the numbers you need – the Texas Eagle is only ‘on time’ by their generous definition somewhere in the 70 percents – and that’s the ‘on time’ that’s ‘within a couple hours’.

    You have strong reason to be biased; you contradict well known facts reported by unbiased authorities; and you didn’t post any numbers either. Not Impressed.

    Here’s some for you; or for others who might have been fooled by you:

    from April:

    Last 30 days of data for Texas Eagle in Dallas.
    Train 21, average delay 107 minutes, highest delay was 329 minutes (scheduled noon, arrival 5:29 PM, OUCH), best arrival was 12 minutes early.
    Train 22, average delay 117 minutes, highest delay 284 minutes, best arrival 24 minutes late.

    There is no possible universe in which what you say about Amtrak having priority could be true, and yet still yield the numbers above.

  • avatar
    geeber

    M1EK: This also, of course, ignores the fact that you are assessed the federal gas tax when driving on locally-funded roads.

    No one spends their entire time behind the wheel only driving on one type of road. Every urban area receives federal funds for interstate highways within their borders; and virtually everyone in urban areas regularly drives on these roads.

    Federal motor fuel taxes are used to pay for mass transit systems and other non-road projects; virtually all residents of rural areas pay these taxes but never visit a major urban area to ride on the subway or enjoy the local bike path.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    Carlismo: I read your plea, and feel your pain. A Department of Transportation employee will be around shortly to pick up your donated car(s). Thank you for your support, Barack Obama
    P.S.- All boarded-up GM and Chrysler dealerships will be converted to bus stations for our new nationwide bus line, Aerobus.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Cox tells Fox News that political considerations have led to poor decisions at Amtrak, “like maintaining costly, long-distance lines and setting up inefficient routes that detour through low-population areas.”

    Several years ago after my mom moved to Boise, Idaho, I wanted to see what the cost in time and money would be to take Amtrak to visit her versus driving or flying. Flying was way to expensive, which I found out relatively quickly by searching for flights from our local airport and two relatively close larger airports. To reach the Boise area by train, I found – after much time spent searching Amtrak’s pitiful website – that I would have to take a bus from Spokane, WA, I believe, because there was no passengar rail service to Boise. This despite the fact that there is obviously freight service to the Treasure Valley area (Boise being the largest city) and the fact that the Boise metropolitan area is about 3 times the population of the Spokane area. That makes real sense, doesn’t it. I still drive the 500+ miles each way 2 to 3 times per year.

    P.S. For decades, California has year in and year out hijacked (the government says borrowed) funds raised through gas taxes, which are supposed to pay for maintenance and construction of roads, to support other pet projects ranging from rail service to bike paths to aid to families with dependent children (try and find the transportation connection there). So, don’t expect me to believe that the roads I drive on are subsidized by the people riding the bus to work through their payroll taxes; it’s the other way around.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    geeber, you are ignoring the fact that the typical urban resident drives a far smaller percentage of their miles on a road that receives federal funding; and, no, the mass transit subsidy does not come close to making up for it. State gas taxes have similar problems – most states don’t pay for urban areas’ major arterial networks that aren’t part of the signed and numbered highway systems.

    We’ve been over this before; you continue to ignore the reality: if Urban Driver drives 25% of his miles on the highway system and 75% on the local system, while Suburban Driver has the numbers flipped, Urban Driver is subsidizing Suburban Driver; period; and it doesn’t matter if Urban Driver drives fewer miles than Suburban Driver, either.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    @ M1EK

    Exactly. They break down delays into the top 3 categories – Track and Signals, Train Interference, and Operational. Generally speaking, the first two are the line owners’ fault, the last one Amtrak’s.

    Using another line for example – the Coast Starlight – one sees that the first two account for 63% of the delays in the past month and Operational about 20%. That’s more than a 3:1 ratio.

    And anyone who thinks 6-8 hours delays are uncommon hasn’t been on the full length of the Empire Builder.

  • avatar

    @long126mike

    That op-ed is an opinion piece. It’s short on facts. And it’s out of date. Of course the conductor on the Amtrak train will blame freight trains; every Amtrak conductor I’ve ever talked to about a delay has blamed freight trains. Fact is, the conductor usually doesn’t know why he’s delayed. All he knows – and all the passengers know – is that he’s stopped and a freight train is going the other way. He doesn’t have the big picture. He doesn’t actually know what’s going on.

    The decline of Amtrak service coincides in part with the boom in rail traffic that took place beginning in the 1990s. You can only put so many trains over a given amount of track in a given time. The freight railroads spend billions of dollars annually on their infrastructure – improvements that benefit passenger as well as freight traffic. But we knew we had a problem when it came to Amtrak, and we are fixing it.

    I don’t deal with the Empire Builder, so maybe they have some issues up there that I’m not familiar with.

    @ M1EK

    You are not a railroader. You do not know what those numbers actually mean. You don’t know how Amtrak generates its route performance numbers (nor do I, at least in great detail, because I don’t work for Amtrak.) You don’t have access to the detailed reports of my company (which are confidential.) You wouldn’t know how to interpret them if you did, because you’re not a railroader and you don’t know what they mean.

    Given that you have managed to call me a liar several times over based on your lack of understanding, you will perhaps forgive me if I’m not really interested in talking to you.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    And if one thinks Amtrak is a money pit, then they’re willfully ignoring the abundant subsidies that are given to commercial aviation and commercial airplane manufacturing. Same goes for every other mode of transportation, here and throughout the world.

    I bet most people don’t even know how much Amtrak’s subsidy amounts to on an annual basis.

    This is an interesting observation. So, since aviation (please name companies and amounts, please) receives taxpayer subsidies, we should do the same thing for rail. Is this what my takeaway should be?

  • avatar
    davejay

    The more congested a city is, the more it needs a local rail system to help people get around. New York and Chicago have incredibly bad traffic, and rely heavily on rail-based transit; without the rails, traffic wouldn’t go anywhere.

    The less congested a city is, the less it makes sense to build rail. And if you’re traveling from city to city, rail makes even less sense…

    …and yet, times have changed, and the pure hubris and political power (and corruption) that built the lines New York and Chicago depend on doesn’t really exist any more. That, plus nobody wants elevated rail lines, or even the quietest of trains in their backyards. Meanwhile, air travel remains inconvenient and expensive and (for many) terrifying.

    So the rail we really need isn’t going to get built, because NIMBYs (Not In My BackYard, a CA term) don’t want it in their neighborhoods and think only “poor people” ride the train, and rail we don’t need is going to be built, because we have to get manufacturing moving again somehow.

    If we really wanted to do it right, we’d figure out the rail systems that had the lowest cost to build and the quietest operation and the smallest real-estate footprint, and we’d fill our most populated (but under-transit-served) communities with ‘em. Which will never happen. Such a shame.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Americans hate public transportation because independence is in their DNA – it’s just that simple.

    There will be armed revolt if anything gets between the American driver and the automobile.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    Theodore, I provided numbers; FROM AMTRAK(!); you said they don’t count (!?). You have not provided any numbers of your own, not even from somebody half as relevant as Amtrak.

    At the same time, others have provided citations to the fact that Amtrak is not, as you claim, the priority whenever a conflict occurs with freight. This is not an unreasonable claim to make; everybody who I’ve ever talked to on the subject has said the same thing: freight has effective priority over Amtrak. You have ignored those citations, and have not provided any contrary citations other than “trust me; I work for a freight railroad”.

    You have strong reason to be biased; the other people here do not.

    From wikianswers:

    They’re obligated to give Amtrak ‘preferential’ treatment, not priority.

    ‘preferential’ treatment can, of course, mean “oh, well, sorry, we TRIED”.

    Chicago Tribune, last year:

    Freight railroads routinely violate a federal law requiring that track preference be given to Amtrak trains, according to an analysis released this week by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

    Note, again, ‘preference’, not priority, and they aren’t even living up to that lesser standard.

    What possible reasonable conclusion can I possibly come to at this point other than to call you a liar?

  • avatar
    wsn

    Let me throw in something else in the discussion.

    Does anyone notice that Japan has a better passenger train system?

    So, after all, it’s not exactly cars vs. trains. It’s about the accountability of company executives and government bureaucrats.

  • avatar
    wsn

    gslippy :
    June 8th, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Americans hate public transportation because independence is in their DNA – it’s just that simple.

    ——————————————-

    So, why are we bailing out UAW members if they are foreign?

  • avatar
    long126mike

    So, since aviation (please name companies and amounts, please) receives taxpayer subsidies, we should do the same thing for rail. Is this what my takeaway should be?

    No, that’s not what you should take away, but thanks for this new strawman. The point is to emphasize that passenger rail in the US is not unique in being subsidized, and the amount of the subsidies as it currently stands isn’t that great. Apparently you don’t know how much it is, or you would have provided an answer to me about it.

    Air subsidies? There are dozens, but you could start with the ones after 9/11. Or do you not recall those? I know it’s a whole 8 years ago and all.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    Americans hate public transportation because independence is in their DNA – it’s just that simple.

    Ah, here comes the Palinesque “real American” angle. So I guess most New Yorkers and urbanites in general aren’t “real Americans”?

    Funny that you think the absence of owning and using an automobile regularly equates to having no independence.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Air subsidies? There are dozens, but you could start with the ones after 9/11. Or do you not recall those? I know it’s a whole 8 years ago and all.

    Dozens? Really? Wow. Name ‘em.

    Funny that you think the absence of owning an automobile regularly equates to having no independence.

    Nice strawman you just built. That is not what gslippy said.

  • avatar
    mocktard

    @BDB

    I’m not arguing that there aren’t worse roads than in West Virginia. The roads here are better than some in VA or PA probably because of less traffic density over fewer highway miles.

    There’s no point of taking a pot-shot at our resident carpet-bagging pork-barrel geriatric when there are obviously better roads to be had elsewhere in the country.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Ah, here comes the Palinesque “real American” angle. So I guess most New Yorkers and urbanites in general aren’t “real Americans”?

    Wow, again, that’s not what he said. Are you reading any of the comments or just expressing some type of rote rage?

  • avatar
    agenthex

    It’s about the accountability of company executives and government bureaucrats.

    OMG, conservatives coming around.

    Yes, in the end it’s about competence and accountability.

    Thus far we’ve seem unparalleled efficiency and performance from the PTFOA, which I think surprised even people who believed the feds could do a decent job in the first place.

    Assuming something must fit stereotypes (accurate or not) only due to association is idiotic. We don’t use it in law, certainly not science, and strongly discourage nowadays it in course of normative social behavior.

    At the very least it’s a sign of lazy thinking.

  • avatar
    paulie

    wsn
    and other train lovers.

    I remember long ago, about 8 years, visiting Vienna and really enjoying their trains.
    You could get everywhere.
    You would take the Blue line to the Red line and finally the Green line.
    And there was everybody on hte train.
    Very social.
    And in a short while, you were far away eating dinner at yet another restaurant Bill Clinton visited.
    I mean that guy ate EVERWHERE in Europe.
    He had to stay away from the US and that damned Monica story.

    And the same was true in many cities, and just as you say…Tokyo.

    But these are very different societies.
    They were never built for autos and its even dangerous to try walking.
    The congestion is suffocating.

    Nobody suggest Chicago or any large American city NOT build these city systems, but this is not what Obama is doing.
    He wants Big city to Big city.

    This high speed train between cities cannot work.
    There are to many cities, hundreds, and not enough consumer use to make profitable.

    I tried to take Amtrak from my town near Chicago to St Louis.
    It was almost 2 hours to the closest station.
    Hell, the entire ride is 5.
    And the cost!
    It cost less to drive.
    Adding my wife made it a stupid purchase.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Outside of the congested Northeast corridor, passenger rail is not profitable.

    Note Amtrak’s employees enjoy severance and job protection guarantees that should make the UAW quite jealous. It may not still be six year’s severance for every layoff, but I’m sure it’s still borderline nuts.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I spent a lot of time on trains in Japan. They are very expensive so don’t get the idea that such efficiency comes without a price. It does.

    Most of the bullet trains were built for service between major Japanese cities along the 1000 mile length of the main island. A few lines cut across to the northern side on the sea of Japan. These lines were built a long time ago, it would be too expensive to build most of them today.

    The first ShinKanSen lines were for the 64 olympics, at least that is what the prime was. Another line was built recently for the winter olympics in Nagano. The lines are a sense of pride for the Japanese and the government pays big money to build and maintain them.

    These train lines are practical in Japan because they were started long ago, the country has 50 nuke plants to power them, and the layout of the nation (it is relatively small) makes trains a good solution. The US is huge, power is not available for overhead use, and we have a huge air and car network already.

    The train cost as much as flying, sometimes the arrival times were the same (especially from Osaka) but even the Japanese complained about how much the government spent on trains yet it still cost 300 dollars to go to Osaka, and that was 10 years ago.

    Trains are a darling of socialists. Once built they are hard to dislodge, their importance seems absolute, and plenty of cushy jobs at all levels. No one seems to believe private companies can run a train line, and of course remember Mussolini made the trains run on time.

    Hitler liked trains too, especially as transports. Anything to keep people busy working and take their minds off the sacrifices being made.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    So, since aviation (please name companies and amounts, please) receives taxpayer subsidies, we should do the same thing for rail. Is this what my takeaway should be?

    The logical takeaway is a basic reality: all modes of transportation are, on the whole, direct money losers. So it doesn’t make much sense to focus on the revenue shortfalls of one, while ignoring all of the costs and shortfalls of all of the other forms of transit.

    We don’t build airports, city streets, etc. expecting to turn a financial profit from them, nor should we. Expecting net positive cash flow from the transportation infrastructure is about as realistic as expecting the plumbing in your house to throw off cash. The benefits of transportation are difficult to directly quantify, but it serves the greater interests of society to facilitate the movement of goods and people, so we pay for them.

    Likewise, the costs can also be difficult to quantify, particularly externalities such as smog, blight, sprawl and noise. It is also difficult to properly allocate the costs to the end user, given the nature of how they are used and paid for.

    The issue with a train is not whether it creates a paper profit or loss, but the alternative that occurs if the train isn’t operated. None of the choices are free, and not all of the costs fit neatly onto an operating statement, so the whole picture has to be considered when choosing alternatives.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Hitler liked trains too

    Thanks for mentioning that. That’s a good lesson, and I’ll have to apply the WWHD? (What Would Hitler Do?) approach to everything that I do in my life.

    So, Hitler liked trains, so we shouldn’t ride trains.

    Hitler liked autobahns, so we shouldn’t build Interstates.

    Hitler used electricity, so to show my hatred of Nazism, I’m going to burn whale oil.

    Hitler liked cheap internal combustion cars, so that leaves a steam-powered car for me.

    Hitler liked blondes, so watch out brunettes! (Actually, I have a thing for redheads, so maybe this Hitler test is good, after all.)

    Hitler liked German Shepherds, so I guess that I should get a cat.

    Hitler drove on the right, so…well, we’ll have to work on that one.

    Now, if anyone can let me know whether Hitler preferred coffee or tea, I’ll be sure to choose the best anti-Nazi beverage that’s available. (With the Beer Hall Putsch, I’m just going to assume that pilsner is off-limits.)

  • avatar
    long126mike

    Shorter GS650G:

    Trains suck, Commie, Hitler.

    They are very expensive so don’t get the idea that such efficiency comes without a price. It does.

    Wow, because one can walk right up to a ticket window and get on the next bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka for 39 cents per mile. What’s the price of a walk-up-and-go airline ticket cost per mile these days in the States? I also know that the average cost per mile for a car in the US is 54 cents per mile. And I’m pretty sure the average trip speed of an automobile isn’t 140 mph like a bullet train.

  • avatar
    paulie

    Pch101
    In point of fact, we do build airports for profit.
    Un fact, Chicago manipulated the city limit to get O’Hare.
    It is nothing but profit.
    As is Midway.
    And now everybody is fighting for the 3rd airport into their city.

    City streets are a function of residents.
    More of one brings more of another. The economic engine sustains the system.

    But let’s get real here.
    As much as I loved the trains in the foriegn cities, I have no idea of the costto the public.

    And here, as a believer in the market driving investment, there is a reason the trains dissapeared.
    Well, other than the BIG OIL theory.

    People in America don’t like trains because they are not easy access.
    They don’t offer the same schedule freedoms.
    And they cost so damned much.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    In point of fact, we do build airports for profit.

    The FAA budget is ten times that of Amtrak. Cities like airports in part because of the free money that they get from Uncle Sam to operate them.

    Transportation is a money loser. If people invested a little time to look at stuff such as federal, state and local budgets, this would be easy enough to see.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    yet it still cost 300 dollars to go to Osaka, and that was 10 years ago.

    Baloney. It costs 13,240 yen for a one-way from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka right now. That’s $134 at current exchange rates, $109 at exchange rates 10 years ago.

    The exchange rate 10 years ago was 121.28 yen to the dollar. US$300 was equivalent to 36,384 yen.

    The most expensive ticket one can purchase is Green Car reserved on the Nozomi train (the one with the fewest stops). That runs 19,840 yen, or $164 at the exchange rate 10 years ago.

    The distance from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka is 343 miles. This is roughly the distance from Washington National to Logan (398 miles).

    If one wanted to fly from DC to Boston tomorrow, the cheapest non-stop available is $386 round trip. Cheapest one-way is $196.

    The Shinkansen goes its distance in 2h27m, and a nonstop flight takes 1h37m from DC to Boston. Add in access time to and from the airport, ticketing, baggage, security, wait, and its cost, and compare that to getting to the train stations in Tokyo and Osaka more than erases the in-transit time difference and cost differences only increase.

    But you’re right, trains are terribly expensive in Japan.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    And they cost so damned much.

    Defined “so damned much.”

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Pch101 :
    June 8th, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    Hitler liked trains too

    Thanks for mentioning that. That’s a good lesson, and I’ll have to apply the WWHD? (What Would Hitler Do?) approach to everything that I do in my life.

    Since you are taking lessons from me (why I don’t know) how about backing down a bit? Go out for a drive, you’ll feel better.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    Go out for a drive, you’ll feel better.

    Hitler liked to drive.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    @long126mike :

    I guess I just made all that up. I would dig out the expense reports from back then but proving points on a website isn’t that important to me.

    I’ve already got Pch101 taking lessons from me so I don’t have the time really.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I’ve already got Pch101 taking lessons from me

    I’m starting to have my doubts. I tried to find a whale oil shop, and I’m having a tough time here. How am I supposed to prove my hatred of the Fuhrer if I can’t get any whale oil?

  • avatar
    long126mike

    I guess I just made all that up.

    You did. Or you have an exceptionally poor memory that’s skewed by what you wish to believe.

    but proving points on a website isn’t that important to me.

    Right, you could prove your assertion, but you can’t be bothered to do so when presented with evidence that contradicts it.

    Here’s the actual schedules and prices for you, in case you wish to think I just made it all up like you did.

    http://japanrail.com/pdf/timetable_fare/timetable_fare1_west.pdf

    I’ve already got Pch101 taking lessons from me so I don’t have the time really.

    You’re quite the comedian. Trains suck, Commie, Hitler, Japanese trains are expensive (even though they’re not). Great “lessons.”

  • avatar
    Jathnael

    For the person I ask, and I guess its cause I am a train geek as well as a car geek I didn’t post them.
    Here is a list of the “16 major private railways” in Japan.

    * Tobu Railway
    * Seibu Railway
    * Keisei Electric Railway
    * Keio Corporation
    * Odakyu Electric Railway
    * Tokyu Corporation
    * Keihin Electric Express Railway
    * Tokyo Metro
    * Sagami Railway
    * Nagoya Railroad
    * Kintetsu Corporation
    * Nankai Electric Railway
    * Keihan Electric Railway
    * Hankyu Corporation
    * Hanshin Electric Railway
    * Nishi-Nippon Railroad

    the one I have the most experience with is the Hankyu line. I have family in Kyoto and use the line all the time to get to Umeda to shopping and sight seeing.
    It was about Y390 to get from Kyoto to Umeda(osaka)which was about 35km ish.
    Expensive? no…the road tools If I drove, now that was expensive!

    As for who built it?
    Yes the Japanese government built the Shinkansen line and it use to be government run, known as the JNR (Japanese National Railway).
    But it was privatized in the mid 80s.
    Oh here is JR Centrals numbers
    http://english.jr-central.co.jp/company/ir/brief-announcement/_pdf/fr17.pdf

  • avatar
    long126mike

    @ Jathnael

    Thanks for the response.

    Originally, you claimed “the JR(Japan Railways Group) makes money and they are a privatized series of corporations from the former JNR and they make money, lots of it. Same with the 16 major privet railroads in Japan.”

    This is after I pointed out the difference between Amtrak in the Northeast and the rest of the country, and how their financials and performance are very different. When you mentioned JR, I also pointed out this same dynamic exists in Japan, and that the 6 different JR companies have different situations – like here, urban does OK, rural needs subsidy.

    “In the mid 1980s, Japan National Railways (JNR) was a monolithic national monopoly with an operating deficit, huge debt, declining ridership, high fares, poor service and political interference. In other words, JNR had many of the same problems that plague Amtrak today.

    In its place, the Japanese government created six separate private passenger-rail companies to serve different regions of the country. Three of the six companies that served rural areas would be eligible for a yearly operating-deficit subsidy from a revolving government fund. The other three companies, which largely served urban areas, were expected to cover their operating costs. Each private company would be responsible for both rail operations and infrastructure management.”

    http://bit.ly/sA9LT

    As for the private rail firms, those are all urban lines (I believe) and you aren’t demonstrating that they “make money, lots of it,” as you claimed. I’m not asking for financials from 16 firms, and I know at least some of them make money, but I doubt they’re all rolling in it. The financials you provided for JR Central show net income as 8% of revenue. Hardly “lots of it.”

    It also requires, in the case of JR, to ignore the massive capital investments made by the government, including rights-of-way purchases, that don’t get reflected in a yearly income statement of the now privatized firms.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    The FAA budget is ten times that of Amtrak. Cities like airports in part because of the free money that they get from Uncle Sam to operate them.

    Transportation is a money loser. If people invested a little time to look at stuff such as federal, state and local budgets, this would be easy enough to see.

    According to Amtrak, 28.7 million riders rode their trains last year. According to the FAA, 768 million flew in the US for FY 2007. So, the ten fold increase in spending on the FAA would seem a relative bargain by comparison.

    What would be even more telling would be to compare cities with rail such as Chicago’s CTA to Amtrak’s heavily traveled corridor on the E. coast to the rest of Amtrak’s performance. Rail makes sense in some instances, but Detroit-Pontiac-Chicago? WTF?

  • avatar
    barely.working

    I’m a transportation engineer and have done a couple of high speed rail feasibility studies in undisclosed locations in North America. So here’s my two cents on high speed rail….

    High speed rail only feasibly works on city pairs that are 3-4 hours apart. For example to fly between Dallas and Houston takes about 60-90 minutes, however once you add in travel time to the airport, waiting for your flight, security checks, etc, it’s closer to 3-4 hours or about the same as driving. Rail cuts down on time.

    After a 3-4 hour distance, air travel catches up really quickly. The practical speed of a high speed rail train given current technology is about 360 km/h (220 mph), where as an airplane speeds along at about 590 km/h (360 mph). Try taking a high speed train from say, LA to New York. It would be about a 18-20 hours, whereas you can fly it in about 5-6 hours.

    The big difference is infrastructure cost. The lines cost in excess of $50,000 a meter (sorry about the metric, I’m Canadian after all) due to the flat horizontal geometry, minimal grade changes, overhead traction power and full grade separation required. Not to mention a single trainset can cost upwards of $50 million a piece.

    So is high speed rail a good option in North America? Only in certain places, yes. Road transport is going to be around for a long time to come.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    How about letting the people of America decide if they want their tax money going to highways or going to rail? Each option has it’s own pro’s and con’s so why not let the dispute be settled by a vote? Perhaps New Yorkers would decide they want more lanes on their freeways than efficient trains for their subways. Perhaps Oklahomans would decide they’d prefer highspeed rail connecting Oklahoma City to Tulsa instead of less potholes on the interstates. We’ll never know unless the voters get a say so. I’d like to see how it’d pan out as opposed to an elected body telling me.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    How about letting the people of America decide if they want their tax money going to highways or going to rail? Each option has it’s own pro’s and con’s so why not let the dispute be settled by a vote?

    We had a vote. Americans chose Barack Obama to lead us and Democrats to run Congress. Perhaps you should learn to deal with that, as that’s the way it will be for at least two years.

    If you want direct democracy, then you better get to work overhauling the entire governance mechanism of the United States. You’ll have to rip up the Constitution for starters.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    I’d like to see how it’d pan out as opposed to an elected body telling me.

    They already have a vote in the republican sense, constitutions and all. Tasks like this tend to get delegated in such a system. That the voter doesn’t do so in an informed manner is altogether another problem.

    Remember Hitler was elected, too. We need to preempt a repeat of history by ending this voting business while we still can. On the other hand, Hitler ended democracy, too. Oh, what to do. We desperately need guidance from Hitler-analogy guy.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    Oh, what to do. We desperately need guidance from Hitler-analogy guy.

    Great humor.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Sounds like someone’s stereotyping Democrats and the President a bit. Though I usually vote Republican, I still find it unfair to believe that EVERY Democrat is going to jump on the rail bandwagon. Especially those from states where rail would be impractical. As for you should learn to deal with that: I shouldn’t have to deal with what my congressmen and president do as they work for ME (and voters just like me). If enough people decide they’d rather have more roads than rail, they’ll elect people that will give them that. The governance in our country is just a filter for direct democracy. The majority always gets what it wants eventually, provided enough time and diligence.

  • avatar
    Whuffo2

    There’s a real problem with local rail service that nobody seems to address: how are you going to get from where you live to where the train station is? And when you get to the town you’re going to, how do you get from the train station to where you’re going?

    I live in the CA Bay Area – there’s trains all around the bay. I wanted to go see something on Treasure Island and didn’t want to drive – so I checked into how I’d get there using the mass transit systems. Leaving from San Jose, if I was at a light rail station 6 miles from home by 4:45 AM to catch the first train, I could make the necessary connections between light rail, CalTrain and BART and arrive at Treasure Island on a bus at 8:30 PM – if everything worked out just right and none of the trains were delayed.

    Yeah, right – let’s build lots more of that. That’ll fix all the problems. Those who are all excited about passenger service are mostly people who have never tried to use it. It’s great if your house and job site are next door to train stations – but that describes pretty much nobody in this country.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    According to Amtrak, 28.7 million riders rode their trains last year. According to the FAA, 768 million flew in the US for FY 2007. So, the ten fold increase in spending on the FAA would seem a relative bargain by comparison.

    Not particularly. You’re forgetting that US rail doesn’t have much in the ways of economies of scale due to the lack of investment, and that there are other costs that are not included in these numbers, such as the noise created by airports.

    Rail would be good for short-hop travel from one dense metro area to another, as one poster pointed out above. The Northeast and certain select areas of the US would be ideal for a better functioning rail system. For coast-to-coast travel, it doesn’t make much sense, but it does work for shorter hauls.

    You also have to consider the alternatives. A lot of major airports are also maxed out on capacity (look at what a bit of weather can do to throw O’Hare behind schedule) and the airspace around them is heavily congested. We are going to need more rail and other alternatives just to deal with the constraints on air capacity. Rather than operate regional flights, that traffic could be moved on trains, freeing up the airport to handle the longer hauls.

  • avatar
    unleashed

    A lot of major airports are also maxed out on capacity.

    No kidding…
    Have you been to any newer airports in Asia?
    The vast majority of them have been designed and built with enormous expansion capabilities.

    The US should concentrate on upgrading all major US airports (and building new ones) first just to keep up with the demand.

    THAT would be the money well spent.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    Pch101 has it. 80% of destinations served from Austin (a lower-end-of-top-50 market) require an incredibly inefficient plane trip to either DFW or IAH. IAH is OK; but DFW is a nightmare – always running the risk of missing connections due to the staggering amount of traffic going through that airport.

    Both would be a 2-hour, fairly efficient, trip on high-speed rail.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    If the Government motors is run half as well as Amtrak long126mike will consider it a roaring success.

    We can do apples to apples and compare how well GM was run before and after the communist takeover. Deal?

    -

    The US should concentrate on upgrading all major US airports (and building new ones) first just to keep up with the demand.

    Clearly this is nothing but a democrat attempt to cozy up to the Boeing and airline labor unions.

    The best answer to all this human meddling is to create entirely labor-free forms of transport in the future, such as flying cars directed and maintained by all-knowing powerful computers and robots. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    Legally, Amtrak (and all other passenger trains, such as commuter rail) have precedence over freight trains.

    In the real world, freight trains have precedence over passenger trains on tracks owned by the freight companies.

  • avatar
    long126mike

    If the Government motors is run half as well as Amtrak long126mike will consider it a roaring success.

    Where do people come up with these ridiculous arguments?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Have you been to any newer airports in Asia? The vast majority of them have been designed and built with enormous expansion capabilities.

    It’s not quite comparable, as we have problems with limited airspace that can’t be fixed with larger airports. There are only so many planes that you can get into the air at a time.

    We would be better off if we diversified the traffic. It’s not as if a metal box with wings is inherently superior to a metal box that rides on rails.

    Where people get these good vs. evil ideas for transportation, I don’t understand. I drive, use public transit, walk, fly, and take trains, depending upon what the situation calls for. How could that possibly be controversial?

  • avatar
    unleashed

    It’s not quite comparable, as we have problems with limited airspace that can’t be fixed with larger airports. There are only so many planes that you can get into the air at a time.

    I’m sorry Pch101 but the US air traffic constraints have nothing to do with limited airspace.
    The US Airports problems are closely related to such factors as lack of runways and outdated ground infrastructure.

    Making plans for developing of light rail and other public transit systems while the nation’s airports starting to crumble seems to be highly unwise, to say the least.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    US air traffic constraints have nothing to do with limited airspace.

    You should inform the FAA of your findings. These were their findings as of two years ago:

    in some cases runway construction may not be a viable alternative. Today, LGA is a good example. In the next 10 years, the San Francisco Bay area will serve as an additional example of a capacity constrained metropolitan area where runway construction may not be an option. In these cases, demand management, regulatory or economic solutions, and other market mechanisms may need to be investigated.

    Another reason that Asia is that much of their air travel is devoted to international travel. We use aircraft for domestic travel that could be better served by other alternatives.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Of course not.

    So you’re already conceding the government will do a better job than the capitalists.

    -

    The whole US economy is going to fail under the Zimbabwe inspired Obamanomics.

    Does it bother you to make this kind of statement without knowing what happened in Zimbabwe to contrast with the fed?

    Would evidence to the contrary even help? Or are are set in your ways to continuously repeat that statement despite its false nature?

  • avatar
    M1EK

    unleashed, you’re wrong; the US travel demand is disproportionately in areas where airspace IS at a premium – like the New York area.

    Yeah, plenty of airspace over Wyoming. Who cares.

  • avatar
    geeber

    M1ek: geeber, you are ignoring the fact that the typical urban resident drives a far smaller percentage of their miles on a road that receives federal funding; and, no, the mass transit subsidy does not come close to making up for it.

    Urban drivers should drive a smaller number of miles, period…after all, isn’t that supposed to be one of the the main advantage of living in an urban area? Which means that they are paying less in the gas tax.

    And please note that part of the federal motor fuels tax is diverted to non-road projects, which includes mass transit systems.

    And, yes, the mass transit subsidy does more than make up for it.

    M1EK: We’ve been over this before; you continue to ignore the reality: if Urban Driver drives 25% of his miles on the highway system and 75% on the local system, while Suburban Driver has the numbers flipped, Urban Driver is subsidizing Suburban Driver; period; and it doesn’t matter if Urban Driver drives fewer miles than Suburban Driver, either.

    And you continue to ignore that, in Texas, a whopping 20+ percent of state gas tax is diverted for non-transportation purposes (in the case of Texas, education spending). Which means the complaints of Texas drivers being subsidized ring more than a little hollow.

    The simple fact is that you keep extrapolating a Texas scenario to the nation as a whole. The scenario in Pennsylvania, for example, is completely different from that in Texas. If you wish, I can have the executive director of the Senate Transportation Committee explain the situation in Pennsylvania to you, and how rural and suburban drivers are not getting a free ride.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    If you wish, I can have the executive director of the Senate Transportation Committee explain the situation in Pennsylvania to you, and how rural and suburban drivers are not getting a free ride.

    Nobody said it was a free ride, just a real cheap one.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    geeber, once again you completely ignore reality. It doesn’t matter if I drive 10 miles and you drive 100; if we both pay gas tax; and only 1 of my miles is on a road that gets gas tax funding but 90 of yours are, I’m subsidizing you. (There would obviously have to be more of ‘me’ than ‘you’ for this to work; or other sources of subsidy, of course).

    And, by the way, even if Pennsylvania is as you say (it’s not; it’s just a little better than Texas); it’s the outlier – most states spend their state gas tax money on their highway system; which disproportionately benefits suburban and rural areas.

    The 5 cent ‘diversion’ to schools in Texas is a drop in the bucket compared to the gas tax that would be required to make up for the local funding spent on arterials (and even the highway system). We floated a couple hundred million dollars in bonds in 2 local/county elections at the beginning of this decade, about half of which was for state highways. That’s not counting all the ongoing, annually budgeted, expenses for maintaining our large system of locally-funded arterial roadways; that’s just the extra ‘donations’ to the state system.

    And asking somebody with an obvious vested interest in the current system to explain to you why the current system doesn’t present a subsidy isn’t going to get you very much. You going to ask Rick Wagoner why GM’s bailout wasn’t a waste of time next?

  • avatar
    jaybread

    I look at this differently–

    Ideally, the government would extract tax money and build infrastructure, then step back and let the free market pick winners and losers.

    We all win with roads, and not just going to the mall in the burbs. Great roads allow freedom, plus the easy movement of material and forces during all sorts of emergencies. You could never build enough rail track to match what the roads can do.

    Somehow, rail has become the “chic” thing on which to throw away money and give jobs to your connected buddies. I live in one of the poorest states in the country, NM, yet we somehow have the money piss away on a railroad ($300-400 million to build 60 miles of track) that will require a $50,000,000 per year subsidy forever, even if it ran full all the time, which it doesn’t. And, it only carries people, freight need not apply. The entire project is based on the liberal dream of “getting people out of their cars”.

    And that’s the problem–they build the infrastructure, but there’s no freedom. The private sector can’t share the space to compete like they can on the roads. As a result, everyone wastes time arguing about subsidies, who got what and so on.

    Where’s the level playing field? Everyone gets to use our roads, and our airports (to a lessor degree), but not the rails.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Mexico_Rail_Runner_Express

  • avatar
    M1EK


    We all win with roads, and not just going to the mall in the burbs. Great roads allow freedom, plus the easy movement of material and forces during all sorts of emergencies. You could never build enough rail track to match what the roads can do.

    This is a common fallback position of the Road Warrior, but it fails even a cursory examination. They got roads in Western Europe. If you don’t subsidize roads, they still get built; they just don’t get built to monstrous overcapacity, requiring that every family have one car per driver (some ‘freedom’ that turns out to be).

  • avatar
    long126mike

    You could never build enough rail track to match what the roads can do.

    If one is living in the 19th Century, that is a tenable position to hold.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Detroit, Pontiac, Chicago?

    Pontiac? This makes no sense to me. But if Government is making the decisions, then we must be happy with it!

    Term limits, please…

    Why not put a hub in Toledo and service Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Columbus, and maybe even Cincinnatti? You could build much of the rail out along the 80/90 corridor, and use I-75 for the Detroit and Cinci legs. Or do it right, and build the damned thing right on top of the 80/90 median. Then you can go as fast as you damned well please.

    But this is all pie-in-the-sky. There are three big problems with city-to-city rail.

    First, ever since the train bombings in England, France, and Spain, you have to assume that trains and rails are potential terrorist targets. It’s decidedly more difficult to protect hundreds or thousands of miles of unattended track than it is to protect planes at their arrival and departure points. Until we begin thinking about enacting the death penalty for terrorist activity, I don’t think rail systems will be safe enough to justify using. Terrorists have a high repeat-offender rate, and I want to see this stopped. Until then, I’d rather drive my GPS-equipped car.

    Second, what cities do you serve, and who do you leave off the list? Why not add Flint, Ann Arbor, and Lansing to my idea? Don’t the people in Marquette deserve a fast way to get to Cleveland to see the game?

    The third big problem is that once you get your passengers to the city, then they have to actually get to their final destinations. What do they do, rent a car? If they rode a subsidized train in the first place, they’re probably not financially prepared for renting a car. So do we subsidize this too?

    Aaah, but there’s the already-subsidized bus. Let’s talk about that. Public local transportation is often too inconvenient (a lot of cities’ buses all go downtown before going where you REALLY need to go), not to mention the dodgy neighborhoods in which you typically find local bus stations, making it inconvenient or downright unsafe for out-of-towners.

    And the alternative, having multiple in-city stops (for the fast train), is not appealing either. Who wants to delay getting the hell OUT of Detroit by another 45 minutes waiting for the people in Troy, then Warren, then downtown Detroit, then Wyandotte or some such place to get on the damned train and stow their strollers, motorbikes, and televisions (you would not believe what people feel they must bring with them when they travel).

    My point is, you can subsidize this train all you want with money stolen from the taxpayer. And you can justify it by making claims (which may be true) that “all transportation is subsidized to some extent, so we might as well proceed,” but that doesn’t make it something other than theft, which is what it is when I pay for something I don’t want, need, use, or choose. Nor does it make this a good idea.

    The ONLY way subsidized high-speed, long range trains will succeed is when they’re made so bad that average people won’t use them because they’re too scared or too dignified to subject themselves to the time, inconvenience, and potential dangers.

    Don’t get me wrong; I like the idea of mass-transit. But this is not a utopia, and evidence to date shows that we just don’t do it well when the government gets involved. Therefore, I vote “no” to using public money for this!

    Instead, I say let’s encourage private industry to come up with a solution to serve the cities that would turn a profit, and let’s let them serve their customer and grow themselves like a business.


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