Thursday, September 07, 2006

The reason for Amtrak's woes

The Daily Press (Newport News, VA) printed the following letter of mine on Amtrak today.

I laughed when I read Thomas G. Tingle's "What we can do to save Amtrak" and George Tsirimokos's "Amtrak must do better to thrive," Aug. 31. Tingle argued for more money and more local political activism to keep Amtrak running, while Tsirimokos argued that Amtrak must redouble its efforts in customer service and scheduling. Neither put a finger on one overlooked aspect of our nationalized passenger train system: that virtually the whole private rail system, freight and passenger, was sacrificed to the trucking industry lobby ages ago.

It was gross haulage by the private railroads that underwrote the costs of the passenger service. As that haulage was siphoned off by the trucking industry - whose rigs and semis, by the way, are the culprits that chew up the interstates in need of taxpayer-funded repairs - the revenue that underwrote the passenger lines dwindled. Contributing to the decline of passenger rail service, also, were the growth of airlines and special political treatment for interstate bus lines.

I remember traveling across the country many times in the 1960s on private passenger trains, complete with clean, comfortable coaches, dining cars, faster running trains and on-time arrivals and departures. But labor laws, federal regulation and special interest lobbies killed all that off. The solution was to nationalize the passenger rail system and emulate the heavily subsidized European public railroads. Passenger service declined abysmally, capital equipment depreciated, and tracks deteriorated, as did the rolling stock. Cost, operating and investment economies always go out the window when government takes over an industry.

Pumping more money into a government-made boondoggle isn't going to make it more valuable or efficient, just more costly.

Edward Cline

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