Trains and Reality

Bob Ellis makes a good point with regard to high-speed trains here in the US:

[I]f it isn’t profitable for private interests to sink their money into it, why should the American taxpayer be forced to cough up the loot for a losing proposition–like they have for years to pay for Amtrak?

Amtrak has provided transportation for millions, while losing tens of millions of dollars in the process. In 2008, Amtrak gave each passenger $32 for riding the train. No? You are right, somebody got that money, but it was not the passengers. Regardless of who got the money, we the taxpayers got stuck paying for the really big tickets.

The Antiplanner says that regardless of federal backing, the current high-speed rail programs may not make it out of the station. He closes with this:

If we ever do build high-speed rail lines, the lack of revenue to keep them going means that they would be perennially out of order. It is one thing to let an escalator break down, but if high-speed rail tracks are in poor shape, the trains won’t operate at high speeds anymore, which means there isn’t much point in having them at all.

Anything is possible in politics. But high-speed rail would have had a much better chance if it had been proposed during the boom years of the 1990s rather than the bust years of 2009-2010. Given financial deficits all around, it is hard to see why the country should embark on a giant new megaproject whose costs are so great and benefits so small.

Or, to put it in very blunt terms, “Why be stupid?”

UPDATE 8:07 PM

Steven Hayward brings us his view on why liberals love the rails:

I have a pet theory that is partly–but only partly–tongue-in-cheek. The fascination with rail transit is really an expression of liberalism’s inner authoritarianism, and a plot to undermine Rush Limbaugh. Consider: if you’re in your car, the bureaucrats don’t know where you’re going, or what time you’re going there. And you’re probably going to listen to AM talk radio. But if you’re riding rail transit, the bureaucrats know your destination, your speed, and the time you are traveling. And you won’t be listening to talk radio; more likely you’ll be reading a liberal newspaper instead. Makes more sense than the idea that more passenger rail transit will actually work.