Never let a crisis go to waste. We had an Amtrak train wreck near Philadelphia this week and liberal commentators didn’t waste a second blaming Republicans for not spending enough money on passenger rail.
As Jonah Goldberg noted, Americans in the NorthEast are fascinated by passenger rail.
Silly. There’s this obsession, particularly on the East Coast, with moving lots of Americans around by train. The sophisticated Europeans do that, we should too. There’s so much know-nothingism at work here. In America we move stuff (i.e., freight) by rail and people by road (and plane). In Europe they do it the other way around.
Jonah notes that Barack Obama’s financial wizard hero – Warren Buffett – is a huge investor in rail systems. It’s his railroad that moves all the oil sands from Canada/North Dakota to refineries in the US in the absence of the Keystone pipeline. Driving the point home is this from a European publication, The Economist.
EUROPEANS have long pitied Americans for their rotten passenger trains. But when it comes to moving goods America has a well-kept freight network that is the most cost-effective in the world. It is, however, a capital-intensive business. Since the Staggers Act of 1980 deregulated the sector (see chart below), rail companies have invested about 17% of their revenues in their networks.
The ONLY place passenger rail has a glimmer of hope of working in the US is in the Boston-Washington corridor. There are lots of people, and lots of people traveling city-to-city. Even with that, Amtrak is a huge money loser year after year. They even lose money on food service with $15 hamburgers.
So the twits at MSNBC can whine about our lack of “infrastructure spending” but in fact, profitable railroads – those moving freight – are spending huge sums on infrastructure, where it works.
The twits are screaming about China spending hundreds of billions on rail, but they don’t bother to note that we already have twice as much track in the US as China has.
There are two critical points worth mentioning about this accident and passenger rail in particular.
First, the problem that caused the accident wasn’t a lack of infrastructure spending. The area where the accident occurred is a 50mph zone for trains. The Amtrak train was clipping along at nearly twice that speed. BOOM.
Second, if anybody in the government really cared about passenger rail, or Amtrak, they would simply give Amtrak to a private railroad. Let the people who know how to make money by rail run it. And make a profit on it. And reinvest in infrastructure.
Problem solved. Getting the government more involved with more taxpayer money (or loans from the Chinese) will just make the problem worse.
Amtrak Train 188 accelerated before it derailed
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