I wish we had a better rail system in America. I do. The guy writing this enjoys the comfort of not having to drive, of not sitting traffic, and of so many other things that an expanded rail system would bring us. I am a desperate supporter of the high speed rail project between Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. It would bring so many benefits from traffic reduction, to accident reduction, to decreased spending on I-35, and many others.
That said, I also understand that I am in the minority. Just because I would love to see it, and just because I would use and support it, does not mean that everyone else will.
But then again, I am not a government, nor do I believe in pushing people into doing what I want them to do.
This is relevant because the BI-PARTISAN Infrastructure bill still includes $66 Billion for Amtrak and another $39 Billion for local municipality rail (with some sliced off for busses). That means that $105 Billion of the $1 Trillion bill (or roughly 10%) will go to passenger rail services.
Yes you read that right, not freight rails which are commonly used and are a good investment, these funds are going to attempt to help PASSENGER rail which on a national scale has NEVER achieved even a single month of profitability since the creation of Amtrak by Congress in 1971.
They've tried everything from hiring outside CEOs to having European consultants help. In the end, none of it has worked. Passenger rail is either too slow, too expense, or most often both.
Why ride Amtrak when you can often purchase a plane ticket for less money (when traveling long distance) and get there in half the time or less? There are less delays, less mechanical issues, and more accessibility.
The government thinks that it can change this however. But what is their solution?
Well, according to the change in mission statement that comes with this bill, they will now operate, "in order to meet the intercity passenger rail needs of the United States."
This is important because it used to say, "...to achieve a performance level sufficient to justify expending public money"
In other words, they've pulled out the need to turn a profit. Just like the government. If you cannot achieve the objective, rather than making the changes needed to meet it, just eliminate the goal entirely.
Except that I would argue that that does not meet the criteria for "achieving" that goal.
Clearly they differ.
But what does that mean for us? Outside of more foreign debt to build rail systems that will largely be unused.
Well, for starters is means a lot more immanent domain claims to private property in cities and lands in the country. You have to lay those rail lines somewhere and many times they do not simply run across only public lands. This has long been the argument against a high speed rail system in Texas, and to be fair, as much as I want it to happen, it is a completely rational and legal argument.
Yet the government is attempting to double down on its mistake, and this time with more money that it has spent on Amtrak in its ENTIRE history. $66 BILLION in new investment of public money into a public railway service that HAS NOT ONCE turned a profit. I mean, that's insane by any business logic whatsoever.
Then you have $39 Billion for local municipality rails. Except, I thought Amtrak was supposed to run those now? At least according to their new mandate. So in essence, once they take over, it will effectively be a $105 Billion investment in Amtrak.
Tell me, honestly, Conservative, Liberal, or Independent, when is the last time you HONESTLY considered riding Amtrak, and if you did do it, did it actually make fiscal sense or did you do it because you either want to support rails or because you love trains?
You see these kinds of questions really are at the heart of this insanity.
If I were a CEO and I approached the board and said, "I know that our customers do not like this product line, and I know that it has not been profitable even once in 50 years, but I believe that if we just make more of it available, we will finally achieve a profit" I would be summarily fired after being laughed out of the board room.
But that does not happen in government, and that is a big part of the problem.
Just because I want something to be so does not mean that it will be. If it did, then the Chicago Bears would never lose a game again and my bank account would be so full that I could walk around the city handing out money to anyone who needed it.
Yet that kind of lunacy is exactly what is going on here.
By the way, this is the WATERED DOWN version of the bill that is down from the $3.5 Trillion that they originally wanted to spend. I do not know the exact figures on that, but we know Amtrak lost at least $10 Billion in the cut down and that Paul P. Skoutelas, the chief executive of the American Public Transportation Association said, "It’s a major step in the right direction to be applauded, but losing $10 billion, that could have been extraordinarily helpful to continue this effort to modernize the industry."
"Modernize the industry?" What industry? Industry produces something, which in the end produces profit. This is not an industry, it is a public works project, and a failing one at that.
You want rail to be successful? Here are some clues:
1) Get the speed up. An average aircraft flies at 575 mph while the average Amtrak train moves at 150 mph. Planes go as the crow flies, trains must maneuver around mountains. It is 275 miles from San Antonio to Dallas, this means that a commuter jet would get you there in less than half an hour while a train would take almost two if it went straight without stops. The issue is that it has many stops and takes 8 hours to make that same one way trip. That is a 7.5 hour difference.
2) Get the cost down. A train trip from San Antonio to Dallas is $19, but you have to figure in food costs along the way which are not cheap in their dining cars unless you want to pack a lunch. The half hour flight from San Antonio to Dallas is available for $67. That means that it is only three times more money to save seven hours of travel and the food.
High speed rail could do it for less than $5 per passenger, especially if they had the number of people traveling that they likely would have. That's a difference worth spending an additional 2 hours for (the difference if High Speed Rail is used and not traditional rail).
(By the way, San Antonio to Seattle is $108 for a flight yet $479 for a train in which I also have to ride a bus for part of the trip)
3) Highlight the LUXURIES of rail travel vs. airline travel. If you have never ridden on a train, then you likely do not know that their seats are much larger than those of the coach section of an aircraft. Also, with a train you can stand up and walk whenever you like which also means less DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) issues or concerns. They have a meal car so you can eat WHENEVER you want and not just when the pass those little carts, and they have more than enough bathrooms to be convenient for everyone. Amtrak seems to focus far too much on price, which as we just said is not as competitive as they think, and not on the comforts that might make people choose them.
As you can see, there are things that can change immediately to help the system. Those things however are not what we are talking about in this bill. These above ideas are to help it be more profitable but that is not, however, their goal. They want it to be more convenient for those in the city. Yet increased convenience increases costs, and without an increased ridership it only means more red ink.
Yet they do not care, after all, it is not their money they are spending. That is why they made profit a "bonus" and not an objective.
This is just one part of the spending bill that we should be calling our Senators and Congresspersons to demand that they vote "No" on. Yet, I fear it may be too late. Just more money poured down the drain. More money borrowed from China, Japan, Germany, et al that we will never be able to pay back eventually leading to a war.
All for a rail system that will never be used, as much as I would love for it to happen.
Just because I wish for something does not make it real.
I wish our politicians understood that.