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Trains and transportation subsidies


In 2008, the Passenger Investment and Improvement Act was passed and signed into law. An unfortunate feature of this law was a provision to sunset Amtrak subsidies for shorter routes (those under 750 miles from endpoint to endpoint), requiring the states (most of which already cover a part of the subsidy) to cover the costs of those routes. This means that federal funding for Amtrak going forward will focus more on subsidies for the less useful, less efficient long distance routes, many of which offer an expensive sort of “train cruise” experience for niche market of wealthy train aficionados*and little use for anyone else. Meanwhile, efficient services with times already competitive with driving between (for example) Chicago/Milwaukee, Portland/Seattle, Sacramento/Bay Area, and Albany/New York will soon cost those states more money to support. The good news is several of these trains have been steadily increasing their farebox recovery rates and as such the needed subsidy has been declining. This is true systemwide, the needed subsidy is as low as its been since 1975. It’s possible that if this law were to go into effect in 5-10 years rather than now, it might not even be necessary for some of these routes, as 100% farebox recovery is not implausible. But as it’s hitting now, in a time of austere state budgets, even the trivial subsidies currently needed might be a touch battle. Some thoughts on Cascades’ future from the always wonderful Seattle Transit Blog.

This law is a very small example of the truism that Republicans claim government doesn’t work, and set out to prove it. It will focus Amtrak’s subsidies on long distance routes like the “Robert Byrd limited,” AKA the Cardinal, a train that meanders three times a week from New York to Chicago in a cool 30 hours, with stops in approximately 437 small towns in West Virginia, while passing through a major population center, Cincinnati, in the dead of night–in other words, the sort of line that’s always going to rely on a hefty government subsidy to exist. This law is designed not so much to save Amtrak money, but to make Amtrak look more like what Republicans claim it looks like.

I was inspired to write this post when I stumbled across this excellent post:

A new report from the Tax Foundation shows 50.7 percent of America’s road spending comes from gas taxes, tolls, and other fees levied on drivers. The other 49.3 percent? Well, that comes from general tax dollars, just like education and health care. The way we spend on roads has nothing to do with the free market, or even how much people use roads.

“Nationwide in 2010, state and local governments raised $37 billion in motor fuel taxes and $12 billion in tolls and non-fuel taxes, but spent $155 billion on highways,” writes the Tax Foundation’s Joseph Henchman. Another $28 billion of that $155 billion comes from revenue from the federal gas tax.

Even more interesting is to compare roads to Amtrak, a favorite target of self-styled fiscal conservatives in Congress. Amtrak recovers about 85 percent of its operating costs from tickets — a relative bargain compared to other modes. Even accounting for capital costs, Amtrak — which operates mostly on privately owned tracks — covers 69 percent of its total costs through ticket prices and other fees to users.

I was immediately annoyed with myself, because while I know that the driving equivalent of user fees (gas taxes and tolls) don’t come close to paying for roads, and that Amtrak’s subsidies are modest and declining, but I never but these two things together in my mind; a certain sort of right-wing narrative about trains had colonized a part of my mind; even though I knew better, I hadn’t been able to put those facts together to make this clear and obvious point–drivers are subsidized at a higher rate than train passengers, and this is true even before we consider the public health and environmental externalities from driving.

In other transit news, a toll is being considered for I-90 across Lake Washington. Residents of Mercer Island (per capita income, $124,000; median home value, over $1 million, lacking many basic services a town of 20K very rich people might have due largely to extraordinarily restrictive zoning laws) compare this development with turning their home into “Alcatraz.”

*To be clear, I’m not deriding said aficionados.  If I were rich I would definitely be one of these people. One of these years, when I plan far enough in the future to get a decent room rate, I’m going to take the Empire Builder to Seattle. But our transit subsidies shouldn’t prioritize such things.

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  • Western Dave

    I took the autotrain from Virginia to Florida with my family to visit in-laws. It was great. Same cost as flying but I didn’t have to rent a car when I got there. Growing up on Long Island with LIRR, subways, etc. etc. we were always reminded how much driving cost compared to trains/transit.

    • djw

      The Autotrain seems like a wildly implausible idea, but it has one of the better farebox recovery rates of the long distance trains.

      • TribalistMeathead

        I think it’s geared more towards full-on snowbirds than people heading to Disney World for a week, and when you compare the cost of the Auto Train to, at worst, the cost of keeping a second car in FL that you only use when you’re down there (which isn’t entirely unheard of) or, at best, the amount of money you’d spend on gas, food and motels heading down there, the wear and tear on your car, the aggravation of fighting traffic on 95 for several hundred miles, it’s not that bad of a deal.

        • cpinva

          from va to jacksonville, FL is an overnight trip, straight down 95S. the major cost is gas. driving at night avoids the vast majority of traffic, reducing wear & tear on the vehicle and yourself. going from va to sanibel island, don’t go through orlando, to get to 75S, cut west at jacksonville (I10, i think). i foolishly allowed my wife to talk me into going through orlando, both ways, the first time we drove down there, it was nearly as bad as n.va traffic on 95. never again!

          • spencer

            Or take I-10 to US 301 south to I-75 around Gainesville, if you want to see some of what rural Florida has to offer.

            Spoiler alert: You probably don’t.

        • Western Dave

          Shockingly, there is no way to get from the train station at the end of the Autotrain to Disney World except private cab. The House of Mouse will happily escort you from airport to park and your baggage will be in your room when you get there without you ever picking it up, but the train? Forget it. And yeah, snowbirds and their relatives seemed to be the primary market.

          • Andy

            Shockingly, there is no way to get from the train station at the end of the Autotrain to Disney World except private cab

            Why would there be? Everyone has their car with them!

        • Dana

          I’d guess your right about this, but if you’ve gotten as far south as Lorton from The North, you’ve already fought your way through the worst of the traffic. Which speaks to an opportunity for Amtrak to get more business by establishing a more northern terminus for the autotrain which might take better advantage of the ever-growing number of Canadians making their way south now that their dollars are worth something.

          • TribalistMeathead

            The terminus is in Lorton because the auto carriers are too tall to go any further north (and probably because Lorton was farmland when they started the service in the 70s.). There’s occasional talk of a second AT service (usually Chicago to Florida), but it never gets off the ground.

            And there’s plenty of holiday traffic on 95 south of DC, plus rush-hour traffic in the small and medium cities on the way.

  • c u n d gulag

    Sadly, since a trains carbon footprint is much lower than a passenger jets, with the high rates, and no real high-speed rail service to speak of, like in other civilized countries, resulting in train trips taking much, much longer than plance trips, only afficionado’s can afford the money and time to use those longer trips.

    We would all be better off environmentally if those long train trips were cheaper and quicker, due to more subsidization, and higher speed.

    • Linnaeus

      I’d love to take a higher-speed version of the Empire Builder to go visit my family.

      • JoyfulA

        I took family by overnight train from Pennsylvania to Charleston to meet their prospective in-laws. I thought it was lovely; everybody else thought the trip was too bumpy after we went from Amtrak rails to freight rails around Richmond.

    • UserGoogol

      Making high speed rail from Chicago to Portland would really be very unprecedented compared to other civilized countries. The trip from Chicago to Portland is an extremely long path through a whole lot of empty nothing. That is not the sort of route which gets high speed rail, anywhere. The longest high speed rail lines in the world are quite a bit shorter than that and through much denser land.

      • UserGoogol

        Which isn’t to say it couldn’t be done, but it would be a very unique project to deal with a very unique situation. Where America falls behind is our inability to create high speed rail in the parts where people actually live, not our inability to create high speed rail to cut across the vast underpopulated middle of our country.

        • spencer

          That’s two “very unique”s in a single comment.

          I’m afraid your English Language User’s License is in jeopardy.

          • UserGoogol

            I was intentionally aiming for stylistic repetition for the sake of emphasizing how distinct the United States’ situation is.

            Also, intentionally aiming is a perfectly valid pleonasm.

            • spencer


              • Pestilence

                Pleonasm. It’s one of those geological ages, between the Jurassic and the Trilateral Commission, I think.

                • Hogan

                  I thought it was a kind of cancer.

                • rea

                  Isn’t it a kind of dinosaur orgasm?

      • Stan Gable

        If you made a train like that fast enough to be practical, how much of an environmental hit would you take? Especially considering that the railway has to cut through some pretty tough areas in the Rockies.

      • ajay

        The longest high speed rail lines in the world are quite a bit shorter than that

        Well, that’s partly because most high speed rail lines are in smaller countries. There aren’t many countries where you could lay out 2000 miles of high-speed line, unless you wanted to lay one that went all the way round France three and a half times or something.

        But I agree that there wouldn’t be a lot of point. Even high speed rail is going to take much longer than a plane to go from Chicago to Portland; they should be concentrating on the under-800-mile sectors where they can clearly beat air travel.

        • Fake Irishman

          Right: The key is to get those middle distance trips. NY-DC is already very successful with something approaching high-speed service (I believe it has more than 2/3 of the rail-air market. Higher-speed initiatives funded via ARRA and $2.5 billion in 2010 high-speed rail grants will help eliminate bottlenecks and raise speeds to 110 mph from 79 mph on the Chicago-St. Louis and Detroit-Chicago routes. It won’t compete with air, but it will make them viable alternatives to car travel. Chicago-MilWaukee-Madison-Twin Cities would have been a great route, but a certain union-busting highway-loving governor killed that project. And we won’t even talk about the true high-speed rail project all set to go in Florida that Governor Voldemort spiked despite the fact that the Feds were funding the full thing AND the operators pledged to over any operating losses on. Don’t get me started.

    • Murc

      Sadly, since a trains carbon footprint is much lower than a passenger jets, with the high rates, and no real high-speed rail service to speak of, like in other civilized countries, resulting in train trips taking much, much longer than plance trips

      Longer than flying? Try longer than DRIVING.

      I live in Rochester, NY. This city, much like Scott’s own Albany, was once one of the big hubs of the good old New York Central. We were a major shipping and train hub, in fact.

      I ought to be able to get on a train here and end up in New York, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, or Toronto in a reasonable amount of time. But taking a train to any of those locations is longer than driving. In some cases by several orders of magnitude.

      • John

        I’ve gone New York to Syracuse, and it seems like there’s usually some massive delay where the train just sits still for several hours while a freight train goes by. Passenger rail ought to have priority on the tracks.

        • NonyNony

          The relevant bit as to why that isn’t the case is in the post above:

          Amtrak — which operates mostly on privately owned tracks

          Amtrak pays to use tracks that are not owned by them. Those tracks are privately owned because in the 1800s the US government basically gave the land to the railroad companies to build tracks on.

          And despite that, rail is still more cost effective (if unfortunately not speedy) than driving is.

          • John

            Yeah, I know that the problem is track ownership. However, it seems to me that, even with such private ownership, it should be possible for Amtrak to negotiate for track priority by paying the freight companies more. That seems like it would be better for everyone.

            • mds

              it should be possible for Amtrak to negotiate for track priority by paying the freight companies more.

              Given this post involves the issue of cuts in subsidies to a chronically funding-starved Amtrak, I would like to add my wish for a train car full of ponies on every route.

              (More seriously, it would be difficult for them to come up with a rate that would make it sufficiently worthwhile for freight companies to delay multiple freight shipments for one Amtrak train.)

              • John

                I don’t think we can really know that, unless we have a very good sense of the economics of the freight business. Certainly, if Amtrak wants anyone to take them outside the Northeast Corridor, they’re going to need to find some way to get around this problem.

                • Fake Irishman

                  Technically, passenger trains are supposed to have right of way, which is part of the deal of Amtrak relieving rail carriers of their federal responsibility to provide passenger service. But in the case of a tie, the freight train always wins. And when Amtrak is running late due to track issues, etc, then all bets are off.

                • Fake Irishman

                  see mds’ comment below, which explains better what I was attempting to say.

        • JSC_ltd

          Priority is determined by track ownership. Amtrak doesn’t own any of the track on which it operates, at least out here in the West. It travels on UP or BNSF tracks.

          Since most (if not all) of the rail out here would never have been laid without significant federal subsidies provided to the railroad companies, this seems inequitable.

          • ploeg

            Amtrak owns the Northeast Corridor line and that’s it AFAIK. So Acela trains zip through while the local commuter lines poke along.

            As an aside, this was why opposition to the Hudson tunnel expansion was asinine when NJ was on the hook for about 1/3 of the cost plus any overruns. Even if there were massive overruns, NJ Transit would get most of the benefit from the increased capacity, which in turn would result in more people living and paying taxes in NJ.

          • Linnaeus

            I was under the impression that under federal law, priority on the track goes to passenger rail, i.e., Amtrak even if the tracks are privately owned.

            • mds

              No, federal law guarantees access, and is supposed to protect Amtrak from being delayed too much, but the latter is all too often honored in the breach.

        • Gepap

          What we need is separate tracks, not for passenger and freight trains to be getting in each other’s way.

          Shared tracks is another reason for the lack of high speed rail in the US.

      • Richard

        Same here in Los Angeles. I often need to go to San Diego for business. But it takes me 2 1/2 hours to drive there and over three hours to take the train (assuming no delays which is a big assumption to make). And since I usually need to go there for a court appearance that starts at 8:30 or 9 and since the first train arrives in San Diego at 9:30, I generally can’t use it. Its a lovely train trip with views of the ocean for much of the way but its really only useful for pleasure trips and not work. And the rails aren’t capable of being used by a high speed train.

        We are in the process of starting to build a high speed train from LA to SF but the costs involved (which seem to increase daily) and the turf wars about where it should go make me very dubious that this will ever get done.

        • The Dark Avenger

          There has been some progress lately, despite the Fresno Bee catering to the fools who think that anything not benefiting the farmers is unGodly and socialistic.

          The rail authority approved its Merced-Fresno section last May, but postponed approving details of the Chowchilla connector options until more studies could be completed. That environmental work is now being done as part of the environmental work for the San Jose-Merced section of the rail route.

          In their suit, Chowchilla leaders asserted that by approving the Merced-Fresno route, the rail authority violated the California Environmental Quality Act by limiting the potential for a full environmental analysis of all of the route alternatives.

          As many as 14 alternatives had been under consideration for the Chowchilla connection on the Merced-Fresno section of the route. Now, only six remain in contention, rail officials said last week. Rail planners said they could select one option for a detailed environmental review by April.

          In the settlement documents, the rail authority recognizes Chowchilla’s fears about two specific routes: An east-west connection along Avenue 24, and a north-south line that runs along Highway 99 and the Union Pacific freight tracks.

          • xxy

            Allowing parts of government to sue other parts of government has got to be one of the dumbest and most wasteful political ideas implemented in this country. It’s on the level of the Electoral College but in practical terms is far more damaging.

          • Fake Irishman

            A lot of the “cost inflation” is due to a longer construction table forced by the drying up of federal funds for high-speed rail capital projects (thanks GOP House) and the accounting switch from current dollars to year-of-construction dollars. The high-speed rail authority just got the go-ahead to start purchasing property along the segment of the route from Fresno toward Bakersfield. You should see actual construction starting this summer. The big thing is to get the Bakersfield-LA rail gap closed for passenger rail. Do that, and it’s only a matter of time.

      • mds

        Longer than flying? Try longer than DRIVING.

        Um, it’s something like 9-10 hours between Rochester and Chicago, assuming one drives straight through, which not everyone chooses to do. The Lakeshore Limited takes about twelve hours, assuming it manages to avoid living up to its old moniker, “Late-for-sure Limited.” Even then, it’s usually within a couple of hours. Sadly, the other direction has tended to be more delayed, if one is unfortunate enough to get a busier night of Chicago-area freight shipments.

        Now, we certainly drove Rochester -> Cleveland or Rochester -> Toronto, for the reason you indicate. But Rochester -> Chicago is definitely pushing at the drive/fly divide where even Amtrak is okay.

        • Murc

          The fact that a train over that distance is even within spitting distance of the driving time speaks badly of our passenger rail, though. It’s 600 miles, a train should blow the doors off any driver obeying the speed limit, especially considering the traffic you’re likely to encounter in Buffalo and Cleveland.

          That said, you’re basically correct. And I’m even willing to concede that Rochester – > Toronto has a major international border crossing happening.

          But good lord, try traveling eastbound from Western New York by train. It takes for-fucking-ever to get to Albany, NYC, Boston, much longer than it should.

          Although I will also concede that the travel time is possibly excused by the fact you arrive in lower Manhattan with no car to encumber you.

  • rea

    Jeez, if only Al Capone had realized that he could have gotten out of Alcatraz by paying a $4 toll . . .

    • Stan Gable

      There’s a long history of the WA department of transportation bending over for Mercer Island. How many other places do you know that have their own dedicated freeway lane?

  • John Protevi

    Have I told you lately what a bad governor Bobby Jindal is?


    A proposed passenger rail link between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that has been opposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal would provide positive economic and social benefits to justify the public subsidy needed for its operations, according to an independent evaluation commissioned by the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission and the Louisiana transportation department.

    • djw

      Yep. That bastard Kasich killed the stimulus funded CIN-DAY-COL-CLE train, just as I was moving to Dayton. It wasn’t going to be high-speed or anything, based on the initial funding, but for my purposes, HS isn’t (always) necessary to make rail useful, since you can work on a train and you can’t work while driving.

      • Fake Irishman

        I’m from Cleveland, my parents were cursing that boneheaded move to the skies. Kasich also killed state funding for a streetcar in Cinncinati, delaying (but not killing) that project. But he found $83 million for brand new freeway bypass around the City of Portsmouth (pop 20,000)

        • Fake Irishman

          My sister lives in Wisconsin near Scott Walker’s $1.7 billion project that (untirely unnecessarily) expands the Zoo interchange near Milwaukee. Of course, $100 million for a Milwaukee streetcar was beyond the pale.

    • Rob

      Walker’s 1st act was to kill a high speed line from Chicago to Minneapolis going through Wisconsin. And that caused a train car manufacturer to leave the state. So Jindal’s a piker.

  • Njorl

    Don’t forget the de facto subsidy to driving within our defense budget. The money we spend in the Middle East is to keep oil flowing so that it stays cheap. Some significant fraction of $700 billion dollars should also be considered a subsidy to driving.

    • John Protevi

      Haven’t read this yet, but it looks good: http://www.versobooks.com/books/1020-carbon-democracy

      Oil is a curse, it is often said, that condemns the countries producing it to an existence defined by war, corruption and enormous inequality. Carbon Democracy tells a more complex story, arguing that no nation escapes the political consequences of our collective dependence on oil. It shapes the body politic both in regions such as the Middle East, which rely upon revenues from oil production, and in the places that have the greatest demand for energy.

      • Dave

        Sounds like a whooole bunch of “No shit, Sherlock” got together for a party there.

  • Dirty Davey

    I’ve always maintained that Amtrak should be able to run without subsidy at the same time I-95 does.

  • TribalistMeathead

    I still think it’s high time the Northeast Corridor was spun off and privatized. There’s no reason why the cheapest advanced-purchase fare from DC to NYC should cost twice as much as Megabus when the train trip is, at times, only 15-30 minutes faster than the bus.

    • John

      What times are those? Just from Philly to DC, which I take all the time, the slower (non-Acela Express) train takes just 1:55 and the Megabus usually takes 3:30 – when it isn’t horribly delayed for unclear reasons.

      Looking at New York to DC, it’s 2:45 on the Acela, 3:15 on the Regional, and 4:30 on the Megabus.

      That’s not to say that Amtrak isn’t absurdly expensive – the price differential is typically much worse than you say. Megabus New York to DC is about $25 each way even if you’re buying for the next day; Amtrak is at least $82 one way, and way more if you don’t book it way in advance.

      • John

        I’d add that Amtrak is a far, far superior experience to Megabus, and obviously ought to cost more. Even if it was only 30 minutes quicker and cost twice as much, I’d be happy to pay $50-$80 instead of $25-$40 for a round trip from Philly to DC. The problem is that it actually costs at least $100, and more like $170 if you don’t get your ticket weeks in advance.

      • TribalistMeathead

        “Looking at New York to DC, it’s 2:45 on the Acela, 3:15 on the Regional, and 4:30 on the Megabus.”

        Pretty sure non-stop Megabus trips are scheduled for 4:15, and if you’re lucky enough not to hit traffic, I’ve made it in 3:45.

        “That’s not to say that Amtrak isn’t absurdly expensive – the price differential is typically much worse than you say.”

        Yes, hence my statement “the cheapest advanced-purchase fare.” The cheapest fare you could pay from DC to NYC is $98 r/t, but it’s been rare that I’ve paid less than $150 or $200, and no, it’s not worth the extra hundred bucks for the extra legroom, the reclining seat and the bar car.

        • JBL

          “it’s not worth the extra hundred bucks for the extra legroom, the reclining seat and the bar car.” Do you really think that your personal preferences of this nature should guide public policy on the scale you’re talking about?

          • Njorl

            TribalistMeathead’s personal experience seems to me to be one iota better than whatever basis Amtrak is currently using to set fares.

          • daveNYC

            Yep. Overpriced and not exceptionally fast means less customers. Doesn’t matter if you’ve got an extensive rail network if nobody uses it.

            • Fake Irishman

              right — but the NE corridor is nearing capacity. Why not charge as much as the market will bear and still get a full train, especially if everyone is carping about how your agency constantly needs subsidies for its other routes

              • daveNYC

                I’m down with Amtrak charging what the market will bear, but last time I looked into train fares, the train cost about $100 more than a plane ticket to get to Boston, and this was right before Thanksgiving. That’s pretty messed up.

    • NonyNony

      Please explain the mechanism by which “privatizing” the Northeast corridor is going to reduce fare purchases. As part of that, please explain exactly what you mean by “privatizing”.

      One thing that could be done to reduce fares is to adding more trains to the schedule – increasing the number of tickets that they can sell to drive down the average price of a ticket. To add more trains you need more time on the rails. Rails are owned by the railroad companies who prioritize freight over passengers because shipping a car of freight gets them more money than shipping a car of passengers. To pay the railroad companies what you need to pay to get them to let passenger cars run on their rails instead of freight, you’d need to offer them more than what they’re getting by moving freight. I don’t see how a private company is going to be in a position to get more from the rail companies when they need to turn a profit if Amtrak, which doesn’t need to show a profit, is insufficient with a subsidy.

      This is, in fact, the entire reason why the passenger train network is subsidized and not private. It’s pretty much the same market forces that have caused State Farm and other insurance companies to no longer carry flood insurance.

      • Nathan Williams

        The Northeast Corridor is currently owned by Amtrak and by some state transportation entities, not by freight railroads. The freight that runs on it pays Amtrak, not the other way around.

        • NonyNony

          Ah, that’s right. I had completely forgotten about that little socialistic anomaly.

          I’ll have to think about whether that changes anything or if being wrong here is in fact “central to my point”.

        • Njorl

          It still might be in their interest to prioritize freight. You want to avoid acceleration and deceleration with freight trains. That’s where almost all of the fuel is burned. Rolling is nearly free.

          Passenger trains are much more capable of and efficient at acceleration, for obvious reasons.

      • John

        You don’t really need more trains – much of the same effect could be had by having longer trains, no?

        • TribalistMeathead

          But then you’re talking about either a) rebuilding train station platforms to accommodate longer trains or b) doing what many long-distance trains do now and stopping at the same station 2 or 3 times to let all the passengers off, which adds time to the trip. Plus increasing frequency is better when you’re competing with bus companies that, at times, run busses between DC and NYC every 15 minutes.

          • Njorl

            You could set aside specific cars at either end of the train for use at smaller stations.

            For example, assume a train from DC to NY:
            Cars at the rear of the train will not be available for Wilmington. Cars at the front of the train will not be available for Trenton. Anyone who wants to go from Wilmington to Trenton would need to be in one of the middle cars. As long as the train isn’t twice as long as the shortest station, you can get by.

            DC, Philadelphia, NY would probably have large enough stations for the whole train.

            Note: I don’t actually have any info on lengths of stations; this is just an illustration of the method.

    • at times

      Well, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

      The ability to avoid peak hour road traffic is one of the core advantages of rail.

    • Hogan

      Great idea. We can call it “Penn Central.”

      • Murc

        Or go even further back, the good old Pennsy. Penn Central didn’t actually exist for very long compared to the two companies that formed it.

        • Hogan

          And Penn Central was formed to solve the problem of those two companies failing. So there you go.

          Has anyone ever made a profit providing passenger rail service?

          • TribalistMeathead

            Nah, passenger rail was a loss leader for the freight railroads from the start.

            But they seem to have found a way to make it work in the UK.

  • DrDick

    Yet another example of the “penny wise, pound foolish” insanity we have come to expect from our congress critters. It continually fascinates me that they are always delighted to subsidaize roads and airlines, but not rail (which should be the most efficient long distance cargo transport).

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      Because Ayn Rand told them all about the EVILS of rail travel!

      Oh, wait…

      • Stan Gable

        One thing I wonder about Rand was whether she was genuinely ignorant of hidden subsidies to industrial companies or intentionally pretended they didn’t exist. I mean, Atlas Shrugged was written in the 1950s, so how could she be unaware that things like aircraft manufacturers and railway owners were massively subsidized during the war and afterwards?

        • DrDick

          They still are, at least indirectly.

          • Stan Gable

            Yeah, but it’s a special level of idiocy to pretend this wasn’t going on in the immediate aftermath of WW2. “Hey gee, I wonder where all these airplanes came from?”

        • BigHank53

          Given Rand’s astounding ignorance of manufacturing processes and the manner in which businesses actually operate, I think it’s safe to say that she was very careful about what she learned and what she didn’t.

          Remember the end of Atlas Shrugged, where Dagny is burbling about setting up a rail line to service a mine in Galt’s Gulch? For what market, Dagny? Your customer base is dead.

          • Jameson Quinn

            By the end, if you’re not skipping entire pages at a time…

        • Pestilence

          With Rand, it’s always safe to assume BOTH stupid AND evil.

  • CaptBackslap

    Is there actually a zoo on Mercer Island?

  • TribalistMeathead

    The Northeast Corridor is owned by Amtrak, not the freight railroads, so it can run as many trains as it pleases (and does, in fact, run more services during peak travel times, though they have to resort to using commuter rail equipment because of a lack of equipment). The real constraint in the number of trains run by Amtrak is the lack of equipment to run as many trains as it wants to run (and the public wants). Additional equipment seems to be on its way at last, but the whole affair would’ve taken a lot less time if Amtrak didn’t have to go to Congress begging for money to purchase the additional equipment.

  • Alan Tomlinson

    What I have never understood is why taxpayers continue to subsidize the trucking industry.

    Cars do not damage roadways.

    Heavy trucks do so much damage to roadways that automobile traffic is not a factor in estimating the lifespan of a roadway. All roadway damage–every crack and pothole–is caused by heavy trucks.


    Alan Tomlinson

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      One word: Lobbists.

      AAA is a lobbying flyweight compared to Teamsters or trucking companies, and that’s grossly overestimating the size of flies.

      • Alan Tomlinson

        Truckers(the ATA) yes, the Teamsters, not so much. And AAA supports higher road spending. They have never said anything about this topic.


        Alan Tomlinson

      • cpinva

        i am always amused, when i see a sign on a truck in front of me, that claims it pays X dollars, in road taxes (whatever the hell those are). this sounds impressive, until you factor in the XX dollars in road damage that truck causes

    • xxy

      Because bowing to trucking companies and every other company that makes money off subsidized trucking pays much, much more than Doing The Right Thing? Roads don’t have lobbyists. They’re owned by the government.

    • Steve LaBonne

      Preach it. I live in a small city whose main thoroughfares are infested with semis on their way to the nearest highway. They chew up the streets something awful and contribute not a penny to the city’s budget for fixing them.

      • Passenger rail gets all the attention, but shifting a few % of the nation’s freight from trucks to rail cars would be a huge fiscal, environmental, and safety boon.

        • Fake Irishman

          That’s what the TIGER program realized. The program is a competitive grant process in which experts from all over the department of transportation leave their silos, get together and award grants based on overall effectiveness. For the ARRA, the three largest grants went to freight-rail projects that will clean up the silly-string rail system around Chicago (and this will help Amtrak as well) and allow for double stacking containers on Appalachian railroads by raising bridges. The net result is a lot more freight, more on-time freight, thousands fewer trucks ripping up our roads and tens of millions fewer tons of CO2 going into the air annually. The program is still there — small at $500 million, but doing a lot of good work still.

          See http://www.dot.gov/sites/dot.dev/files/docs/Tiger_I_Awards.pdf

        • Any chance at getting freight rail service to Manhattan, ever? It just amazes me that everything has to come onto the island over road bridges. Maybe I’m just sore after being stuck in GWB traffic on a Saturday night for four hours due to construction one time, but I think reducing truck traffic there would be quite nice to do.

  • Last Patroon

    One nitpick. You mean New York-Rensselaer. When you arrive, you still have a problem called the Hudson River to solve before you’re in Albany.

  • Dennis Orphen

    Do they still call Mercer Island “Poverty Rock”? Also, wouldn’t a toll help keep the hoi polloi off the island? Any oppostion to a toll by residents of the island smells a a little bit like “astroturf” to me but as Tug McGraw once said, “I never smoked it”.

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