Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

If you want something done properly, you’ve got to do it yourself

Posted in America, Business, Freight, Infrastructure, Politics by Chairman Pip on 29 September 2010

I don’t think anyone would disagree that, when it comes to rail travel (or at least inter-city rail travel) the United States is a freight oriented nation. While the suburban and metro rail operators around the major cities work fine, Amtrak has a poor reputation. Admittedly, it does not own any of the infrastructure it operates on, and so has to have its services scheduled around the freight trains of the Class I railroads on whose track it runs. And this is the first fundamental problem of running trains – the big freight operators own the railway infrastructure, unlike the system operated in the European Union, where infrastructure and operations have to be separated. Because of this, “Big Rail” makes it exceptionally difficult for any improvements in passenger rail. But, the other problem is this apparent overarching suspician of the train by significant sections of the population. We’ve coming up to November, and the next round of midterm elections. Since the election of Barack Obama, and the announcement of the stimulus package, which included a significant amount of federal funding for transport projects, among which was $8bn for the railways. But, given the nature of the American psyche, this sort of government intervention, even in a period of economic downturn, is evidence of “creeping socialism”, and thus to be fought tooth and nail. Thirty-eight individual state governerships are up for election in November, and the “Tea Party” movement are confident of getting a significant number of their Republican supporters into state houses, where they will have control over the state funding that is required for major projects (both state and federal agencies fund significant infrastructure projects), with the result that such projects would fail. Scott Walker, the Republican candidate in the Wisconsin election, has said that the stimulus money from the federal government should be used to repair the state’s roads before a penny is spent on improving the railways, while Meg Whitman, who is running in California, has been open in her criticism of the state’s planned high speed rail network. The irony is that her predecessor as the Republican candidate (and the current Governor of California), Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been a significant advocate of improvement of the railways. While we know that rail infrastructure is expensive (the East Side Access project in New York is now estimated at $6.3bn), why is it so difficult to see that getting cars off the road is a good thing? If for no other reason than it makes the journeys of those people that need to use the road quicker. I’m by no means a socialist, and I abhor the kind of big government that we’ve had in the UK for the last few years. But even I, slightly right of centre though I may be, can see the value in the government using public money to stimulate growth in the economy. Indeed, had it not been for the fact that the previous government (being a Labour government) completely wasted the country’s prosperity, I would have been championing their economic stimulus proposals in the recession. If businesses can’t obtain money to stimulate their own growth, then the government has to spend to do so. It’s a shame that the Tea Party is so caught up in its own hype (and its American, leave us alone mentality) that it can’t see the problem, and the solutions that are being proposed.

“Tea Party Republicans Want to Snuff Obama’s High Speed Rail, Big Rail Might Beat Them To The Kill”

Maybe we should have some coffee instead

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