Thursday, April 06, 2006

Living Without Railroads

Let's start with the many.

We think it is safe to say that many people in the U. S. think they could live without railroads. It is even safe to say that many could. There are regions of the country where there are virtually no railroads, and never have been, and the people get along just fine. Historically, these were areas where self-sufficiency was a valued character trait and where travel occurred rarely. Today, these are areas where you don't live if you don't drive a motor vehicle and if you are not prepared to wait out the weather for one reason or another.

Logically, the number of people who today actually can live without railroads is probably much lower than the number of people who think they can live without railroads. The latter number probably includes some people in Congress, though the former number assuredly does not. (Self-sufficiency is a trait most politicians have only when you ask them if they have it.)

Let's move on to the few.

There are a few of us who know what life would be like in this country without the freight railroads, so living without them does not appear to be an option. Fortunately, there are also many who think that freight railroads are a necessary evil, or a silent part of our infrastructure, like sanitary sewers. So it is not likely we will have to live without them anytime soon.

There are also a few of us who believe that this country cannot do without passenger railroads, even knowing that passenger rail in all of its many forms has never proven to be a profitable enterprise. (The exception to this is tourist rail, which has proven over and over again that it has a life of its own.) There are a few of us who see the bleak future as commercial air travel goes through the same crises once reserved for the private passenger trains. There will only be a few of us able to travel around this country once the airlines are reduced to a government entity. (Perhap AmAir flying from the nearest AmPort by flapping its AmWing.) There won't be enough passenger rail cars left on wheels to go around. (Will Congress one day mandate that AmAir make a profit? Perhaps by stopping at airports along the way to pick up containers of Parcel Post?)

We see two routes past the same problem for passenger rail. On the one, Federal and State government cannot turn its back on passenger rail. Our country must have a viable system when a crisis strikes. On the other, private enterprise must not desert the concept of passenger rail, either. Will it ever earn a profit? We doubt it, if kept in its present form. But if the Few in Congress ever decide to level the playing field, we just might invest in passenger rail stocks. We won't say that, given the level of subsidy found in air travel, passenger rail could be profitable today. But tomorrow?

Write to Congress, and tell them you are one of the few who believe in passenger rail.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com
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