Thursday, June 29, 2006

Greasing The Wheels

In another shocking development, the Albuquerque Journal, with its June 28 issue, reports that the Democratic Governor's Association, lead by Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, and his own campaign committee received a total of $57,500 from BNSF Railway. The Guv you luv to laugh at doesn't see a conflict, even though New Mexico was just sold a railroad for $75 million by the BNSF. For those of you without a calculator, that's not even a 1% rebate.

So we would have to say that the fifty-seven grand is more like some grease in the journal box (no reflection on the Albuquerque Journal) for progress in the matter of getting Passenger Rail going in New Mexico. If the Guv and his politicos (that's right, there's no e in politicos) had really wanted kickbacks, the percentages would have been a lot higher and the amount going straight to the Democrat party would have been a lot less.

This just gives some exposure to a fact of life: The political wheels must be greased if there is to be money spent on Passenger Rail.

This may be something that escapes a Republican. Because Democrats have historically been the masters of graft and the use of questionable funds to get things done, it doesn't mean that Republicans can't learn the art. Mr. Richardson is the most republican Democrat we can bring to mind, and that says something for consensus.

At the risk of repeating The Fact that sits like the elephant in the living room that nobody wants to admit is there: If we want to improve, expand, and modernize Passenger Rail, there will have to be some political Give and some political Take. That's why we can't really criticize Bill Richardson for doing it to get the job done. (And when we say modernize, we don't mean new "streamliners." That's art deco post modernism bullshit from the 1930s. It's great for nostalgia, and we love nostalgia, but it doesn't get the job done, either.)

Here's the Give: Amtrak (or whatever entity succeeds it), in order to grow long-distance Passenger Rail, needs a subsidy from Congress and from the States. Congress needs to stop shutting out the states and Give them matching funds. The States need to stop whining about shrinking budgets and Give the people local, intrastate services that need to be established.

Here's the Take: Take away some of the shortsighted money that is thrown into roads every year. Take away some of the money from air transport. The system is shrinking anyway, so stop trying to grow it by throwing Federal dollars at it. Put about 60 percent of this new-old money into Passenger Rail at the local level, and put the rest into upgrading the freight rail system. (These two aren't necessarily going to remain the same if this plan works.)

Now here's the political aspect: This money becomes local money, spent with local contractors, benefiting local business and local politicians. (We are even open to a little graft here.) When the intrastate systems get big enough, they join the Federal system (perhaps still called Amtrak). The Federal System should have only one function when we eventually reach this point, and that function is to run interstate trains on long distance routes that both coordinate with and take advantage of the successful and already fully funded intrastate infrastructure. (Too many words starting with "I" in that sentence.)

We guess you could say we are thinking along the lines of States Rights and reverting to the way the Framers envisioned the Federal system, then applying it to Passenger Rail.

Okay, here's the Challenge: We believe that in these blogs we have thrown out three or four alternate ways of looking at funding for long- and short-distance passenger rail. We have also presented our opinion on a number of proposals to expand or modify existing plans. If you want to help push any of these ideas through the political process, or know somebody who can help do that, please write us.

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





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