Sunday, November 18, 2007


We often hear arguments against government subsidy for Passenger Rail. The recent effort to refund Amtrak is a good example. The opponents of funding Amtrak point to the fact that Amtrak has never made a dollar for the government. Imagine that.

With the exception of government owned toll roads, has a highway ever made a dollar for the government? We mean really. You can argue that any plus in the highway trust fund is the equivalent of making money for the government. But is is really? We say no, because it is really only a surplus of taxes and user fees, it is not a profit. If you were to try to run a profit and loss analysis on any single stretch of non-toll road, you would not get a profit.

On the other side of the coin, imagine no government subsidies for anything. Private enterprise owns everything. We are experimenting with this in some states and the jury is still out as to whether a profit can be made. It will only be a profit if it is a toll road business. Otherwise the private enterprise's profit is just coming from the tax dollar just as medicaid contractors make their money from taxes paid into the medicare fund.

What if there were no government payments? Roads would be owned by trucking companies, for sure. They are the only businesses vested enough to want to carry the overhead. The airlines would own the air traffic system. And would anything be a system? It would be much like what the railroads had before standardization.

Imagine driving where you came to the end of a roadway owned by one owner, and you had to wait in line to pay the fee to get onto the roadway of another. But would that second roadway be of the same quality as the first? No, because there would be competition between the businesses and you may also find that the traffic rules, speed limits and safety appliances were different. The private owner would use rules of the road that brought him the most profit.

But there are laws, you say? That would mean a subsidy, even only if the government spent the money to standardize the laws, it's a subsidy.

So don't tell Mister Trains that Passenger Rail should not be subsidized. It is just as vital to our economy and to our security as is any other mode of transport. (With the possible exception of donkey-back.) And it is well past time that we make the decision to do it right.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -
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