Sunday, November 25, 2007

Holiday Greetings

Looks like - once again - our legislators do not intend to give us any presents this Holiday Season. We would not call the end-of-year Amtrak budget a present.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could board a train for a holiday visit?

We don't know how many of the readers of this blog can do that now. We are guessing that most of our readers, being train enthusiasts of one kind or another, are living near a source of Passenger Rail transportation. We would also guess that many people who don't have a source of Passenger Rail transport are not at all enthusiastic about Passenger Rail and probably don't read this blog.

Wouldn't it be nice if you lived in, oh, say Kansas City, and could make a weekend rail trip to Miami with as many schedule choices as you would have by air? (We found 51 air schedules that would do this during a single random weekend in December 2007.) Could or would Passenger Rail ever be able to top this? It is a pity that it can't.

When we had a real Passenger Rail network, not Amtrak, one could board connecting trains (locals) in between the major cities and make connections that made sense.

More and more, none of Amtrak makes sense. Will our legislators ever learn?

Holiday Greetings.

©2007 - C. A. Turek -

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 -

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Don't Do That

We just wanted to expand a little on the Don Phillips opinion piece in the current (December 2007) Trains. The gist is that it may no longer be as much fun to be a railfan.

It got us thinking: Who or what doesn't want railroading to be fun any more?

Don names some names, the TSA and law enforcement since 9-11 for two. But who is really responsible for telling us not to like trains?

Let's start with the axiom: Anything that is enjoyable can be enjoyed too much and is therefore potentially bad for you. It is behind just about every recent prohibition and/or restriction of behavior of the past ten years.

Applied to Passenger Rail, this works in insidious ways. If you enjoy riding trains too much, government will have to post too many subsidies in the next budget. If you enjoy the scenery too much, you may travel by rail to too many national parks and dispoil the landscape. If you stand on the platform and watch too many trains, you may get in an accident on the platform. If you photograph too many trains, one of your photographs may land in the hands of terrorists.

So it comes back down the the risk averse society again. Fun requires risk, and our government just doesn't want us to take the risk any more. And as this becomes the norm, you will find fewer people ready to take the risk.

Trains are no fun when you can't see, feel, hear and touch them. Passenger Rail can be more fun when it is more than a transportation tool. But you are not supposed to use tools improperly.

The sooner our leaders stop treating us like children, the sooner we can start to have fun with trains again.

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Please read Don Phillips' articles, they are a wake-up call.

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Christopher sent some interesting ideas in his recent comments. Common ground is that gigantic projects require lots and lots of money. It is money that we are squandering elsewhere. It is also a wake-up call. Even the builders of Penn Station feared before the project was over that nothing like as monumental a civic project would ever be affordable again. We certainly hope they were wrong!

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -