Sunday, August 09, 2009

Railroads and The Economy

It's been awhile. I just noticed that my last post was on July 5, and here it is August 9. With the crappy economy, I have less time to write anything, and that includes blog posts. Having to work harder and take less time off to make ends meet (or to keep a job) has kept me away from the keyboard too long.

It got me thinking first about Passenger Rail and the economy. How does it change things?

Economic stimulus has been unleashed for Amtrak, for HSR, and for urban Passenger Rail in general. Is this good? I think so. Capitalizing rail transport in any form is a good idea. It's a job creator that won't go away, because the new rails and routes created won't go away. It's good for economic growth. People able to move from one place to another, economically and without damaging the enviroment, for business or pleasure, can only be good for the economy.

In the short term, with the economy slow, sluggish, or just in the crapper, Amtrak revenue and ridership in most lanes will be down. It's a good time to plan for the future. But people are saving money by using public transportation, and this includes light rail, commuter rail, and rail transit. That should be good in the short term, as heavily subsidized rail in the long term will be needing tax dollars, and more riders will make for more voters willing to open their wallets and purses.

Amtrak is in disarray and needs good leadership right now. I see signs that this is occurring with the Amtrak board, but don't hold your breath. With lots of money to spend, it is going to have to be spent right. The long lead time for new equipment is a bummer, but we have to resist spending it where it won't make a permanent good impression on the rail traveler. And Amtrak has a history of finding more ways to trip over its own rails than the average quasi-government agency. (The Postal Service is next in line.) Finally unfettered by Congress and administrations that had it chained to a post and flogged it every afternoon, Amtrak may just dance around for awhile like the Tin Woodman looking for oil before it finds its balance.

Those of you who have read this blog since the start know that I am a political conservative, but one who believes that there are certain things that government should subsidize. Passenger Rail is one of those things. Let's hope Passenger Rail can come out of this recession looking stronger and better than ever. With the right leadership at all levels, and cooperation from private enterprises that should recognize its importance to a vital economy, it will.

©2009 - C. A. Turek -
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