Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Getting Too Conservative

From the very start of this blog, I have taken the position that U.S. Passenger Rail is one of the few exceptions to the conservative free enterprise rule.

Rail is a mode of transportation that has always been too important to the economy and general well being of Americans to allow it solely to free enterprise.  Witness the years that the feds have spent regulating railroads, first with antitrust action, next with the ICC, and now through the STB.  Well, some things are also too important to leave Free Enterprise alone in the same room with.  Passenger Rail is one of those things. 

Unfortunately, instead of alone with Free Enterprise, via Amtrak, we have left Passenger Rail alone in the same room with Government Excess.

Why are there no compromise positions any more?

For two reasons:  1.  Both the right and the left have decided that politics is no longer a system of compromise.  2.  Under the banner of political principle, the voting populace has gone along with them.

Where are the people who can see the Constitution as one giant compromise of many different political points of view?  It is a compromise that worked and that is still working.  A similar compromise for Passenger Rail would require free enterprise to invest in Passenger Rail just as much as it would require government to give free enterprise a helping hand.  The way I see it now, too much of the funding for Passenger Rail goes to government entities to spend.  What is spent on private enterprise – and there appears to be a lot of it vying for the right to build new HSR infrastructure – is spent on government connected companies working under government specifications.  This stifles innovation.

I am no more demanding that the government stop using tax money for transportation subsidies any more than I am asking private enterprise to fund new rail routes without tax money subsidies.  I am hoping for that grand comprise – embodied by our Constitution – that will get us there in new and innovative ways.  Without the political radicalism.

©2010 – C. A. Turek – mistertrains@gmail.com

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I've recently been reading two books that have everything to do with Passenger Rail but nothing to do with Passenger Rail in the 21st century.  The first of these is a book called Super by Jim Lehrer.  Yeah, the same Lehrer who is a news commentator.  It's a novel that takes place aboard the Super Chief and environs in the 1950s.  I got an opportunity to board this train in Chicago a couple of times, and the book brings back the memories of the old low-level consists, before the high-level era and the addition chair cars to it.

What does this have to do with soup?  Let me tell you about the other book first.

The second book is Appetite for America by Stephen Fried.  It's a history of the Fred Harvey restaurant chain and how Mr. Harvey built the first "not fast food but good food fast" establishments in America - with the help of the Santa Fe.  Now to the soup.

Soup is made good or bad by what you throw into it.  But soup is never ever made with just one ingredient.  It's not even one main ingredient with a little spice, but many main ingredients worked in and cooked until the soup is just right.

Soup in something the Santa Fe had right.  Witness how the high-level concept became an Amtrak standard where the system could handle it.  Witness its ability to put together luxury trains that treated the passenger well and fed them better.  Fred Harvey was the food standard on the Santa Fe. 

In the 21st century, our ingredients for Passenger Rail soup are (in no particular order):  stimulus money (lots), antique equipment, plans for bit and pieces of a national high-speed rail system, plans to upgrade existing tracks to "higher speeds," performance contracts the the freight railroads are choking on, and a soupcon of new regular-speed long-distance routes.  Does anyone like paper soup?  Hope so, because 90% of our soup for the 21st century is paper.  Some of it stimulus money that hasn't been printed yet.  The dash of spice (the new routes) isn't going to help.

Are we going to choke on our soup like the freight railroads?

©2010 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com