Friday, November 25, 2011

Serious Business - Proposition 5

The longer we wait, the longer it will take to get things right.  Am I talking about Passenger Rail?  You bet!

As I write this, Amtrak is probably going to finish the year with its first reduction in ridership in a long time.  That is in part due to the weather.  No joke, it's not the fault of a politician or bureaucrat.  It's also in part because Amtrak, like other railroads, has to take time out to upgrade and maintain.  Upgrades will help in the long run, but not in the short.  The reason is that there simply are no alternate routes for Amtrak trains.  Some have to be shut down, others converted to bus routes until the trackwork or storm cleanup is done.

The United States no longer has enough alternate rail routes to just re-route a passenger train without having serious impact on freight deliveries.  Those spare routes that are out there are just too unsafe to run an Amtrak train.  For the first time in history, freight rail is challenging the laws that established Amtrak and Amtrak's right to use their private rail systems.  I don't know if they will succeed, because many politicians with demagogue it and point to the fat-cat railroads as just bad public-private partners.

I dislike this description of how government wants to involve private enterprise in something it can't get right on its own.  I have used the term, but it's like the term privatize.  It's a bad way to characterize a situation where the credit goes to the government and anything bad is the fault of the private part of the equation.  When you come down to it, all industry is a public-private partnership.  But the public part of the partnership should only have three jobs:  1.  Provide protection of individual property rights though a stable system of government and national defense where business can be assured that it's ownership of property will not be challenged or usurped by the government or challenged by an enemy.  2. Provide a stable economy and monetary system where commerce can proceed without fear that the government will, by caprice, devalue investments made by private parties who expect a reasonable return on their investments.  3.  Where an industry is deemed a necessity to maintaining the other two situations, provide the monetary means to assure that the private side will not have to take all the risk to keep the government stable.

So we need more passenger route miles, and we need them right away, or Amtrak will just erode more.  If these route miles come from private investment, then, as in 3. above, the government should be willing to step in and provide some capital.  However, as I have said before, it shouldn't be off the table to just dissolve Amtrak and structure something else - something better.  Amtrak, after all, has pissed off enough commuter agencies that is is losing their contracts to private enterprise.  That is good, because the competitors for those operating contracts are private enterprise.

Where is the money for that federal funding going to come from?  From all of us.  But there are other ways than through taxes.  Deregulation of industry could raise almost as much tax money as would significant increases in taxes on high income entities.  Deregulation of freight rail has turned it into an industrial powerhouse.

Again, I ask the question.  Do we have the political will?

©2011 - C. A. Turek -
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