Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Devil Is In The Details

One of the biggest problems with any kind of changes (whether upgrades, downgrades, or innovations) in our Passenger Rail system - we're talking North America here - is the complexity of our system.  I'm not talking about the rail network, nor am I talking about engineering.  I'm talking about all of the ways that we go about financing and managing passenger rail.

For most of you who are interested in this subject, it's not necessary to go through a comprehensive list.  Let me just list a few.
1.  Private enterprise and private enterprise with public funding.  Example:  ARR
2.  Public funding, public oversight, private operators.  Narrow gauge in the west, NM Railrunner
3.  Public funding, public oversight, public operators.  Chicago Metra
4.  Public funding, state ownership, private operator.  California
The list goes on.

The point that I'm getting around to making is that entrenched complexity is hard to overcome.  There is an inertia to it.

Now, life must go on, and it would be a disaster to shut down, say, a commuter railroad, even for a week, to reorganize it.  So how do we get from where we are to where we need to be?

One idea is a reset button.  It's not as far fetched as you think, and it's been proposed for more than just passenger rail.  A reset button law could solve a mortgage crisis, for instance.  A reset button law could erase the political establishment that some blame for the decline of America.  A reset button law could erase years of bad law and the results of unnecessary litigation that imposes costs on everything we do.

The trouble is, first we have to decide on what the default state of things should be.  Now, in government in The United State of America, we have The Constitution.  That's the default state, and everything else in government is window dressing.

Back to Passenger Rail.  Default state could be defined as X number of routes serving Y number of population centers with a total population of Z, a defined train frequency, and defined services.  What does it take to have that, and would any private enterprise be willing to run it?  On a specific date, press the reset button and Amtrak goes away.  There's more to it than that, of course, but you get the idea.

This is not a new idea.  In the Judeo-Christian Bible, Deuteronomy prescribes the seven-year cycle of forgiveness and even the "default state" in which the debtor is to begin the next cycle.

Just thinking, but the devil is in the details.

©2011 - C. A. Turek -