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May 12, 2011


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I read the above blog. I then started having a variety of thoughts bounce around in my head. That's when the whole thing derailed.

We need mass transit. We need rail.

The money we need for such infrastructure is currently being flushed down the toilet of corrupt contractors and corrupt politicians in Iraq, Afganistan and Pakistan. Just about enough money to give every family in America their own private rail car.

I'm not even going to get into the headwind from the opposing interests you already mentioned, oil, car, trucking, etc.

As those thoughts bounced around my head,a big open space by the way, the complications are overwhelming.

The model train industry is doing very well. We may need to leave it at that.

If you've ever been on the Grand Canyon railroad or the Camp Verde railroad, then you noticed the average age of the passengers is approximately 83. Could a younger A.D.D. generation sit on a train for very long? It might kill them.

Liberals love trains and conservatives hate them (except when they ride them, or fetishize them as in the new movie Atlas Shrugged). I don't think any of this is a mystery. Trains are superior transportation in densely populated areas where cars are often inconvenient. Ergo, if liberals love density, cities, and sustainability, they will, in the words of George Will, make it part of "their goal of diminishing Americans' individualism in order to make them amenable to collectivism". Who woulda thunk! Cars, on the other hand, are individualized pods of freedom, sticking it to the liberals who want to collectivize people by taking away their guns and herding them into cities where they'll be forced to watch gay sex on PBS. http://www.newsweek.com/2011/02/27/high-speed-to-insolvency.html#

How did George Will, a man sensitized to exquisite distinctions by years of reading Leo Strauss, evolve into the kind of zealot one finds at The Club for Growth or The Arizona Republic editorial board?

Shortly after Will's Newsweek screed, Paul Krugman was traveling to Washington DC via the Amtrak 161 when he noted among his fellow passengers, one George Will. http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/03/diminished-individualism-watch/

"Picking winners" is the conservative denunciation about doing useful things in the name of progress, something we used to do regularly. We now know this is very wrong since only the marketplace should decide things. Therefore, if people want to drive cars all day from one end of nowhere to the other, not only should we not criticize their choices, we should also facilitate them by building freeways (e.g., Loop 303) before they're even needed! You see, the public already loves freeways so we're just validating the winner in advance, not picking it.

For a nation at war with reality, logic, the environment, and "liberalism", Amtrak is bad news. Much better to let the market decide everything and if we don't like it, we can buy our own railroad. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Interesting that a Stanford prof. would be arguing that the transcontinental railroad was a bad idea considering that the place he works probably wouldn't be there if the transcontinental railroad hadn't been built. I wonder if he rode the CalTrain to work this morning. (Probably not.) I'd love to see a link to some of what he's written.

Personally, I think that vastly improved rail service is the only thing that will save us from the transportation melt-down we're facing in the not at all distant future.

Azrebel, the Grand Canyon and Camp Verde routes are lovely runs that should be leisurely, but trains can go faster. Much faster. It's just a matter of spending enough money on it to make it happen. It needs to happen.

The Recipe for Conservative Government:

Step 1: Politicians starve, privatize, and sabotage the government.

Step 2: When government programs inevitably disappoint, politicians point out how government is inherently awful.

Step 3: The electorate votes for anti-government candidates.

Repeat steps 1-3. Add right-wing media machine, if desired.

I agree, doMyMath, however are you talking about building rail here in the lower 48 or are you talking about rail in the 51st and 52st states? Iraq and Afghanistan?

Speaking of doing my math, $3 trillion would build 12,000,000 miles of rail line. Bridges and tunnels would be extra.

My Dad was a railroader and I grew up riding the Rocky Mountain Rocket. With those memories, I've put a Canadian rail trip on my bucket list and wonder if their system has any best (or better) practice examples in the package?
During my retail years, I rode Amtrak between NY and DC from the 70's through the 90's . . talk about "wildly successful"! Hard to believe the body politic can be so myopic and easily led on stuff like what Jon calls "the externalities of sprawl".

Happy Birthday, Amtrak.

""They shouldn't be providing any commuter service; that should be provided by the private sector," says Mica, who serves as chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. "Amtrak should give up the Northeast Corridor and let someone else do the construction, development, financing and operating. In fact, all the routes should be operated by a private operator.""

Dream on. The privatization fetish persists, especially if it involves selling off vital public infrastructure and getting fleeced.

"But from a Republican perspective, it's important to note that Amtrak covers 76 percent of its operating costs through farebox revenue, something "no other railroad in the United States does," says Boardman. In addition, Amtrak's operating subsidy is used for its 15 long-distance routes, and that subsidy — $434 million in FY2010 — is lower now than it's been in years, he says.

"And where do we operate? Through red states. It's the isolated, rural areas that no longer have aviation services or bus services, and Amtrak is the only lifeline to transportation they have," he says. "Whether you're a Republican or Democrat, you have to understand that this is the United States and Amtrak is a critical element.""

Over $400m/year to basically connect Republican hinterlands. And I thought this was all socialism.

On a rail trip through Colorado to CA a few years ago, a very attractive acquaintance shared her body-length tattoo with me. I don't think that I could have enjoyed that experience on American Airlines. :)

Vive le chemin de fer!

"Personally, I think that vastly improved rail service is the only thing that will save us from the transportation melt-down we're facing in the not at all distant future." - doYourMath

Obviously, you are unfamiliar with the Pony Express! :)

Well ... I have played the ponies, but I guess that's not quite the same thing.

That George Will is a money-grubbing hypocrit is old news. He should stick to baseball commentary. He's lost it on everything else.

There is some irony in the history of railroad political power. The railroads were the industry to hate in the 1800's and their influence over local governments was tremendous and sometimes corrupt. It would be interesting to study how the oil, auto and airline industries eclipsed the political power of the railroads.

"Obviously, you are unfamiliar with the Pony Express!"

In 10 years, we'll all be riding horses to work, and mustangs will be the new Mustangs.


Awesome point, and worth exploring.

Just for the record, I agree with Jon and others about the vast difference in externalities between rail and air/freeway. All transportation is subsidized, and rail is by far the best buy for the commons.

Regarding horses, Mustangs!
Before the religious nuts, enforcing god at spear point and that brought domesticated animals,got here, the folks that were already here got along just fine on foot.You know, Jared Diamond's Ancestors. Time to watch one of my favorite movies, "Quest For Fire" a great movie with lots of sex and violence.

I guess the fact that even a blog about railroads is sucking the air out of the room is not a good sign for railroading's future.

Looks like we're back to flying cars, cars that drive themselves, bio-fuel cars, solar cars, natural gas cars, coal powered cars, hydrogen cars, compressed air cars, in other words, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars.

I've always enjoyed cars that have horns that sound like train whistles. (That's progress, right?)

Azrebel, the future of railroads awaits a couple of developments. One is Peak Oil's definitive arrival, and the other is the demographic revolution that will force the Republican Party to compete in the area of ideas instead of race baiting and culture-war drivel. I think we're about 10 years out from the latter and I suspect we're closer than that for Peak Oil.

It's frustrating to know that the future of this nation is being held hostage by extremists and nihilists. I talk to friends about this and wonder whether we shouldn't simply say it out loud. I know Republicans personally and they don't see themselves as bad people or wacky. But that doesn't relieve them of responsibility. Either you hold your party accountable for its irresponsible rhetoric and policy nonsense or you're simply abetting them.

As it stands, the code of conduct for political discussions demands that we take crazy people seriously. And in so doing, we further shift the fulcrum of our debate away from the center to an extreme. When I read a Doug MacEachern in The Arizona Republic, I know that he's smarter than his painfully stupid opinions. But he's part of a system that rewards extremism and marginalizes pragmatism. His team is currently winning for the reason that its narrative is easy to understand. And in 10 years, there may not be enough time or remaining resources to rescue this nation. We're not going to tax-cut our way to paradise or let the marketplace substitute its "solutions" for honest public-policy debate. But as long as we believe in those shibboleths, we're politically disabled.

I agree with all you say soleri.

Do you think the FOX republicans will pull their party back in line on the same day the "moderate" Muslims pull their radical brothers back in line?

That would be quite a day !!!!

I'm realy afraid to guess what a "shibboleth" is. Is it one of those big mammals that roamed the southwest more than 10,000 years ago?

I vaguely remember a joke that started out, "A shibboleth, a giant sloth and a caveman walked into a bar......".

"We're not going to tax-cut our way to paradise" - soleri

The cravat crowd with the 4-story super yachts across the bay here disagree with you. They're sipping vintage champagne, smoking cigars, and laughing while they toast Rush.

Can we learn anything useful from the Canadian rail system?

Via Rail Canada has done little better than Amtrak. Some provincial governments have done ok at funding commuter service. But Canada is sparsely populated and not the best example for the US. Western Europe is better, with proven systems and technology.

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