Politics & passenger rail

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jerzyjak

New Member
Because of the nature of passenger rail in the United States Politics plays a huge roll in its existence. I know politics can be a touchy subject so I think it should be in it's own topic so people who do not want to talk about it will not feel uncomfortable, and people who do want to discuss politics and how it relates to rail have a place to voice there opinions in a free and open environment.


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I am here: http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=39.328448,-77.696110
 

muralist0221

Active Member
Unfortunately politics in these times plays a very important role in passenger rail, it shouldn't! When Congress involves itself with Amtrak's dining car menu, one knows something is wrong. Most politicians have an ignorance when it comes to passenger rail, yet they fly in private corporate jets. But, they determine how the masses travel. Would like to pull governmental politics out of travel, but don't know how that would be possible. Having a separate discussion forum might be a good idea, but watch the sparks fly. I am personally not Liberal, Conservative, Socialist nor Libertarian.
 

Pat

Photo Critiques Welcome
Transportation rarely exists without touching some form of government involvement. Subsidies, regulations, public works and military/police protection all span back hundreds of years. Politics is the art and science of government. Where government goes so does politics. As aggravating as politics and politicians can be they are better than the alternatives. Consider Afghanistan and North Korea.

A meaningful discussion on transportation will touch on politics. The question is if the discussion can keep to an articulate debate of the topic without the over simplified party line views. Cut taxes and it’ll be peaches and cream for everyone. Tax the rich and it’ll be a chicken in every pot.

Without subsidy passenger rail in the U.S. would have disappeared by the 60’s. Post World War II travelers wanted the speed of aircraft for long distance travel and the freedom of an automobile for everything else. Government responded with highways and airports. By the 60’s the remaining passenger base couldn’t support a profitable service. Fast forward 40+ years and it’s still the same. The travelling public wants the same thing, cars and airplanes. Passenger rail still doesn’t earn a profit. Regardless how popular an Amtrak corridor is or how vital a commuter service is to a given community, all of them need subsidy in one form or another. As a nation we talk rail but there isn’t much real desire behind it.

jerzyjak, you opened the thread. What’s your view?
 

muralist0221

Active Member
I think your blog about the public preference for air speed or auto freedom is valid- up to now! But the winds of change are blowing. There seems to be a groundswell of anti-airline sentiment. Whether it's the TSA frisking or poor service, the traveling masses are seeking alternatives. When fuel prices escalate, the airlines face an even bleaker future. The price of an airline ticket may become prohibitive. A recent AOL blog asked the question "Are you driving or flying?" There were hundreds of unexpected anti-airline comments. People averred that they would rather drive and lose two days vacation rather than fly. I get many questions from former air travelers about Amtrak. However, given the political climate, it may be too late for Amtrak to capitalize on this situation. Maybe people should just stay home!
 

jerzyjak

New Member
If private industry Designs, Builds, Operates, and Maintains (DBOM) a passenger rail system with no other outside income stream it is sure to fail if the government does it it's to win. When an area gets passenger rail service it makes property values rise it make the area more attractive to new business and for existing business to expand or to relocate to the area all these things generate a stronger revenue string to government and to the private sector.


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I am here: http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=39.328447,-77.696044
 

Ishmael

New Member
Not all passenger service requires a subsidy. In the Northeast Corridor Acela operates at a profit. While the Northeast Regional Service operates at a loss it it also true that people who drive along the parallel I95 receive a very heavy subsidy. This and all Interstates are maintained by a Federal motor fuels tax and the tax is charged on all motor fuel equally even though some people use the Interstates far more than other people. If we put a toll on I95 you would see more people move to Amtrak.
 

TCJim

Handler and Palm Reader
Ask yourself these questions:

What airline has built a major airport?

What highway turns a profit?
 

wigwagfan

Passenger
What airline has built a major airport? What highway turns a profit?
Maybe that's part of the problem; that railroads require massive infrastructure that generally can't be shared with anyone else.

Airlines don't need to build their own airports. A single airport can be shared by dozens and dozens of individual users; furthermore more large commercial airports are actually quite profitable (An inverse question is: Which railroad station requires its users to pay a "Passenger Facility Charge" or a "Security Fee"? Which railroad station requires its trains to pay a "Track fee" each time they occupy or even pass through on a station track?)

Not only is my local airport (Portland International Airport) profitable but it is a bona fide city in its own right - it has (and pays for) its own police and fire departments, water/sewer department, "parks department" (landscaping), street maintenance (both airside and non-airside) and transit system (bus services to remote parking lots and employee parking lots, plus a bus route from the immigration facility to the baggage claim area). Whereas Union Station has to receive "high speed rail funds" to replace the roof and the station still has major structural deficiencies; the rents collected by its tenants barely provide basic day-to-day maintenance; the city of Portland had to build new streets and parking garages for the station. PDX actually subsidizes two other airports AND a maritime operation; the City of Portland is in effect subsidizing Amtrak by giving it a cut-rate train station - and nobody else uses it.

As for highways...ODOT maintains the entire statewide highway system using only gas taxes and other motor vehicle fees. Yes, it's a tax, but it's a tax on those who use the system rather than property taxes which the state doesn't receive; Oregon doesn't have a sales tax and the income tax doesn't go to transportation.
 

Ishmael

New Member
1. Airlines don't build their own airports because the government does it for them and always has. Railroads have always built and paid for their own stations. Even with the taxes levied on airline passengers airports still get subsidies.
2. Did you ever hear of a "Union Station," one shared by more than one railroad company? Today we still have than when Amtrak and a commuter line share a station.
3. You say Oregon state highways make money because they are maintained with gas taxes. Really. And exactly how does the Oregon motor fuels tax related to state highway use? When a person who rarely uses a state highway fills his gas tank is his tax reduced because of his low state highway use? Or is it the same as it is here in New Jersey, even if you never use a state highway you will still be taxed to maintain them and you pay the tax to subsidize large trucks which are what really destroy our highways.
 

muralist0221

Active Member
Glad to see that Portland is an airline paradise where the airport pays its own way. Certainly not the case in K.C. KCI has been a burden on the tax payers for years. The Missouri legislature a few years back bickered with Amtrak over a $300,000 subsidy for K.C. to St. Louis service, while approving $100,000,000 for improvements to Kansas City International. Not exactly sure what they did. The main airport looks the same as it did back in the 70's. A three terminal abomination then, as it is now. Oh yes, they acquired additional land for long term "economy" parking. Eventually, parking revenue will make inroads on the subsidy, maybe by 2030. The airport here is 30 miles from downtown K.C. and as far as 60 miles from the "monied" Johnson County people who are more apt to fly. After the new parking facilty was complete, made the mistake of using it. Had to wait for the small shuttle buses to take us to the main terminal. The first one was filled, so we waited for the second (40 minutes). This, plus the commute to the airport made me glad I left four hours before flight time. We have learned to hire a limo service which is less expensive.

Amtrak service is provided by Union Station, built in 1914, but restored in 1999. It includes a Science Center, exhibits (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls) and movie theater. For years, it lost money because of high utility costs (high ceilings) and mismanagement. The newspaper here reported today that the new administration has turned that around and it is making at least a million in profit. Amtrak is a tenant who probably pays rent.
 

muralist0221

Active Member
Speaking of rail (freight) vs. air, something interesting happened in K.C ten years ago. South of K.C. was an Air Force base called Richards-Gabaur. The government closed the base and dumped it on the city. It was converted to a private airstrip for small planes. The landing fees were lower than Johnson County Executive airport, so it was quite popular. Only problem was it lost a million dollars per year. You have inner city taxpayers subsidizing people who can afford to fly private aircraft.

Enter Kansas City Southern Railroad who offered K.C. $40 million, so that they could create an intermodal facility. The proposal drew the ire of nearby residents or NIMBY (not in my back yard). I guess I didn't blame them. Well, it was finalized and now instead of losing one million per year, the city is the beneficiary of $40 million. The airport workers were also outraged contending that the city didn't do enough to promote the airport. A Libertarian would say that the role of government is not airport promotion.

The North-South corridor from Minnesota through Des Moines, Kansas City and Texas competes with the Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Texas route.
 

TCJim

Handler and Palm Reader
As for highways...ODOT maintains the entire statewide highway system using only gas taxes and other motor vehicle fees. Yes, it's a tax, but it's a tax on those who use the system rather than property taxes which the state doesn't receive; Oregon doesn't have a sales tax and the income tax doesn't go to transportation.
What high cost item can I not purchase, to avoid paying more than I want into the system?

The urban freeways are extremely expensive, and relative to the costs, the users pay less (based on the amount of gas they burn while on those roads) than most rail systems generate in farebox recovery.

Unless those expensive roadways were TOLL Roads.

Rural highway users aren't paying enough for the paved roads they have, since there just aren't enough drivers driving on them. Yes, their roads are comparatively inexpensive in relation to urban freeways, but the ratio is still the same. Maybe close to 30%.

A tax, any tax, used to pay for something that thosed taxed do not either use, or use very infrequently, is a subsidy. The Latin root of the word is:
" from sub "behind, near" (see sub-) + sedere "to sit" (see sedentary).

It was in reference to the taxes needed to support a standing army, even in times when there were no conflicts.

It's not a matter of roads, passenger rail, air travel, or sea travel needing subsidies to survive, it's a matter of having a clear understanding of what the costs and what the perceived benefits are, and whether they're worth it.

If we went to a pure market driven system, you might just see a streetcar/passenger rail renaissance, and the demise of 'freeways'.
 
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Tower 55

Its DGNO. Not Dingo!
2. Did you ever hear of a "Union Station," one shared by more than one railroad company? Today we still have than when Amtrak and a commuter line share a station.
Dallas Union Station was built by the City of Dallas to provide the dozen or so railroads a single station within the city. It served ATSF, B-RI, CBQ, FWD, MKT, MP, KCS(L&A), TP, SLSF, SSW, SP, along with several other very small lines.

Today, the city still owns it, and Amtrak and TRE run on it.

Ft Worth did the same thing.
 

muralist0221

Active Member
This is relative to toll roads which has nothing to do with rail, so forgive me. If there is someone on here from Pennsylvania, they can relate better than I can the story of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This was the first long distance road designed for 100 mph auto travel. That was never realized. Traveled through Pennsylvania many times paying a $14 toll back in the 70's. From what I've been told, the tolls covered the union tollkeepers salary and that was it. You paid this toll and drove on the craters of the moon the whole way. Also, an administrator misapprpriated millions. I drove this distance in 2000 and was slowed down by one construction zone after another. Maybe toll roads are not the be-all-end-all. If this situation has changed, please enlighten me!
 

Ishmael

New Member
RE: Gas Tax and State and Federal Highways.

Generally State and Federal highways are funded with an excise tax levied on motor fuels. This actually results in people who use those roads very little being taxed to provide the roads for other users, mainly truckers who cause almost all of the wear and destruction of highways.

Most roads are municipal and county roads. Those are the roads I and many people do most of our driving on. We pay for these roads through our property taxes. Yet every time we buy gas we are taxed for state highways and for interstate highways and we do very little driving on those highways. And in fact it is heavy trucks that cause those roads to wear out. We are forced to subsidize the trucking industry which is the reason that rail freight cannot compete with truckers.

Before the interstate highway system was built almost all intercity freight was moved by rail. I can perceive no benefits whatsoever to me because I am forced to subsidize a trucking industry that I don't need, don't want and would be better off without.
 

TCJim

Handler and Palm Reader
This is relative to toll roads which has nothing to do with rail, so forgive me. If there is someone on here from Pennsylvania, they can relate better than I can the story of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This was the first long distance road designed for 100 mph auto travel. That was never realized. Traveled through Pennsylvania many times paying a $14 toll back in the 70's. From what I've been told, the tolls covered the union tollkeepers salary and that was it. You paid this toll and drove on the craters of the moon the whole way. Also, an administrator misapprpriated millions. I drove this distance in 2000 and was slowed down by one construction zone after another. Maybe toll roads are not the be-all-end-all. If this situation has changed, please enlighten me!
I understand your point, I grew up in the NY area, same issues, same corruption.

My point is, if roads were run as private enterprises, in competition with the private railroads, then our transportation system would look quite different.

To say that one mode of transportation receiving tax money is different from another mode is a false starting point.

All forms of transportation are getting some sort of subsidy, some more than others.

Roads are NOT paid for by the people who use them, otherwise they'd be privately run, for profit.
 

andrewjonathon

New Member
We are forced to subsidize the trucking industry which is the reason that rail freight cannot compete with truckers.
Although I like to see freight moved by rail, your statement above is not really accurate. It assumes the only difference that determines if freight is moved by rail vs. trucks is the price point.

But clearly it is not just the price that matters or railroads would still control the majority of freight moved by truck. I am not sure at what price point certain commodities would switch back to rail but I sense for some the difference would have to be pretty significant.
 




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