Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Amtrak Problem

Passenger rail subsidies make sense in small parts of the United States: Washington to Boston for sure, and perhaps Southeastern Florida, Chicago to Detroit, and LA to San Diego (sorry for being provincial).

Yet Amtrak continues to run far-flung rail lines that make no sense economically. The losses from these lines undermine Amtrak's ability to take on the projects it really needs--like a new tunnel through Baltimore.

Why does it do it? It's web site gives the answer: it runs through 255 Congressional Districts. Amtrak must always run through at least 218 Congressional Districts, whether it makes any sense or not.

Such is the fundemental problem with nationally owned companies.


Anonymous said...

Excellent point. This problem is even worse with highways, which run through all 435 districts.

We wind up building highways in exurban and rural areas to make otherwise rather worthless land marginally more valuable, so people can build houses with a 15-year design life on them, while being unable to successfully repair and replace bridges like the one in Minneapolis which collapsed several years back, which is crucial to a metropolitan economy for a major city.

Worse yet, none of these roads make money! I can't remember the last time a private company went out, bought a bunch of land, and tolled it to pay for the construction.

I'd much rather pay a toll on every road I drove on than use the dysfunctional system we have today.

Anonymous said...

And also the problem with local government owned municipal bus services. In my state, by law, the local bus service is a government owned, and union-run, local monopoly. The consequence is that bus routes are selected for political purposes, not for moving the largest numbers of "customers". The biggest political purpose is to chose bus routes to encourage denser development in certain locations - but note carefully which powerful real estate interests financially benefit by having their property rezoned for dense development. The result is bus routes serve financial interests today and not the overall needs of commuters.

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