Friday, July 15, 2005

Narrow Minded Idiocy

I'm going to write today about a subject that I am very sensative about, Americas' railroads. I've made mention of them in a post some time ago, but in todays opinion section there was a full column dedicated to the insane ramblings of an Opt Ed writer. This writer was writing about funding for Amtrak and railroads in general. He stated that by the government funding Amtrak they were essentially throwing billions of tax dollars away as railroads were the biggest waste of money anyone could invest in, particualarly the government. In his words, sinking more money into Amtrak is not economically justifyable, and cannot be justified with any argument.

I strongly disagree. One needs to do a good bit of research to route out the entire picture about Americas railroadds, and what really needs to be done. As usual, this is an area, research, where Liberals fail miserably. One thing that really ticked me off was the insinuation that railroads are a waste of money and inefficient economically. Pure crap. Well, lets disect that and see what the truth really is on that matter. Currently, and sadly, America's railroad infastructure is fairly fractured. This happened because of several things happening over a long period of time. Commonly the excuse that is given is that the advent of the automobile and cheaper air travel costs precipitated the decline of passenger railroading. This is only partially true. If one looks at the over all picture, it shows a horse of a different color. In their beginning, railroads did enjoy government subsidies and land grants which helped them to grow rapidly. But in 1887 when the regulatory entity ICC was created, things started to change. From that point onward, the railroads were harshly regulated. So much so that they found it difficult to make a profit. Railroads have a rather lopsided business model which requires a large expenditure in plant and equipment, so revenues must remain on the high side to accomodate these expenses or the railroad will fail. By the time the Railroad revitalization act was put into place in 1976 it was already way way too late to turn the tide as Americas railroads were already in ruins. Further, back in circa 1920's the railroads also had to contend with new competition from other transportation methods coming onto the scene. This along with unchanged and unfair ICC regulations made the situation worse. When the airlines and trucking industries were first being formed, they were also heavily subsidised by the federal government. Railroads by this time recieved no such funding. They did, as mentioned earlier, recieve high taxes on revenues, plant and equipment, and rediculous ICC regulation however. Highways and road construction were also very heavily funded by our government. This was particularly evident during the Eisenhower administration who signed off on the interstate highways act which basically had the government paying for the roads, bridges and tunnels we now sit on during our daily commute. At this same time they tried to use the excuse that the railroads were falling apart, that they were inefficient, and they were slow and outdated. Lets look at those claims now as well. Why were the railroads falling apart? Because of insane regulations starting in 1887, heavy subsidization of competition, heavy taxation, and WW2. They were run into the ground during the war effort, hauling goods and people across the country 24/7 in an endless patriotic endeavor. While this was happening, they got NOTHING from the government in the way of subsidies or even a tax break. Further, they were all but forbidden to perform any maintenance or new design work that would use materials that were in short supply due to the war effort. These materials happened to be those used extensively by railroads such as Steel, Iron, Brass, Copper etc. So the railroads were forced to do as little as possible in keeping their infastructure in good repair, and up to date. These areas were already hard to keep up due to lack of operating capital due to ICC regulations. As a result, after the war, the countries railroads were in shambles. They were all used up, and found themselves facing massive infastructure refurbishing costs, and still no help coming from the government. In fact, exactly the opposite was taking place. The government was still regulating them into the ground while subsidising air lines, roads and trucking. As life returned to normal after the war, the railroads struggled to keep up, and hold onto prescious revenues. Passenger service was in horrible condition. There were constant breakdowns, equipment was old and outdated. The railroads had nothing to offer the riding public, and no way to make the required improvements needed to attract and keep ridership up. As a result we saw a swift decline in passenger rail service and eventually its collapse. So thats the passenger saga in a nutshell. If the government would have continued to provide subsidies for the railroads the same as they did for the air lines, trucking industry and highways, and if Congress would have gotten the ICC off the railroads backs, then we would have a better, efficient, and intact rail system today.

But this is not the case. Today we have meager passenger train service on a limited basis, and as the writer pointed out, each train run loses money becase there are not enough of them to support the infastructure expenses required to run such small numbers of trains. But this is not the fault of the railroads, its the fault of the federal government and their failure to sibsidize all modes of transportation equally, and by their unfairly regulating the railroads so as to prevent them from making the profits required to stay alive. What we don't need, as the writer suggested, is to scrap this loser entity, and move on to bigger and better things. That would be the wrong thing to do. To reverse this situation I'll agree, we don't need subsidies equal to just enough to keep it limping along, we need a serious and comprehensive effort to rebuild the rail infastructure that was foolishly lost over the last 50-75 years and left to rot. Lets move on to the freight side of the equation for a moment. Railroads use the same infastructure to move freight as they do for passenger fare. Thus if the infastructure for passenger service is in shambles, the infastructure for freight service cannot be much better. Even if the rediculous argument that people would prefer cars over the train were true, there is always the freight side to consider even more seriously. Freight service is where we really need to concentrate our efforts, as this is where the revenues are, and the problem with the highway system as it exists today lies. As I said before, what galls me the most is when these uneducated asses make statements like railroads are inefficient, slow, inconvenient, not econimical, and unreliable. Its the inefficient and not economical part that galls me the most. How can anyone sit there with a straight face and make such a statement when the facts show overwhemlingly otherwise. Do they mean to tell me that one loaded freight box pulled by one large diesel engine, as in a truck, is more efficient and more economical than 25 or 30 loaded freight boxes pulled by one larger diesel engine as in a train is more efficient and economical? Are they going to tell us that trucks who are not only subsidised by the federal government and use our highways for free, and who ruin our roadway/highway infastructure continuously paying nothing for their repair but costing tax payers even more money for bridge, tunnel, and roadway repairs are more efficient and economical? Are they going to tell us that because trucks move slowly and tie up traffic endlessly costing drivers on the countries roads millions in additional gasoline costs and lost hours is more efficient and preferable economically? Are they going to sit there and tell us that these massive trucks are safer for us on the nations highways, and therefore more efficient and economical health cost wise? Are they going to tell us that the added pollution trucks cause with the related environmental, and health cost impacts is more efficient and more economical? You have to be a complete moron to believe this bullcrap. The benefits of rail movments of freight and if possible passengers over trucking/bussing/automobiles are multiple in numbers and vast in the amount of dollars saved. Fact: Railroads are the most economical and efficient means of transporting people and goods that man has ever devised, period. So I ask, whats wrong with this picture? We have people screaming for all of those causes in this country. Pollution, gas prices, the cost of oil, our dependency on foreign oils, health costs (they went after the tobacco industry, why not the trucking industry?), road congestion, and higher taxes, but no one is targeting the trucking industry. Its so sad what has been allowed to happen to the great railroads of this country. I just returned from a vacation in Pennsylvania. A state who was once home to the greatest railroad in the world. Several great railroads in fact. I was so ticked off sitting for endless hours in traffic at congested intersections with short lights where only one or two cars were getting through each long agonizing light cycle because the damn trucks could not get moving fast enough. While I am sitting there in this nightmare wasting my time and burning $2.34 a gallon gas getting nowhere and polluting the air, I look up to my left at the abandoned rail line and shook my head. I know that if all of the loads these trucks are inefficiently hauling while wasting hundreds of our minutes of time, and hundreds of gallons of gas, and constantly polluting our air. and continuously ruining our highway infastructure were on that rail line, as they should be, I would not be in this mess, and these wasteful, inefficient, uneconomical things would not be happening. If that happened on a national level, it would be of great almost unmeasurable benefit to this country. Its a national travesty what has been allowed to happen in this country to our railroad infastructure. This must be reversed. So, Mr editorial writer, you can shove your rhetoric up your anus. Your argument is unresearched, unsubstantiated, one sided, pathetic, lame, and wrong. Your underlying goal is to free up the funding not allocated for Amtrak and railroads so you can waste it on yet another Liberal feel good needless giveaway program. The federal government should be made to invest heavily in restoring the countries railroad infastructure its helped to destroy, and work towards a massive transition from road shipments of freight and goods to rail shipment as well as a revitalization of the passenger rail services. Thats the correct direction to go into, and the one where we would clearly get more bang for our buck..... economically.