What I Should Have Said on TV About Rail

If I were any good at the two minute sound byte interview, I would have summarized this about the superiority of the current US private rail system vs. the systems in Europe and Japan:

Link here (sorry, for some reason the link did not show up the first time, probably something to do with my iPad)



  1. a_random_guy:

    Indeed. Exactly "".

  2. Judy:

    Here is what I wanted you to say about the California train to hell. Did we even consider the criminals who will now hop a train from LA to Sacramento or the Bay and commint their crimes then hop back on and be home before dinner ?? Are we going to give free passes to the homeless like they do here in Sacramento, so they can ride the train all day, having argurments with the doorknobs and poop in their pants while they slug down some alcohol as the communters who paid for their tickets have to stand to avoid a bio-hazard??? The governor and our president are so out of touch with reality! Who is going to provide security for all the passengers who ride? This needs to be voted on - in an election that the votes are not tampered with! Thanks for being a voice for us.

  3. Allen:

    The point about measuring total resources put in and not just governmental ones is very important.

    Sadly for for too many generations the Federal government was involved in micromanaging freight railroads. A classic example is the 100 ton grain hopper. IIRC the Southern Railroad first came up with it. For years the Feds wouldn't allow them to charge lower rates in line with their costs savings. The case had to go to the Supreme Court before the railroads could charge less. One of many examples of regulations, which are trumpted as helping the little people, hurting them with those higher transportation costs resulting in higher food prices.

    It wasn't until they took a few steps back were US freight railroads able to embrace the efficiencies that we take for granted today.

  4. Ian Random:

    That productive versus sexy or as I call it the boring versus exciting permeates everything. I like to think that there is a lot of money in the boring because it scares away the big money.

  5. BCM:

    Fantastic introductory paragraph to your article, Warren. I'd send the article to my lefty friends with the hope that they'd at least read those first few sentences!

  6. a_random_guy:

    I liked the first version better - nothing to say about the US system being better than the European. A few points:

    - Yes, the USA does ship more freight than other countries, even measured on a per capita basis. Of course, if one scales for the physical size of the country, the difference is not really all that large.

    - Yes, "high speed rail" projects in the USA are generally disastrous projects. However, this is not because passenger rail is impractical - it is because rail projects are driven largely by political consideration, in particular, cronyism.

    There is no reason for passenger rail in the USA to be such a disaster. The same attributes that make rail freight a success ought to contribute to the success of passenger rail.

    As an example: I used to drive regularly between Massachusetts and Texas - 21 hours on the road each way - a killer of a trip. I would have given a lot for a reasonable rail connection, preferably an overnight train where you could sleep half of the trip away.

    The problem with USA passenger rail is that no one understands what "high speed" actually means. In Europe or Japan, you are faster taking the train between major cities. Given the mess that is airport security, you are often faster taking the train than you are flying.

    In the USA, long-distance trains are the slowest option - on top of that, they are essentially always late. The 21-hour road trip I mentioned above? Amtrak's best possible connection takes more than 48 hours!

    A good source for statistics.

  7. Mark:


    I used to live in Cedar Rapids Iowa, Cedar rapids to Iowa City is frequently called the Iowa corridor. Recently the Federal government, under the same program wanted to get rail going over existing tracks from Iowa City to Chicago, for only umpteen million dollars.

    Turns out that
    1: There is already bus service between the two cities.
    2: The bus service is cheaper than the proposed rail rates.
    3: It would take 1/2 hour LONGER to get there by rail than it would to just take the bus.

    Rail had its day, many years ago when all the competition was slower (horses, barges) but now that it is the old, slow technology there is little point. It has so many disadvantages. Very high start costs, compared to busing, slower than air and bus, Fixed routes that can not be changed, unlike busses, and (to a lesser extent) aircraft.

    Why waste resources to live in the past?

  8. Mark:

    Boring vs exiting is everywhere in government. It isn't just rail stations and sports stadiums. Look at the offices they build.

    For instance, where is the largest, most ornate library in your town? Downtown, which frequently gets rebuilt to the tune of half a billion dollars. Where are the citizens, on the edge of town. The branch libraries are the ones that really should be extended to provide more service, cuz who wants to travel 1/2 an hour to downtown in traffic, and then spend $15 for parking. Of course if you build the branch library system up, then you won't have the downtown showpiece.

    City services. Cities should have lots of smaller office throughout the city (like the police department is distributed) but again, cities build billion dollar monuments downtown so we can have an ornate city center. Again, have to drive out of the way and pay $15 a day for parking. But what is the cost of not distributing services to make it more convenient to the citizens? not having a giant monolith in the middle of town, dedicated to the mayor who got the funding.

    And then because we have to pay the bonds back and the city is in a money crunch from all the ornate downtown buildings - they close all the branch services on the weekend making service even worse.

  9. markm:

    a_random_guy: "Faster than the alternatives" isn't sufficient. To be practical, the train also has to pick you up where you are coming from, and drop you off where you are going - but frequent stops conflict with "high speed".