Thursday, October 8, 2009

High Speed Boondoggle

When was the last time you took a train? If you said "never," you wouldn't be alone by a long shot. Train ridership has precipitously plummeted since the early 1950's with the advent of the interstate highway system and the burgeoning airline industry.

But that hasn't stopped some from trying to revive a rail system that would include Phoenix and other southwestern cities.

The Western High Speed Rail Alliance is a recently created group wanting to use stimulus money and get Phoenix on the high speed rail line "train," if you will, with service to Los Angeles in less than two hours and other cities like Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

They would have more success and spend less money in making better buggy whips.

Let's make one thing blindingly clear: We already have something that will take you to these cities faster, with more departures and a better business model. It's called the airline industry. Sure, the airline industry is flailing, some airlines are in their death throes and some have been bailed out since Sept. 11, 2001. But it has not been government supported -- it is a viable private business venture. Unlike our passenger railway system.

But consider our passenger rail system that was consolidated back in the 1970's when the train industry was ready to go under. The government decided that the passenger train industry was "too big to fail" and monopolized the small train companies like the B&O, Burlington Northern, Union Pacific, leaving them to haul goods but not people.

The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (the Federal Government) launched it to much fanfare, dubbing it "Amtrak" on May 1, 1971.

With its sleek silver cars and locomotives and red white and blue logo, Amtrak services over 21,000 miles of track across the United States.

And it's never made a profit. In fact, as a nation, we still have one of the lowest inter-city rail usages of all the developed nations.

Why does the government keep insisting on using tax-payer money to re-invent the train wheel, with the same, tired argument that if we update technology, more people will use it? With the exception of the Northeast (the Boston to DC corridor, as it's called), using a train instead of a plane doesn't make sense for commuters or people wanting to get from one place to another.

Yet every decade or so, there is a push to modernize and make high speed rail a reality like Japan or Germany. What the eggheads in Washington fail to realize since they never venture outside of the beltway, is that our country has triple or quintuple the real estate and people than smaller countries that utilize and favor high speed rail.

Until gas prices soar to European standards and sprawl creates endless strip malls from here to LA, high speed rail for the Southwest will not only be a waste of our tax money, it'll be a colossal waste of time.

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