Railroaded

The campaign policy blogging starts now: apparently, McCain wants to shut down Amtrak. Liberals are predictibly (and understandably) outraged. I'm not sure, however, that this is such a terrible idea, even environmentally. The lines that actually run at a profit--those in the Virginia-Massachussetts corridor--would still be profitable, and presumably operated by some private company. The other lines are a mixed bag, environmentally; it isn't really good for the environment to run trains at low capacity. And the federal government, because of the EIS process, other procedural barriers, and a great deal of logrolling, has so far not succeeded in making sensible upgrades to the system. The Acela was announced in 1994, actually went live six years later despite the really rather minor infrastructure improvements required, and at lavish expense now gets passengers to Boston one half-hour quicker in slightly comfier seats.

Moreover, if oil prices stay high, the math changes substantially for passenger rail, making new routes more profitable. People will probably never take the train en masse from New York to Los Angeles, but a direct train from New York to Chicago could start looking good, particularly when you factor in the drive to out-of-the way airports, delays, and time spent removing your shoes in security lines.

America's freight rail system, while it needs a lot of work, is world-class. Its passenger rail should be too. But it's so far proven pretty much impossible for the government to make it that way--and not merely because we don't have enough liberal politicians who like rail. Most politicians like rail. But they like a lot of other things better, like getting re-elected.

Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Business

Just In