Rail: It's Not Just For Passengers

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Commenter Pete on high speed rail:

The discussion of "High Speed Rail" is not correct! The correct name for the discussion should be "High Speed Passenger Rail". As a former regional freight railroad employee, yes the extra word will make a difference.

The citizens, taxpayers, and voters of the USA need to understand 3 very important concepts:

{1}All railroad track in the USA is owned by a freight railroads, with small exceptions for Amtrak and the commuter rail operators. In the current legislation, that means taxpayer money will be given to "for-profit" freight railroads to build HSR corridors. 


{2}Americans have not used passenger rail travel over the past 50 years because of cheap petro-fuels, AND because many hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars have been invested in air travel (building municipal air ports), and invested in the national highway systems [the interstate, US highway, and state highway systems].

{3}There is no Passenger Railway Travel industry in the USA!! One company, Amtrak, does not make an industry. It makes a monopoly!

He goes on to note that if you want high speed passenger rail, you need to get passenger rail off the freight tracks.

As a practical matter, we'd probably get more environmental benefit (and save more wear-and-tear on our roads) from improving our freight rail system, like the abysmal mess in Chicago, than from high speed passenger rail that is very unlikely to carry more than a handful of Americans on any regular basis.  . But this does not attract one eightieth of the interest that you see in HS(P)R.  As I understand it, there is finally some actual progress on Chicago, but it's still bogged down in process, and it's not clear to me whether it's really enough. It seems clear to me that switching freight to rail whenever possible should be a policy priority, but it's the red-headed stepchild of the environmental movement.  We need freight cars that look more like pandas.

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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.

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