Liberals Fret about Failing Public Transit Systems

Here is an excerpt from PJMedia:

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 election, said the public should be “worried” about the Washington, D.C. Metro (subway) heading into a death spiral without the proper funding and federal commitments….

OK, so here we go again. A “death spiral” for the Washington subway system. As if the 99.9% of Americans living outside Washington should care. Here is talking about the public transit system – largely trains – in and around Philadelphia. It strangely has the same tone:

In the long, hard slog to secure stable funding for transportation statewide, SEPTA stressed that without it, its system would die a slow, painful death.

How about this from Trains magazine in 2013, one of dozens of such stories that you can find randomly in any given year:

(Chicago commuter rail agency) Metra needs about $9.7 billion in capital funding in the next 10 years to achieve a state of good repair, but current funding sources leave it $7 billion short.

Meanwhile our private-sector freight railroads move more than 1 billion tons of freight every single year over 140,000 miles of track and earn a profit doing so.

Washington, DC is one of the most liberal places in America. It is the workplace for hundreds of thousands of overpaid federal bureaucrats who live like kings in the suburbs around DC while the rest of America suffers paying taxes to support them. But somehow, even with trillions of tax dollars flowing into DC every year its subway system needs more money.

Friends, this is no surprise whatsoever. These rail-based public transit passenger systems from Amtrak to subway systems nationwide to ‘light rail’ and trolley systems in cities all over the US, routinely face “budget shortfalls” and “cost overruns” and “funding needs” and “revenue shortages”. It never ends.

These systems are grossly inefficient and expensive taxpayer-funded blobs that cost enormous sums per passenger to move people. They are being built and operated in order to create another cash cow for unionized government employees who design, build, promote, operate, publicize and manage these systems then kick back their campaign contributions to the Democrats who advocate them.

There is a new ‘light rail’ line outside Baltimore that is going to cost more than $125 million per mile(!) just to build it. But you can be sure that it really only costs a fraction of that and the rest is fraud that is stolen by the Democrats and their union cronies who are always behind this type of project and ready to line their pockets. Then the same people go running to the taxpayer for more and more money to keep themselves in clover.

Every one of these systems, including the Washington, DC subway, should be put under private management, and even shut down where possible. But you won’t find that anywhere. Once the lefties build these systems they insist on maintaining control so that they can suck them dry and then complain that they need “funding”.

Rest assured that unionized subway drivers and dispatchers and track maintainers and everyone else involved in these systems are earning outrageous salaries, benefits and pensions. It gets worse. The most infamous workers’ comp fraud scandal in the history of America happened at the Long Island Railroad, a unionized state-run commuter system in New York.

These stories go way back. Perhaps you have read about the Los Angeles trolley system whose tracks were torn up in the 1960s. The famous environmentalist fiction has been that this was an efficient system but that an oil company (Standard Oil), bus manufacturer (General Motors) and tire maker (Goodyear) plotted its destruction in order to put inefficient and polluting buses on the streets.

This is baloney. Those streetcars were very inefficient and expensive to operate, and had faded in and out of solvency repeatedly over 70 years of existence. Cheaper buses were replacing trolleys from the first days that buses were available. The trolleys and their tracks also had created increasing obstructions since they ran in the streets during decades in which car traffic was expanding exponentially. The liberal narrative also conveniently ignores the fact that these trolley lines were kept financially afloat by profitable freight traffic that was delivered on their tracks during the nighttime hours.

How about Amtrak? I have been reading Trains magazine for decades. I even have some copies from the mid-1990s and in every issue from then until now there is at least one column, and often whole articles, about how we must “save” Amtrak, that somehow Amtrak is a crucial transit system that needs more and more taxpayer money. Yet Amtrak continues to sink financially after 46 years of subsidies while maintaining an ongoing reputation for terrible service.

Our private-sector airlines make a profit selling 750 million tickets per year while money-losing Amtrak sells 31 million tickets per year. We are supposed to think that that is a really big number for Amtrak, but it really is just 84,000 riders per day out of tens of millions of total intercity trips per day.

And you can be sure that Amtrak probably sells 10 million of those tickets every year to train fanatics who could easily find another way to travel. There are stories about these people all over the internet. But these people are no reason to spend $1.5 billion a year in taxpayer money to keep Amtrak alive.

The much-vaunted Northeast Corridor (NEC) between Boston, New York and Washington, DC is Amtrak’s most heavily-traveled route that was given to Amtrak by the government as a gift after it was taken over from the railroads that built it. It is a corridor with a captive audience of very liberal urban pro-Amtrak travelers.

Yet Amtrak still loses boatloads of money on the NEC once all of the costs are accounted for including the steep capital costs of tracks, bridges, switches, stations, overhead power wires, signals, etc., which are very expensive to maintain with overpaid, unionized workforces. Amtrak time-card fraud is legendary.

So why doesn’t Amtrak just jack up its ticket prices for NEC riders to cover the costs?

Answer: Because they can charge it off to the taxpayer, that’s why. That is what government-run companies always do. At the same time intercity buses, which earn a profit in the private sector, move 1.5 times as many travelers as Amtrak does on the I-95 corridor parallel to the NEC at much lower cost than Amtrak, often 25% or less of Amtrak ticket prices. But we never hear a single peep in the media about these efficient bus companies since they earn a profit doing what Amtrak cannot.

Amtrak’s long-distance routes are vastly worse. They are huge money-losers and energy wasters but Amtrak does everything it can to convince us that these routes are critical. For instance its Chicago to Seattle route runs one train every day over 2,200 miles in each direction. Travel time is 44 hours, plus 1 to 10 hours late on most trips. Each train only carries about 600 passengers total, and most of these passengers get on and off at intermediate destinations that can be reached by bus, car or airplane.

Many passengers are Chicago-Minneapolis riders, which are two big cities at one end of the route that are 418 miles apart and so subsidized Amtrak is an appealing option, i.e, let the taxpayer fund half of your fare and enjoy the ride!

The Chicago-Seattle passengers who go the full distance generally are retirees and others who want to go for a long train ride. The train is famous for this type of rider. They could fly and it would be cheaper, faster and more energy-efficient.

This Amtrak route alone loses $80 million per year and it also causes delays among dozens of freight trains every day on the BNSF Railway on whose tracks it runs. In short, this train is another government-sponsored nuisance that is tying up our crucial freight railroads and wasting money and fuel.

There is another passenger line from Vancouver, Canada that goes straight south through Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon and terminates in Eugene, Oregon. Amtrak once operated the route, but the states of Washington and Oregon have taken it over. It covers 470 miles, runs eight trains a day in each direction and carries only an average of 2,500 passengers per day.

That is a pathetically small passenger load for 16 long-distance trains over 470 miles; it is the same number of passengers that you can fit onto four rush-hour subway trains in New York City arriving at Grand Central Terminal within 2 minutes of each other and coming from just a few miles away.

The Washington-Oregon system requires a state taxpayer subsidy of $30 for every ticket sold and is spending a staggering $800 MILLION in federal and state funds for capital improvements that are not even necessary.

This is a system that 99.9% of the people living in these two states will never ride – but are paying for – while the people who do ride it can easily find alternatives.

Worse, these trains also run on tracks owned by the two big freight railroads that serve the Pacific Northwest – Union Pacific and BNSF. Thus the economically crucial freight system, which operates profitably in the private sector, again gets gummed up in order to accommodate these expendable passenger trains.

In August 2013 Union Pacific opened an important freight rail overpass in Southern California that was built for less than half the estimated price. It cost $93 million, and was completed ahead of schedule. This is the efficient private sector at work.

On the other hand the state of California is going to spend up to $100 billion and probably much more on a “high speed” passenger train between Los Angeles and San Francisco that travels 140 miles more than the highway distance and 170 miles more than flying in order to serve cities in the out-of-the-way Central Valley. Big energy saver, right? Real money saver, right?

Wrong and wrong. Big energy waster and huge money waster. Prediction: Few people will ride it and there will be demands for it to be bailed out by federal taxpayers.

In rural Western Massachusetts the train nuts are trying to get state government funding for a passenger train to New York City, 150 miles away. This train would connect up with existing commuter lines 80 miles closer to the city.

No private company will touch the project since it is such a boondoggle. There already are four ways to get to the city but the bus company even cut back from four to two runs per day for lack of demand. Meanwhile liberals want to respond with a super-expensive new train.

The cost just to upgrade existing tracks would be $200 million in state funds from Massachusetts and Connecticut. That does not even include the $10 million that it would cost to buy the trains, $10 million for new stations along the way, and the $20 million annually that it would cost to operate and maintain these trains and keep up the tracks, particularly in Winter when snow removal becomes very expensive.

Train activists claim that the system would carry 2 million passengers per year, but that is utter nonsense. has counted the number of Massachusetts license plates in the parking lot at the nearest commuter station and I have projected that the system would carry a maximum of 35,000 passengers per year.

So how can these train fanatics be wrong by a factor of 60?

Well, just look at ‘global warming’ or any other issue that they grossly exaggerate and you have the answer.

And if these passengers actually paid the full cost for operating the system their tickets would be $650 each way(!) (no joke).

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