Gilbert B Norman wrote: ↑Fri Apr 03, 2020 8:01 am
Mr. Wash, first may I note that you have set forth your passenger train advocacy positions in a mature and respectful manner.
Like other advocates, you appear to hold that there need be some kind of right of public access, such as with a taxpayer funded highway, to railroad rights of way. As such, a passenger train would have equal, if not greater, priority in its movement with freight traffic.
It has been clearly established here that nationalization initiatives have moved forth only in times of crisis for the railroad industry. During WWI, there was a "meltdown" in the movement of both passenger and freight traffic. During WWII, there was not, so there was no initiative.
During the later 50's, as Interstate Highways took the "cream" of railroad traffic, the industry fell on hard times in a prospering economy, resulting in the "Dark Ages" when I was employed within in the industry - and with a morbid and eventually bankrupt road. The '58 Act afforded railroads access to government guaranteed loans and some relief from rate regulation, but simply a drop in the pail. The crisis only hit home during the 70's as over one third of the mileage ended up under Bankruptcy.protection. First enacted legislation to relieve the industry was RPSA70 which nationalized intercity passenger trains with the intent of preserving what was needed - meaning Corridors and getting rid of the rest - namely the Long Distsnce routes. The latter has gotten a little waylaid by the advocates and their friends in Congress seeing a relatively inexpensive "rolling pork barrel".
The two RRR Acts that essentially nationalized the Northeast roads obviously worked well, as they enabled
these properties to be rationalized and, after a few false starts resulting Conrail to be referred to as "Con-Game", built a profitable system that was returned to private owbership - and even a private sector bidding war.
But the rail renaissance owed so much to the Staggers Act which deregulated the industry with regards to rates and services. We also owe great thanks to Rail Labor recognizing need for groundbreaking reforms with work rules.
Put all this together, and there is the viable railroad industry of today. Just my view, but if the passenger train advocacy community holds different views because they no longer can have Dinner in the Dome Diner through Weber Canyon, sorry 'bout that.
Riding a dining car through Weber Canyon would be nice, not going to lie. But, even in the "good old days", those trips were enormous money loosers that were essentially just advertisements for the other services the railroad offered. Nationalizing the railroads to bring back dome cars would be like nationalizing McDonald's to bring back the hamburglar. No one is arguing for that.
However people can
, and I do, argue that "Arriving at your destination quickly and on time" is not an anmenity in the same class as linen tablecloths and on-board barbershops. In my personal opinion, reasonable speeds and decent OTP are essential part of passenger service, passenger service that has a federal mandate to run. If we the public sector can't say that our trains will run on time on private rails, we need to run them on public ones.
Of course, this argument only really makes sense when a significant chunk of the citizenry rides state-supported passenger trains. That's why the state of New York owning the Empire Corridor makes sense, but Amtrak owning the whole water-level route does not.
This isn't just about passenger service either. As you note, rail nationalization has only been done in this country when the government sees the need to "prop up" with federal dollars a mode of transportation essential to the functioning of the economy, war or otherwise. While we're not at war, as I noted in the first post in this thread, our rail network is still in need of major investment. You probably know more about the intricacies of freight economics than I do, but it's my understanding that railroads a) need to start taking back the "cream traffic" they lost in the 50's to trucks and airplanes soon because oil and coal traffic is already starting to dry up, b) in a majority of markets, the freight railroads don't have the infrastructure to do that, and c) they need public-sector support to fix problem b (see: the LOSSAN corridor).
This is all before we factor in climate change. Once the government needs to shove as much traffic as possible onto the most fuel-efficient form of overland transportation, and once increasingly powerful floods, fires, etc. put a substantial chunk of track in the US out of service at any one time, the inadequacies of the current rail network become even more apparent. Also certain projects, like electrification, only make sense on a truly national scale. That's why we need an efficient way to plow federal money into the rail network.
Of course, the freight railroads have some very smart people working for them that are definitely aware of all this. If those people can sit down with the public sector and make a deal like they did during WWII, then that's probably the best solution to the problems we're all going to face over the next few decades, whether we are shippers, railroad executives, labor, or just plain old citizens. But, some passenger rail projects over the past few years have indicated that we can't rely on the freight roads to act in the public interest. Whether the railroads' remain private or not, they need to start acting more in the public interest and soon, for all our sakes.
Re: property taxes: that's why you nationalize the whole railroad, not just the tracks the trains run on. Then, operating revenue can replace some of the lost tax revenue. We'd have to work out a way to fairly distribute that money back to state and local governments before we did anything, but if a railroad can figure out how to pay taxes in a zillion different jurisdictions then a government can figure out how to do basically the same thing.