Many liberal/progressives in America suffer from a debilitating disease known as “Europhoria.” This is a pathological envy of all things European. It also includes a belief that anything from a socialist country in Europe is better that anything American. The disease most often appears as a desire for socialized medicine or more government regulation of business. It also has more subtle manifestations such as buying a Saab or Renault or listening to Edith Piaf. Recently, a long dormant variation of Europhoria has resurfaced among American leftist: the desire to herd us all onto trains. Well, not “all” of us, just you peons who are clogging up the roads and filling the atmosphere with the recently discovered deadly pollutant known as “carbon dioxide!”
You see my friends the answer to all of our problems is so simple. It’s just sitting there waiting for us to discover that we can have full employment, economic growth, universal healthcare, a reduced carbon footprint, peace in the Middle East and a healthier, whiter smile if we just build a few high speed railroad trains at select points around the country!
Passenger trains are like liberal talk radio, if they were economically viable some rich capitalist Republican would already be running those businesses. Before we get into building new systems perhaps some sanity will hit the Obama Administration and they will examine the profit and loss statements of already existing passenger systems in America. The words “fat chance” comes to mind.
Amtrak is a black hole within a bottomless pit falling into a sinkhole of dollars. Amtrak which began operations in 1971 had its second best year ever in 2009 losing “only” $32 per passenger. In other words for each person who got on to an Amtrak train in 2009 we could have bought each of them twelve gallons of gas and had enough left over for several million burgers at McDonalds and not had the legacy costs. In 2008, the last year for which I could find complete records they showed a total loss of over $230 million. The total debt being carried by Amtrak is just a shade under $8 billion, coincidentally the amount the Obama Administration wants to use from stimulus money for three new “high speed” rail projects.
At the state level California, now over 30 billion in debt, is touting a new rail link from LA to San Francisco. The cost is proposed to be $45 billon with an annual operating cost of $1 billion. Let’s now imaging something that hasn’t been done since the Polk Administration and say by some miracle the State and Feds can bring this thing in on budget and operate the system for $1 billion a year. The proposed cost of a ticket from downtown LA to San Francisco is $55. At that price they would have to get a little over18 million folks a year to ride the train or just under 50,000 a day. Let me put that in prospective, if each train car held 100 passengers that would mean you have to pack 500 cars a day to break even! If you figure 10 cars per train that would be 25 trains a day going each way, one each hour plus one extra, 24/7 all of them absolutely packed full. I know this is starting to sound like one of those junior high word problems but at that rate how many years would it take to pay off the bonds for construction? The answer is never! No, you don’t have to show your work.
Cities are not immune from this train lunacy. The City of Cincinnati is currently running a $100 million dollar plus budget deficit but has just approved over $700 thousand for a study of a proposed 2 mile trolley system. The proposed system would create 40 permanent jobs at a cost of $220 million or roughly $5.5 million per job. To put this in terms we can all understand if this trolley could make $1 million a year it would be paid off when we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of me finally getting my personal jet pack!