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Largest Metros Served By Only One Train (How to Serve Them Better?)

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We didn't vote for sanity; we voted for Hannity. Did saner heads prevail in any other proto-fascist uprising? Not until the domestic pain grew too great to ignore.

If you're referring to the recent presidential election, I dispute the implication that the other choice would have represented anything closer to sanity. The Republic faces dark days....

Regardless of individual position or perspective I think we need to acknowledge that the checks and balances we have relied on for generations are proving to be rather ineffective at preventing increasingly serious subversion. I believe that we also need to accept that the system we created for determining our future governance is becoming irreparably harmed. I'm not talking about armed revolution or anything crazy like that, but rather following peaceful but logical initiatives such as the widespread introduction of public election funding, easier and simpler access for new citizens to join and disillusioned voters to rejoin the election process, improved transparency in the voting rules and procedures, confirmation of a successful ballot recording, removal of partisan gerrymandering, and dissolution of the electoral college. I'd personally prefer a system that promoted middle road and middle class politicians over the return to gilded age style dynasties like we're seeing today.

I agree that corrective measures need to be taken, but I disagree as to the nature of those measures. I support a return to the original intent of the Constitution. As political discussion is out of bounds here I shall proceed no further, except to refer you to Mark Levin's work The Liberty Amendments for one proposed plan.

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Even easier. Through cars off the Texas Eagle running DAL (from the looks of the schedule it looks like Longview) to HOS via College Station. It's not like they haven't done it before: http://www.timetables.org/full.php?group=19941030n&item=0031

It has been done and it could be done again, but another possibility (as long as our priority is customer service, not budgetary posturing or patronage) is to re-establish the old MoPac service from Longview to Houston via Palestine...preferably in conjunction with a completely separate service from Houston to Dallas/Fort Worth via your choice of College Station, Teague, or Temple. Heck, why not all three?

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Even easier. Through cars off the Texas Eagle running DAL (from the looks of the schedule it looks like Longview) to HOS via College Station. It's not like they haven't done it before: http://www.timetables.org/full.php?group=19941030n&item=0031

It has been done and it could be done again, but another possibility (as long as our priority is customer service, not budgetary posturing or patronage) is to re-establish the old MoPac service from Longview to Houston via Palestine...preferably in conjunction with a completely separate service from Houston to Dallas/Fort Worth via your choice of College Station, Teague, or Temple. Heck, why not all three?

 

Why not?

 

$$$$$$$$$$$$$

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All these proposals this poster likes. HOWEVER if we don't get more rolling stock all these proposals are just cold air. (not even hot air ). Of course more operating funds.

Edited by west point

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All these proposals this poster likes. HOWEVER if we don't get more rolling stock all these proposals are just cold air. (not even hot air ). Of course more operating funds.

 

Funding is of course a necessity. But I would like to use market power as much as possible, consistent with serving public needs, in order to distribute those funds. Currently we dump billions to build highways...not so much to keep them in good repair...and divert a comparative trickle to rail-based transportation.

 

I'm not against public funding of highways; the Constitution explicitly authorizes the federal government to build and operate post roads. However, railroads—all of them—have been Congressionally recognized as post roads for nearly two hundred years (1838, according to Wikipedia). For over a century essentially all U. S. railroads were privately owned and operated, and for much of that time many of the managements did an exemplary job of running them. I'd like to restructure the incentives to encourage them to do so again. Here's my proposal:

  • A complete exemption from all local and state ad valorem (property) taxation on all rail lines which host a qualifying passenger service. "Qualifying" to mean compliance with certain minimum capacity (proportional to population served) and on-time performance requirements. Terminals, yards, and equipment servicing facilities would remain subject to property taxation, but the through rail lines and passing sidings themselves would be exempt. Passenger stations would be taxable unless the municipality owns and operates an airport or bus terminal; in that case they would also be exempt. States and municipalities don't look on highways as a cash cow; why should railroads be one?
  • An equalization subsidy paid for every passenger seat provided, whether occupied or not. This subsidy should not be high enough to make it profitable to run an empty (or mostly empty) train, but it should be high enough to encourage managements not to take a meat axe to capacity during the inevitable cyclical downturns.
  • An incentive subsidy for every occupied passenger seat. There is no more effective subsidy than to leverage the consumer's dollar, and this would provide railroad managements with a reason to offer those seats and then to fill them.

Please note that this does not necessarily mean the End of Amtrak. I'm sure that there are many railroads who may not have an interest in operating passenger trains themselves who would be willing to make an attractive offer to Amtrak to operate service so that they could qualify for these incentives. The incentives themselves should apply regardless of who actually operates the trains...the host railroad, Amtrak, or some new specialty company. The free market will do a great job of sorting this out if it is only given a chance, I believe.

Edited by ehbowen

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I think the whole system of railroad taxation probably needs to be federally preempted and standardized: To the extent that the railroads are essentially privately-contracted "post roads" (or a moden equivalent) they really shouldn't be subject to state regulation beyond some level (to say nothing of occasionally vexatious interference like Indiana's infamous old crewing rules). I have no problem, in principle, of initiating some sort of transfer payment system to counties that rely on railroad taxes to some extent...but the big problem that I see is that those taxes tend to be based on track-miles or track-weight, not on actual use of the tracks. Thus excess capacity gets to be very heavy on the tax books (and so extra tracks and sidings which might otherwise be left in place at a lower maintenance level get pulled up more readily).

As to the yards, I'd probably also more-or-less fix the tax rates on those (in line with inflation)...again, to restrain localities from doing stupid things that frak with interstate commerce pretty clearly.

This isn't to say there shouldn't be incentives for running pax trains...but we also don't want to set up a system where UP is throwing a few coaches onto a local freight train and giving it a lazy timetable (requiring decent OTP is fine, but what's to stop the railroad from timetabling a service at an average of 30 MPH to ensure that it will never be late?) with a few random intermediate stops to bag a tax deal (and let's be honest, a crappy passenger service like that might lose money but suffice under technical terms to meet the requirements of even a well-crafted law in some cases...Lord knows it sufficed for the Georgia Railroad until the CSX merger).

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I think the whole system of railroad taxation probably needs to be federally preempted and standardized: To the extent that the railroads are essentially privately-contracted "post roads" (or a moden equivalent) they really shouldn't be subject to state regulation beyond some level (to say nothing of occasionally vexatious interference like Indiana's infamous old crewing rules). I have no problem, in principle, of initiating some sort of transfer payment system to counties that rely on railroad taxes to some extent...but the big problem that I see is that those taxes tend to be based on track-miles or track-weight, not on actual use of the tracks. Thus excess capacity gets to be very heavy on the tax books (and so extra tracks and sidings which might otherwise be left in place at a lower maintenance level get pulled up more readily).

While taxation based upon use of the tracks is workable, in an era where truck and bus lines get free use of thousands of miles of highways handed to them in exchange for a few pennies a gallon of fuel tax I think we need some positive incentive to encourage the provision and operation of passenger trains...and possibly a return to LCL freight services.

 

Possibly what we could do is establish a provision for "railbanked" lines in which taxes are still computed, but are not collectible except on a "per-activity" basis...a very lightly used branch line which sees only one train out and back a week would pay very little tax, while one which is entirely mothballed should pay none. However, in that case I would insert a provision that if the line is sold and/or permanently converted to non-rail use, then the tax exemptions/deferrals since the line entered railbank status would be recaptured (or for twenty years, whichever is less).

 

This isn't to say there shouldn't be incentives for running pax trains...but we also don't want to set up a system where UP is throwing a few coaches onto a local freight train and giving it a lazy timetable (requiring decent OTP is fine, but what's to stop the railroad from timetabling a service at an average of 30 MPH to ensure that it will never be late?) with a few random intermediate stops to bag a tax deal (and let's be honest, a crappy passenger service like that might lose money but suffice under technical terms to meet the requirements of even a well-crafted law in some cases...Lord knows it sufficed for the Georgia Railroad until the CSX merger).

Valid points; still, I think that my idea is workable as a basic framework. It won't be a "set it and forget it" scheme; it will take constant oversight and "tweaking". While it's true that the system shouldn't subsidize or grant tax exemptions for a few coaches on a local mixed timetabled at 30 mph between New York and Chicago...what about between Wichita and Englewood, Kansas? "Mixed Locals" do, after all, have a long and honorable tradition in this country, and I would encourage their return on routes which are appropriate for them. The performance metrics could be adjusted to require certain levels of speed and capacity based upon population and previously existing service (if any!).

 

For that matter, you could use the system to incentivize the rebuilding and return to service of abandoned lines. Suppose you established a subsidy for the city pair Indianapolis-St. Louis? The money would not be spent; it would accumulate. Eventually the pot would get big enough to make it tempting for someone to rebuild and reopen the line. "To the victor go the spoils...."

Edited by ehbowen

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How did I know that particular local train would show up here?

While I know we're generally wont to say that "any train is better than no train", a service like that (which was archaic in the 1960s and likely survived as long as it did only because there was essentially no cost to run it vis-a-vis going through the hassle of a train-off for just the pax service) probably does not serve much of a public policy need versus the (indirect) cost. To put this another way, there are many trains which might have been saved with better public policy but there are also plenty of cases where the train was cut for a reason...in some cases the service was redundant with the Model T, in others with hard-surfaced roads being extended into the county. In cases like this I'd be inclined to negotiate some sort of transfer of the service obligation to a mainline (or higher-density suburban) service.

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While I do have a romanticized view of the classic era and the mixed locals (among others), my purpose here is to ensure that there are viable transportation options for all towns, large and small. Options which are accessible for people like, as an example, visitors from overseas who are uncomfortable with driving on the "wrong" side of the road.

 

In this country, at present, if you are physically and financially blessed with the ability to operate an automobile, the world (or at least the continental U. S.) is your oyster. If not, you are not even a third-class citizen.

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While I do have a romanticized view of the classic era and the mixed locals (among others), my purpose here is to ensure that there are viable transportation options for all towns, large and small. Options which are accessible for people like, as an example, visitors from overseas who are uncomfortable with driving on the "wrong" side of the road.

 

In this country, at present, if you are physically and financially blessed with the ability to operate an automobile, the world (or at least the continental U. S.) is your oyster. If not, you are not even a third-class citizen.

I don't disagree with providing more broad-based transportation options. In a case like this, though, I think that as a matter of policy it would make more sense to subsidize some sort of van service on the roads. I do suspect that there are cases where we (and indeed I'll occasionally fall into this as well) start seeing something involving steel rails or overhead wires as the solution to every transportation problem.

 

Don't get me wrong, if the Class Is were still running something resembling scheduled freight service and it was simply a matter of letting a few pax ride along in a caboose like a number of roads still did into the 1970s this would be a non-issue.

 

One policy thought which comes to mind, by the way, would be for the government to take not the railroads but the underlying rights-of-way (with the railroads getting operating rights, etc. for 999 years or some absurdly long timeframe like that). The only "lost" right would be the ability to break up the ROW (with possibly some restrictions on total abandonment without the government getting a chance to pay to keep the line in place), something which I think some reasonable compensation would cover, but in doing so you'd also arguably upend the local government's tax authority...and the simple removal or restriction of that might be enough.

 

While I could see a way to "monkey around" with this in such a way as to preserve certain passenger train operating rights, I'd want to be careful on this one: I'm at least sympathetic to the fact that it seems like every push for more passenger service comes about the same time that freight service spikes and that has to drive the Class Is' management a little nuts.

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I don't disagree with providing more broad-based transportation options. In a case like this, though, I think that as a matter of policy it would make more sense to subsidize some sort of van service on the roads. I do suspect that there are cases where we (and indeed I'll occasionally fall into this as well) start seeing something involving steel rails or overhead wires as the solution to every transportation problem.

 

The "mixed local" digression was just that, a response to the scenario you offered about a Class 1 offering up a hypothetical 30 mph mixed as a claimant for the tax and subsidy incentives. While I agree that such should not be acceptable as a replacement for the Lake Shore Limited, perhaps as a baby step towards restoration of service on a currently unserved line it should be considered with an "up or out" proviso: Upgrade the speed and capacity to a level befitting the market(s) to be served within, say, three years, or lose the incentives.

 

While I could see a way to "monkey around" with this in such a way as to preserve certain passenger train operating rights, I'd want to be careful on this one: I'm at least sympathetic to the fact that it seems like every push for more passenger service comes about the same time that freight service spikes and that has to drive the Class Is' management a little nuts.

 

Yet another reason why I want to keep the system as market-driven and open as possible. I think it's appropriate to the Constitution and personality of this country. If you want to do things the way they do in Europe, emigrate to Europe.

 

If you actually tasked me with the implementation of the policy I propose, I would start with the April 1971 Official Guide. I would make the tax exemption available on every railroad line, including those (few) which have been constructed from new in the 45+ years since then. If you provide a qualifying passenger service, you receive the tax exemption. The equalization subsidy and the incentive subsidy would be provided only to passenger services on routes which held an active passenger service in April 1971. As the policy became accepted and if the financial support was sufficient, we would "work backwards" to, say, January 1971, then June 1970, and so on and so forth.

 

You should also note that it might be possible to "tweak" the level of the subsidies as appropriate to the level of traffic...a line which is just being re-established could receive more than a line which hosts a thriving and popular service. Still, the rules need to be level and applicable across the board; a railroad which is more efficient and more popular with customers shouldn't be financially handicapped in favor of a competitor which is just "going through the motions" in order to meet the minimum qualifications.

Edited by ehbowen

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I agree that corrective measures need to be taken, but I disagree as to the nature of those measures. I support a return to the original intent of the Constitution. As political discussion is out of bounds here I shall proceed no further, except to refer you to Mark Levin's work The Liberty Amendments for one proposed plan.

The original intent of the Constitution involved:

(1) preservation of slavery

(2) voting only for the educated propertied elite, and not for the common man, and certainly not for women

I assume you don't actually support these and were being sloppy when you said "original intent"

 

The original intent of the Constitution also involved -- and they were very clear about this -- the elimination or prevention of "factions" (political parties). This has proven *completely impossible* in every country which has ever tried to do it, and I don't think tilting at windmills is a worthwhile use of time.

So I hope you don't mean that, either.

 

"Return to the original intent of the Constitution" generally means "Make the Constitution say what I want it to say". We can disagree legitimately about what it should say (I think it should be much stronger about protecting people from warrantless searches and seizures) and what it does say (I think the Bill of Rights is much clearer about this than the corrupt courts claim it is), but it's cheating to claim that you're supporting the entire "original intent" of the Constitution when you're not really.

 

I don't mean to come across hostile here. I like you. I have a low tolerance for historical ignorance, however.

 

I think we can all agree that we need to find some way to permanently eliminate gerrymandering, which is a cancer preventing democracy from working. It's been described as "instead of the voters choosing their legislators, the legislators choose their voters". It's resulted in blatantly and notoriously unrepresentative legislatures where the party opposed by the majority of the voters somehow has total control. If we could kill gerrymandering we might have a chance.

 

Mark Levin fails to even try to stop gerrymandering in his proposals, making them at best, a completely worthless set of changes.

 

I *will* point out that Mark Levin's proposals include at least one which is genuinely stupid and ignorant (something else I have no tolerance for); it is an absolutely terrible idea to balance the federal budget in general, though I realize most people don't know this because they haven't read _The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money_. Read it. The whole thing. Before you opine about balanced budgets. If you don't understand at least the basics of why the government needs to continually increase the money supply (and what that means), you are speaking from a position of ignorance and your views on balancing the budget will simply be wrong-headed. Once you understand this basic issue, you can actually discuss macroeconomics rationally. The book is *80 years old*, available free online, probably the third-most-famous book in all of economics, and the two more-famous ones (The Wealth of Nations and Capital) don't discuss government budget balance, so there's no excuse for talking about government budget balance without at least skimming _The General Theory_.

Edited by neroden

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Funding is of course a necessity. But I would like to use market power as much as possible, consistent with serving public needs, in order to distribute those funds. Currently we dump billions to build highways...not so much to keep them in good repair...and divert a comparative trickle to rail-based transportation.

 

I'm not against public funding of highways; the Constitution explicitly authorizes the federal government to build and operate post roads. However, railroads—all of them—have been Congressionally recognized as post roads for nearly two hundred years (1838, according to Wikipedia).

Hey, I agree, markets are really useful.

 

For over a century essentially all U. S. railroads were privately owned and operated, and for much of that time many of the managements did an exemplary job of running them.

...and this created its own problems. Why do the railroads have screwy criss-cross routes in Chicago and many separate passenger terminals? Private competing track ownership. Same problem in London and Paris. Countries with national systems didn't end up with this sort of stupid stuff. The "Joint Line" in Colorado would never have existed but for nationalization under USRA; would have continued the inefficient scheme of two separate single-track lines criss-crossing each other...

 

Furthermore, an awful lot of the private railroads went bust. *In the 19th century*.

 

Even with the private duopolies we have now, there's still craziness if you're trying to ship freight from a UP-served point to a BNSF-served point...

 

I'd like to restructure the incentives to encourage them to do so again.

Sure. But I think there's something fundamentally *government* about a railroad right-of-way. In the 19th century, to allow the private railroads to function, the government had to grant eminent domain -- a quintessentially government power -- to private companies. They still have it. This is not a situation which is popular these days -- use of eminent domain for private companies is really going to lose you a lot of votes.

 

This is why I think the most "privatized" system which would actually work involves government or charitable trust ownership of the land and tracks, with the private involvment being on the operational side, under contract. There are an awful lot of different ways this could be arranged. I will note that Wick Moorman actually proposed this when he was CEO of NS -- having the government own the lines and the private companies operate them.

Doing this with "franchises" is more or less what the UK did after a totally failed attempt to privatize the track (which led to deaths). The UK system isn't working so well either and people are calling for a return to full nationalized operations, though.

 

The problem with franchises is that they are a one-way bet. The franchisee claims to take revenue risk, but actually doesn't: if they do better than expected they keep the cash, if they do worse, they discontinue service and break the contract.

 

As a result, a much more common system in the US is "contracting out", where the government declares what services are desirable and takes the revenue risk, while the private company attempts primarily to operate it as well as possible.

 

The UK also has "open access", where private companies can simply bid for slots to run routes the government didn't think were necessary, taking the revenue risk, and this has worked out quite well, though it only amounts to a tiny fraction of services; it does, however, create dynamism and experimentation. It turns out it is much *easier* to have this sort of experimental, entrepeneurial activity with government-owned track (where they're inclined to accept any new operator) than with privately owned track (where there's a "get off my track!" attitude).

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I wonder which (if any), other rail CEO's share Moorman's view on government ownership of tracks?

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In the wake of the BNSF purchase, Warren Buffett told USA Today in 2010 that (freight) railroads were the future because they didn't rely on "strapped governments to maintain infrastructure" and that the freights could grow without government help while truckers and air freight needed government help with roads and airports. Not seeing anything out there on the web that suggests he's changed his view since then.

 

The other thought I have is that the railroad land and tracks of the freights is liable to have substantial value that the government would have to pay for-and maintain. The government maintenance will inevitably have strings attached (ban oil and coal cars?), effectively re-regulating the rails. That didn't work so well 100 years ago, as the Feds hamstrung the freight railroads just in time for the truckers and air freight to start cherry picking all the profitable business except for bulk freight. And there were too many competitors for bulk freight, so the government naturally wouldn't let these companies merge. Which led to bankruptcies before deregulation finally was allowed, a few years after the Penn Central debacle was shoved in the government's face.

 

IMHO Buffett is right and our current freight railroad system works just fine.

 

Also, Amtrak's land and tracks at the present time would seem to be less than zero, given all the capital spending required to fix up the NEC over the next few years-$24 billion if you believe the Selden letter to Chao in the other thread. That would not be a popular bailout. The NEC bailout will probably occur in some other fashion, but it will take longer, cost more, and the governmental authorities in power will try to avoid all responsibility for the bad stuff-and probably get away with it.

 

And I doubt the freights will want to be anywhere near the eventual NEC bailout, because they may wind being being forced to pay for it.

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One thing we seem to be ignoring in all this is that the freight railroads are really more into serving their own intersts than their customers, until they are forced to serve their customers' interest by the government. Try sending some freight interline, or try to negotiate a tariff for something like grain from a captive silo. There are very few rail customers who actually like them. they are able to make money mainly because a government setup regime of regulations allows them to maintain what amounts to complete monopoly and rate setting freedom voer vast swaths of the country. Let us not kid ourselves. Buffett is right, but he is not telling the whole story as far as government support is concerned.

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Some one who can find it. There is a FRA report of anticipate freight traffic in 2040. The need for additional infrastructure is very large. The problem will be inability of Class 1s to construct necessary infrastructure.

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Atlanta: I'd extended the Carolinian down there, it is also on my proposed Floridan route.

Houston could be on an extension of the Heartland Flyer.

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Atlanta: I'd extended the Carolinian down there, it is also on my proposed Floridan route.

Houston could be on an extension of the Heartland Flyer.

Both Dallas-Houston and Atlanta-Charlotte are viable corridors, but I doubt that those extensions are the best way to serve them. Without speed improvements and a schedule change, the Carolinian would serve Atlanta in the middle of the night if it was extended there. There is also always the issue of building a new station and storage facility there. If the facilities were improved, I think an extended Piedmont or a new train that may or may not extend to Florida would be a better idea. As for Dallas-Houston, High Speed Rail is being developed for the corridor that would make Amtrak irrelevant. An extension of the Heartland Flyer to Dallas with a connection to the High Speed Rail could drastically improve ridership, however.

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One policy thought which comes to mind, by the way, would be for the government to take not the railroads but the underlying rights-of-way (with the railroads getting operating rights, etc. for 999 years or some absurdly long timeframe like that). The only "lost" right would be the ability to break up the ROW (with possibly some restrictions on total abandonment without the government getting a chance to pay to keep the line in place), something which I think some reasonable compensation would cover, but in doing so you'd also arguably upend the local government's tax authority...and the simple removal or restriction of that might be enough.

No less than Wick Moorman has suggested this -- freight railroads becoming tenants and the government the host (with the existing railroad retaining "freight operating rights" in perpetuity), and of course it has *actually been done* in several states (Masachusetts's MBTA purchases of lines often have such clauses, and there's something like that with the NCRR too). The "lost" powers of the freight railroad are the right to prevent passenger service, and the right to prevent upgrades, and the right to run additional freight service without doing commensurate upgrades (no overloading the system). The benefits are that they stop paying property taxes and the government covers most routine maintenance (apart from an access charge for the freight trains). On the whole it is financially a massive benefit for the freight railroads.

 

Of course, this is also what I've been advocating basically everywhere for everything. It's akin to what we do with roads and airlines and it *just makes sense*.

Edited by neroden

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IMHO Buffett is right and our current freight railroad system works just fine.

No, it's failing. Service levels for freight customers are appalling, particularly east of the Mississippi (look at the current CSX debacle, or the prior CN debacle, or the NS debacle) and trucks are outcompeting rail on price and service, which is absurd..

 

This is probably because the railroads are paying for the tracks and ROW, which is government-controlled for all their competition. Wick Moorman was smart.

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Not that many come to mind, but here are a few I can think of:

  • Tucson (though I guess you could say that the TE and SL count as two routes),
  • El Paso (same possible problem)
  • Denver
  • Albuquerque

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One policy thought which comes to mind, by the way, would be for the government to take not the railroads but the underlying rights-of-way (with the railroads getting operating rights, etc. for 999 years or some absurdly long timeframe like that). The only "lost" right would be the ability to break up the ROW (with possibly some restrictions on total abandonment without the government getting a chance to pay to keep the line in place), something which I think some reasonable compensation would cover, but in doing so you'd also arguably upend the local government's tax authority...and the simple removal or restriction of that might be enough.

No less than Wick Moorman has suggested this -- freight railroads becoming tenants and the government the host (with the existing railroad retaining "freight operating rights" in perpetuity), and of course it has *actually been done* in several states (Masachusetts's MBTA purchases of lines often have such clauses, and there's something like that with the NCRR too). The "lost" powers of the freight railroad are the right to prevent passenger service, and the right to prevent upgrades, and the right to run additional freight service without doing commensurate upgrades (no overloading the system). The benefits are that they stop paying property taxes and the government covers most routine maintenance (apart from an access charge for the freight trains). On the whole it is financially a massive benefit for the freight railroads.

 

Of course, this is also what I've been advocating basically everywhere for everything. It's akin to what we do with roads and airlines and it *just makes sense*.

 

It's not quite "akin to what we do with roads and airlines", if the existing railroad retains exclusive operating rights in perpetuity...the rights would have to be open to all interested if they meet the operational standards required, or could be up for bid....

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Austin,Temple,Little Rock,Memphis etc.

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