Over at National Journal there's an interesting article looking at why the state of passenger rail service in the US is often underwhelming. Here's a clip that reminded us of a lot of discussions regarding public infrastructure here in the Capital Region:
The Gulf situation is a miniature version of the chicken-and-egg question that bedevils Amtrak as a whole: Is it a waste of money because there isn't sufficient demand for trains? Or is there insufficient demand for trains because we haven't spent the money to create a great rail system? Outside of the Northeast Corridor, the tracks Amtrak uses are almost all owned by freight railroads. CSX, Union Pacific, and a handful of other behemoths naturally hog them, which contributes to Amtrak's chronic tardiness, which in turn dissuades passengers from taking Amtrak. As a result, Congress cites Amtrak's low-ridership numbers as a reason not to grant it larger subsidies, which of course are exactly what Amtrak would need in order to purchase its own train tracks. Commenting on the vicious cycle, [former Amtrak chairman] John Robert Smith says: "You can't disinvest in something and then beat it to death because it doesn't perform."
There's already relatively strong demand for train service in the Northeast, and Albany-Rensselaer is one of the busiest stations in the whole system. But if you could hop a high-speed train from here and reliably arrive at New York-Penn in, say, an hour and a half -- what might that do for ridership?
And the same goes for other sorts of transportation systems. What if the Capital Region had a bus rapid transit system that was truly rapid and worked more like a subway system than a bus? What if people felt good about the state of local taxis? How would that affect demand for those modes?
Anyway, that National Journal article includes some interesting bits about funding for Amtrak, some floated proposals for private high-speed rail in other parts of the country, and how political support for trains is maybe a bit more nuanced than you might expect.
Earlier on AOA: Thinking about high-speed rail in New York
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