Two Tracks for Railroads

Monday, April 01, 2013

Some time back, I commented that Matthew Yglesias of Slate ought to consider whether privatization might help passenger railways survive and prosper.

Profit and loss, and not inappropriate government power, should determine whether a given area has rail service and how good that service is. Government officials -- and voters! -- who know nothing about railroads have no business attempting to run them.
A Michael Barone piece I ran across this morning provides some interesting historical and economic data in support of my contention. Hint: It is titled, "Why Freight Rail Pays and Passenger Trains Flunk".
The past 40 years have seen a laboratory experiment on how to revive railroads. Government has gotten out of freight rail, while passenger rail has become largely a public sector function.

We've had a chance to see which works better and to understand why.
We've heard plenty of stories about expensive government transit projects that nobody is going to ride (but Barone provides an executive summary, just in case), but how many of his readers will know the following?
The following quarter-century has seen a renaissance of American freight rail. As a March 27 Wall Street Journal story relates, rail companies have been investing in rail yards, refueling stations and new tracks. They are building new bridges, widening mountain tunnels and "turning their networks into double-lane steel freeways." The Association of American Railroads says it will invest $14 billion this year, up from $6 billion in 2003. [minor fomat edits]
Oh, and freight costs are less than half of what they were in the early eighties.

Barone's piece provides solid, obviously relevant data on why government "bullet trains" and the like are a questionable proposition. More important, however, it  does an outstanding job of demonstrating not just that central planning is bad, but that freedom is a viable alternative. In this day and age, when far too many people simply cannot imagine an alternative, this is a great help.

-- CAV

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