Thinking About Trains

Here’s a great trick question for typically misinformed American audiences: Which nation has the best railroad system in the world?


The answer, of course, is the United States. Our freight railroad system carries 1.9 TRILLION ton-miles of freight every year, moving lots of heavy stuff like coal, grain, steel, automobiles and chemicals over long distances. This compares to 1.2 trillion ton-miles for American trucks. Our freight train system utterly dwarfs all the subsidy-guzzling passenger rail systems of Europe combined in its pulling power and capacity and its importance to our economy.


Our Big Four Class 1 freight railroads – Union Pacific and BNSF in the West, and CSX and Norfolk Southern in the East – are super-efficient private-sector carriers requiring zero tax subsidy, using the latest technology and moving vast quantities of freight with only 10% of the employees in the railroad industry 100 years ago.


Yet most Americans bemoan the death of our railroads because they know nothing about them. When Americans think about “railroads” they usually think only in terms of the system they interface with occasionally, the abysmal Amtrak system, which is endlessly promoted in the media but which would have been bankrupt decades ago if it were not existing on life support from the taxpayer.


But Amtrak is truly a lost cause. It sells about 27 million tickets per year, each requiring a direct government subsidy of about $50, while our real mass-transit system – America’s private-sector airlines – sells about 750 million tickets per year, requires no subsidy whatsoever, pays taxes to the government, employ hundreds of thousands of people, and gets people coast to coast in 6 hours.


Meanwhile, Greyhound, one of America’s private-sector intercity bus systems, sells about 20 million tickets per year, serves many more cities than Amtrak, has a vastly superior on-time record than Amtrak does, requires no government subsidy, has lower-priced tickets than Amtrak, employs tens of thousands of people, and pays taxes to the government. Yet Greyhound and the other bus systems in America are ignored by the media because they are beneath the dignity of the elite journalists and university professors and politicians who are pining for sleek, speedy Euro trains. For themselves, of course.


Why are so many Americans misinformed about our basic industrial infrastructure like railroads?


Answer: Because they are misinformed by the Ancient Media about practically everything.


Just look at the rhetoric about Euro-type “high-speed rail projects” for America that liberals always are demanding, that would need completely separate track structures, requiring the demolishing of many, many thousands of homes and buildings on their route from New York to Washington.


Will they ever be built?


No. There is too much disruption.


In fact, when it came to finally subsidizing our new Euro-type trains under the Obama administration’s 2009 federal budget, the first project out of the box was proposed from Los Angeles to … Las Vegas??


Of course the enviros always tell us that we need Euro-type trains to relieve our crowded highways and save energy. Yet the highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is not crowded. And even though most of the land is open between those cities, such a project would face years of enviro challenges.


So really “high-speed rail” is just another name for a massively corrupt government boondoggle that was passed out first to Democrat US senator Harry Reid of Nevada as a political favor, not to alleviate traffic or conserve gasoline.


If you want to see a microcosm of the nonsense about “high speed rail”, come to semi-rural Berkshire County in Massachusetts where we have a bus system that is the local equivalent of a Euro-type passenger railroad. It runs 80 hours per week, on 6 days. It operates on a crack schedule. The buses are clean, modern and air conditioned. It goes to every big town in the country. And it consumes large subsidies from every town it serves but runs empty most of the day. In fact the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority is used almost exclusively by a small number of poor people who cannot afford cars.


Thus the question is: Why don’t all the elite lefty environmentalists around Berkshire County, including thousands of hyper-liberal vacationers and second-home owners from New York City, use this wonderful system?


Because they always have one set of rules for themselves and one set of rules for all us Little People.


Yet these are the same enviro elites who want the federal government to spend literally trillions and trillions of dollars building a national high-speed railroad system that would never, ever in a million years have any financial viability. In fact, the much-touted Japanese Bullet Train started operation in 1964 and was privatized in 1989 because it was consuming such a vast quantity of taxpayer cash that it was not sustainable. Meanwhile both of Canada‘s national freight railroads – Canadian Pacific and Canadian National – have been privatized. And CN is considered the most efficient freight line in the world under the management of a guy from Tennessee named Hunter Harrison.


Amtrak, meanwhile, is a valuable system only in the heavily-traveled Northeast Corridor of WashingtonNew YorkBostonAlbany where it runs on its own set of tracks serving dense populations. Otherwise, as it meanders its way across the nation on long routes that lose tons of money every mile, it is running on the tracks put down and maintained by the Big Four freight carriers. And every time that an Amtrak train gets priority over a freight train, the freight system loses a little efficiency.


Which is why we should suspend Amtrak operations everywhere except in the Northeast Corridor and a few other routes that are heavily used, and then privatize those routes because they can be profitable.


But now instead of rationally pruning Amtrak back so as not to interfere with our crucial freight traffic, the liberals in our government are seeking major increases every year in funding for Amtrak. So if Amtrak buys more trainsets and runs more trains on those cross-country corridors, slowing down our efficient freight system, what will happen?


We will end up with more truck traffic on the highways, that is what.


So why don’t all the fanatical train-o-philes demand that Europe build a new parallel train system to carry freight? Because European systems carry mostly passengers, and thus Euro highways are clogged with trucks.


But no, you never hear about a proposal like that. Because Europe Is Perfect.


Americans need to become enlightened about every subject. Because under our media regime today, most Americans know nothing about everything. All subjects are skewed toward Big Government and Big Liberalism.


Oftentimes, the truth is not sexy. Talking about nuclear power plants and freight trains is not something most people wish to hear about. They want to hear media fantasies about ‘free’ solar power and 200 mile per hour passenger trains. This is the whimsy that the media and the college professors love to peddle to us because it dazzles some of us and makes the professors look important.


Unfortunately, their ideas do not work. And until we consider the hard facts, most Americans will never know how the world really operates, or basic facts like why our freight railroad system is so valuable to our great nation, and why it also happens to be the best in the world.   


Please visit my website at www.nikitas3.com for more. You can print out for free my book, Right Is Right, which explains why only conservatism can maintain our freedom and prosperity.