Monday, May 2, 2011

The basics of Highways and Rails

Yesterday (May 1), The Flint Journal published an editorial in favor of state support for passenger rail, "Our Voice: Michigan must climb aboard movement to ride the rails". They cited the past six months' 26.2% increase in ridership on the Blue Water, Amtrak's line from Chicago through Lansing and Flint to Port Huron. (Only one trip per day each way.) Interestingly, Flint's station saw a 34.7% increase in the last six months.

There were quite a number of favorable comments by this afternoon, but as usual, there were the folks who believe we should subsidize highways but not railways. "Bullseye" expressed these sentiments colorfully: "What a laugh. What are you smoking! Rail roads have never paid for themselves. We are unable to keep our roads maintained. Where would we find money for this? No police, no fireman! This is dream from la la land you need to come back to Michigan!"

So it's time to go over some of the basics about the cost of rail travel. I put up a comment; here's a version for you, dear blog readers:

It's true that railroads cost taxpayer money, but so do roads and so do cars. Here are a few facts:

  • Even toll roads don't pay for themselves; the Illinois Tollway Authority is requesting money from the Illinois State Legislature.
  • Americans sent $254 billion to other countries for oil in 2009, much if it to unfriendly governments. If American "patriots" woke up and realized how much they're subsidizing our enemies by hanging on to their SUVs, they might think investing a little of their tax dollars in rail passenger service was a really good deal.
  • Family travelers: Kids love being able to run around in trains. My 3-year-old grandson learned how to kick the door-open panel on a trip to Chicago. (Drove the Conductor crazy, but the kid had a great time!)
  • No transit "nuts" are trying to get you out of your car. They're just trying get you to let them into the train, the bus, and the light rail, so you can have more room on the highway. It's a good deal for you, and costs less than adding lanes to the highway!
Oh - and remember if you're a business traveler, 99% of your time on a train to Chicago would be billable work-time. How much of your time would be billable on a plane or driving your car? Business travelers would recover their year's tax expenditures, plus business-class rail fare in one trip. Gov. Snyder is a business man and understands the value of this transportation option, which is why he supported rail during his campaign.

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