Biden’s train wreck

Posted: April 6, 2021 by chrisharper in Uncomfortable Truths
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By Christopher Harper

Joe Biden and I have at least one thing in common. We both love riding the rails.

Unfortunately, Biden’s proposed $80 billion for Amtrak over the next 10 years is a train wreck. 

Biden rode the line between his home in Delaware and Washington, D.C., during which he says he has traveled more than two million miles.

My mileage is somewhat above 100,000 miles. But I’ve traveled throughout the United States, Europe, and China, the world’s best rail system. I’ve slogged through subways in Chicago, Washington, London, New York, and Guangzhou, China. 

Much of Biden’s plan is to repair Amtrak lines, particularly in the Northeast Corridor that runs between Boston and Washington. That’s like repairing your aging car rather than buying a new one. At this point, it’s time to quick paying for a fix-me-up.

To make rail travel a serious alternative for Americans, people must see trains as a fast and easy way to get from place to place.

That’s a tough sell without high-speed trains. In 2019, for example, Americans traveled an average of 15,000 miles by automobile, 2,100 miles by plane, and 1,100 miles by bus. Amtrak’s contribution was less than 20 miles per person. Even in the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak carried only six percent of intercity travelers.

According to the best available estimates, Americans bicycle 8.5 billion passenger miles a year compared to Amtrak’s 6.5 billion passenger miles. With less traffic than bicycles, Amtrak certainly doesn’t deserve the current $2 billion in annual subsidies unless it reinvents itself. 

What’s more is that Biden has a terrible history in trying to make the rails better. 

When Biden was tasked with implementing the Recovery Act in 2009, the $8 billion dedicated in the bill to high-speed trains was his favorite initiative. He equated it to the beginning of the interstate highway system, but it was a bust.

“The high-speed rail program that Vice President Biden and our team proposed ended up being a pretty big disappointment,” said Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation at the time. 

For example, the high-speed line between San Francisco and Los Angeles won’t be ready until 2033, if at all. 

His current play includes the expansion in the South and West, with new rail lines connecting cities like Nashville and Atlanta, Houston and Dallas, and bringing back service between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Amtrak has also proposed “enhanced services” on nearly all of its routes in the northeastern United States, with CEO Bill Flynn saying a priority would be rebuilding the “many major tunnels and bridges” in the Northeast Corridor.

Meanwhile, Americans will continue to fly in aircraft and drive their cars because nothing really will have changed after spending $80 billion. 

  1. Pod Hamp says:

    What is it about progressives and their love affair with rail travel? I just don’t get it. I have ridden the train a few times over the years, and had fun. But I have never considered it a form of transportation, but rather than a form of entertainment for people with a lot of time on their hands.

    For example, my wife, granddaughter and I once took a train trip from Salt Lake City to Denver and back. It is a beautiful trip and I would recommend it to anyone interested. But as a practical way to get between the two cities, it really sucks. It takes 16 hours by train. That is about twice as much time as it takes to drive (9 hours), and 10 times as long as it takes to fly (1.5 hours). It costs a lot less to drive and only a little more to fly than taking the train. Oh and the one departure a day leaves SLC at three in the morning, if the train is on time, and gets to Denver the next night.

    A much better use of transportation dollars would be to improve roads and airports, the transportation modes that people actually use, rather than propping up the train system. America has an awsome rail system – for freight. But not for people. And it never will, so quit trying to make it something that it isn’t.