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Intercity Passenger Rail

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Quote Originally Posted by acptulsa View Post
Once upon a time, there was a thing called the Interstate Commerce Commission. It was founded to prevent kamikaze capitalism amongst railroads in a day when their efficiencies and primitive technology pretty much guaranteed them a monopoly in viable transportation.

The best thing Reagan did, in my opinion, and the one time I felt some hope for a moment that he would prove to be the libertarian he claimed to be, was when he abolished this bureau. But it was a decade too late to save the passenger train.

In 1970, the Santa Fe was voluntarily running very high quality passenger services between Chicago and Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, Chicago and Houston via Ft. Worth and with a connecting train to Dallas, and Los Angeles to San Diego. All were daily; the San Diegan featured three daily round trips.

The ICC was also forcing the corporation to operate daily between La Junta, Co. and Denver, and between Kansas City and Tulsa. These services were losing the railroad considerable money. But the ICC refused to let the railroad drop these unpopular services. Montana was the worst, thanks to Sen. Mike Mansfield. The Burlington Northern was forced to maintain six round trips a day between St. Paul and Seattle.

So, rather than beat Reagan to the punch and declare the ICC redundant in a world of Interstate highways and air freight services, Nixon and his henchman Erlichman found a way to expand government instead. They bought rail from the New Haven and the collapsed Penn Central, and created Amtrak out of it. This rail runs through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and into the District of Columbia.

They also took over all passenger services, and reserved unto itself the authority to run on privately owned rail. This was voluntary; 'joining up' required a massive payoff (payable at the government's option in locomotives and passenger cars) and agreement to trackage rights and such. Those that didn't join were to keep running their current schedules for ten years. No cooperation in routing, scheduling or ticketing was to be forthcoming between the holdouts and Amtrak.

Most railroads joined. Then came the insult added to the injury. It turned out that the government wasn't willing to run many of the 'vital' services that the government wouldn't let private enterprise discontinue. So, after the Amtrak takeover, the national passenger rail network looked much as it would have looked had the government let the railroads run what was popular and drop what wasn't. But with a difference. Amtrak sucked from the first.

So, would there be high-speed rail if Amtrak were never created? Well, Amtrak would have been created, even if the eight states that benefit most had to create it themselves. But it wouldn't have spread beyond that corridor. And I haven't heard of high-speed rail being created without government involvement in recent years. So, who knows? But it wouldn't have and won't happen(ed) out West, where medium sized cities are hundreds of miles apart. The economics aren't there.

But what we would have, had Nixon acted like a conservative for once, and in my opinion, are a select few, very nice trains much like hotels on wheels. They would have come back into style by now, they would not only be helpful but really pleasant, and we'd like them. And I think the process could be reversed, if public interest could be kindled. The way Amtrak was equipped in the beginning could be reversed at it's end. This would allow private enterprise to resume their traditions with minimal risk.

Not Obama's high speed rail. But realistic, a good thing, and a talking point for our side.