Monday, March 05, 2007

Disappearing railroad blues

The Democrat-Gazette ran an Associated Press story about Amtrak in the Sunday business section, and it was both accurate and fair. Amtrak is having terrible troubles because the freight railroads on which it depends to dispatch and carry its’ passenger trains are straining with too little track and yard capacity. The result is a state of perpetual lateness. In the transportation business, that is pure poison.

I haste to add that the freight rail carriers have subjected their cargo customers to an unholy joyride of uncertainty for decades, so tardiness is part of the corporate culture. Railroads also have a monopolistic attitude and deregulation has only hastened the death or competition. Truckers handle the time sensitive stuff, for the most part.

What Amtrak needs, along with the freight operators of their captive trains, is an infusion of capital to improve tracks, signals, and yards. The public would benefit greatly’ consumers, shippers, and passengers. Congress is considering tax breaks for railroads and, with hesitation, I think it is a fairly good idea.

Although one should never resort to using fear as motivation, it might be worth remembering how much we needed good ground transportation right after 9/11. Besides, Amtrak is good for small towns and a stronger growing passenger system would be good for Arkansas.

(Broadcast March 5, 2007)

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