There’s a lot to dislike in the latest attack on passenger rail from the House Republicans, including further efforts to defund the vital long-distance routes. But what’s particularly annoying is their ongoing effort to confine high speed rail in America to the Northeast Corridor, even though other regions have a strong need for HSR as well:
The bipartisan bill also would end federal financial support for high-speed rail outside the Northeast Corridor, which would be permitted to spend up to $1 billion on high-speed rail.
The Northeast Corridor reported $312.3 million in profits in the first 10 months of fiscal 2014, but most other Amtrak routes lose money. For instance, the Maple Leaf that stops in Rochester on its route between New York City and Toronto operated $5.6 million in the red during the first 10 months of this fiscal year….
The bipartisan bill proposed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reflects two years of discussions with stakeholders in the passenger rail industry around the country, Republican Rep. Jeff Denham of California, chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, told reporters.
“We want to have transparency,” Denham said. “We want Amtrak to run more like a business.”
Well that’s the problem right there, of course. Rail shouldn’t have to run like a business. It’s a vital piece of transportation infrastructure that should exist for its own sake and be funded to maximize ridership and provide connections to cities large and small, rather than profit.
Republicans, being ideologically opposed to government subsidies except when they and their cronies benefit from it, don’t want to fund HSR in places like California or Florida or Texas because it would prove that government works. But they believe they can privatize the Northeast Corridor, or at least its operations, and the possibility of private profit is what gets the NEC an exception from the House GOP’s war on high speed rail.
It’s no way to provide a national infrastructure. But then, we’ve been here before. The ideological predecessors of the current Republicans were, ironically enough, the Jacksonian Democrats of the pre-Civil War era. They resolutely opposed government spending on infrastructure such as roads and rails. It was only when Republicans took control of Congress in 1861 after Democrats lost their majority due to Southern secession that they were able to enact legislation providing for a transcontinental railroad. Sure, the way that railroad was paid for was pretty flawed, but it wouldn’t have gotten built without some kind of government subsidy.
We can have a government that doesn’t subsidize passenger rail, or we can have a national HSR network. We can’t have both. Even the private All Aboard Florida rail project is relying on government loans, and I would expect Texas Central to do the same. Unfortunately, Republican ideology is getting in the way of an effective rail network – just as Democratic ideology did 150 years ago.