Recently I have watched a few videos from people who are seeking to support the development of rail transportation in the United States as a supplement (or even a replacement) to America’s driving. There are polls that demonstrate that a majority of Americans would like to have a high-speed rail network in the United States on the level of Europe, Japan, and China, but our own passenger rail system is but a pale and disappointing shadow of the efforts of other countries. One video in particular blamed this on a law that is not enforced that is supposed to give priority on rail lines to passenger trains but that frequently does not do so in practice, leaving America’s passenger rail travelers to have infrequent and unreliable service that is often hours or even days late.
I have a proposed solution to this, although I must admit it is probably not going to be cheap. There are supposed to be several areas where, right now, enough demand exists for intermodal rail travel that there could be enough riders to make the routes profitable at the present time, routes in the Front Range of Colorado and Wyoming, for example, or between San Luis Obisbo and San Jose, or between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, or between Chicago and Indianapolis or Atlanta and Nashville, that is being held back by slow rail lines and a generally failing rail infrastructure. What if, then, we tell Amtrak to put up or shut up when it comes to their rail offerings? What if we tell them to build and maintain a dedicated passenger rail service line in existing right of ways in those regions where a demand for passenger rail exists, with no interference from freight lines, so no excuses about delays, with the goal of creating the fastest and most reliable rail network possible in those areas, with the possibility of expansion to new areas, and eventual nationwide service, providing that the demand actually does exist for passenger rail that can be provided in a cost-effective manner?
Is Amtrak up for the challenge of being able to handle a dedicated passenger rail line that it has sole use of and sole responsibility for? Can it maintain lines so that its own rolling stock does not have to spend excessive time being repaired? Can it make reliable train schedules and provide a train-riding experience that people want to undertake with no excuses about freight rail? I am personally skeptical that it can. I do not consider myself to be an enemy of rail travel as some people are, but I am by no means a homer for it. I have enjoyed the time I have spent on trains in both the United States and Great Britain, and have planned (if not actually undertaken) longer rail travel opportunities in Europe. Where a train system works well, it certainly can be enjoyed. The key problem in the United States is that our passenger rail system does not work, and all people have are excuses about why it doesn’t work instead of answers for how it can be work and how those who operate it can be held accountable for making it work instead of being bailed out every year despite their manifest incompetence.
It remains unclear if Amtrak will ever be given the opportunity to run passenger rail on lines that are dedicated for the purpose. The United States has shown no great appetite for building or maintaining infrastructure in the present period, and building a whole passenger rail infrastructure in our age would be greatly cutting against the spirit of the times. Even so, by using existing right of ways that were given in more generous eras of American history, we can make that task as cost-effective as possible by not requiring right of ways to be purchased at truly extreme expenses in the contemporary age. My own opinion about those who seek to run areas of the commons on behalf of the American people is that we do not have competent and moral bureaucrats who are capable of handling the task without massive amounts of unprofitable corruption and bungling and the hiring of incompetent staff unable to do what is required of them, as one finds in the average DMV, for example. But I am always willing to be proven wrong.