26.9.05

IN DEFENSE OF CORRIDORS. Chris at Signifying Nothing has more thoughts about rail service in emerging corridors such as Texas.
Amtrak probably hasn’t helped its case in “flyover country”—particularly with Republican politicians—by only operating its flagship Acela Express service in the Northeast Corridor. If other parts of the rail system had been upgraded to a similarly high standard (notwithstanding the problems Acela has had), the political case for continued Amtrak subsidies would probably be much better, even if the economic case for building high-speed rail in other areas is weak-to-nonexistent—the existence of Southwest Airlines, for example, makes a Houston–Dallas rail link a sure money-loser, even though tens of thousands of people make that trip daily.
There is, in fact, a funny public choice problem in that many of the "red" states are sparsely populated, with one long-distance train often available at inconvenient hours and subject to unreliable timekeeping. And I could raise questions about the market test for the airline or for the interstates, given the use of tax moneys to provide (inadequate) airport capacity and (perpetually under repair -- sorry, I'm still dwelling on the ever-under-construction Kingery and Borman Express[sic]ways) pavement. But it's the cost of providing the high speed service that I wish to address. Given a Hiawatha capable of spinning seven foot drivers at 120 mph on jointed rail protected by semaphore signals, or an E-7 diesel with 22:57 gearing and a top speed of 117 mph on level track, perhaps it's the imposition of (in the Superintendent's view excessively strict) safety standards mandating welded rail, centralized traffic control, and cab signalling with automatic train control as well as some romance with electrification that precludes the creation of high-speed rail in other areas. Perhaps the government ought to go away? Is there a business opportunity in the construction of new transportation corridors that government provision of the highways is crowding out? What I'm envisioning is a toll highway for trucks only, with railroad tracks suitable for fast intermodals and faster passenger trains in the median strip. Or perhaps not. If such a thing were profitable, wouldn't somebody be attempting to promote it?

In other corridor news, more renderings of the upgrade to Milwaukee's downtown passenger train station are now available, and a local paid aesthete likes what she sees.

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