Dana Kelley authored an interesting article on the “regression” of travel by rail in our nation, NT, Aug 4. Mr. Kelley ignores one salient point; if people in the U.S. valued travel by rail we would have it. Mass transit, especially via rail, is rarely, if ever, cost efficient.
JEFFTRAN is a local example of the cost ineffectiveness of mass transit. Several years ago Mark Mehmert, JEFFTRAN division director, provided the following data. Fare revenue (2015 budget) $227,000, operating budget (2015 budget) $2.4 million. Fixed route regular fare $1, actual cost $5.43. Handi-Wheels regular fare $2, actual cost $20.69. People only want mass transit if someone else pays for it or they don’t have to use it. (I think it is a fine thing if the taxpayers of Jefferson City choose to subsidize mass transit in the city. I vehemently oppose those outside the city being forced to subsidize it with state and federal handouts.)
AMTRAK is a national example of the folly of travel by rail. The federal government took over U.S. passenger rail service nearly 50 years ago. Listen and you can hear the sound of tax dollars being sucked down the AMTRAK drain. According to railpassengers.org, AMTRAK cost taxpayers nearly $3 billion in 2018 alone. For 2018 AMTRAK forecast that taxpayers would have to fork over $126 to subsidize each of the 4.7 million long distance tickets sold. (According to Expedia ticket prices to fly from Kansas City to Los Angeles range from $61 to $99. That $126 of gasoline would allow me to drive to Mobile, Alabama.)
Hopefully Mr. Kelley’s article was just a nostalgic look into the past, a past well before he was born. I’m 71 years old and have been told that when I was a youngster, I, along with several family members, rode a train from Coldwater, Michigan, to Elkart, Indiana, to visit relatives; if so, it is my only intrastate rail trip.
I fear that he was suggesting another “free stuff” federally subsidized program funded by more debt being piled on our children. If taxpayers served by such programs choose to fund them, so be it. I just don’t those who receive little or no benefit from such programs forced to fund them.