Need a New Amtrak Station? Tough!
As a retired advertising guy, I’ve always admired the ability to express thoughts that grab someone’s attention in just a few words. It’s hard—very hard—but we remember the really good ones, even after many years.
This is one I remember—from back in the days of the Vietnam War, I guess. In case it’s too small to read, it says: “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”
I was reminded of that quote when I came across a news story about a fellow named Jeff Campbell, who has set out to raise money for a new railway station in the town of Fulton, Kentucky. Amtrak’s City of New Orleans stops in Fulton: 1:00 in the morning for the northbound train and not quite two-and-a-half hours later comes the southbound. Those less-than-desirable hours are no doubt one for the main reasons for the new station, which will provide a safe, comfortable place for passengers to wait.
The old station is bare bones, basically just enough to provide minimal shelter. The new one will be a step up and, says Campbell, reminiscent of the Fulton station back when they had a dozen trains a day stopping there. It’s going to cost about $125,000 and they’re almost there … just $10,000 to go.
OK, so here’s my question for the day: Why do the good people of Fulton, Kentucky, have to have a damn bake sale to get an adequate railroad station?
When was the last time you read about ordinary citizens out raising money for a new airport? Never, of course. Instead, government pays for it … the feds or the state or the municipality. Or all three.
The fact is, government at one level or another subsidizes every form of public transportation, from the airlines on down to bike lanes. But only when it comes to passenger rail do politicians throw a hissy fit and say that long-distance trains should be able to operate without any government support. And that’s why Jeff Campbell is going around the Twin Cities area on the Kentucky/Tennessee border trying to raise that last ten grand.
Well, good for Jeff, but it’s a damn shame he has to do it.
Actually, I would take your blog point a step further. Why do our cities tolerate the “curbside” buses that avoid paying rent/taxes by free-loading on municipal streets? How do we still have the 100% tax-funded Essential Air Service program after all these years since airlines were de-regulated back in 1978? If the free market forces are supposed to determine what routes and service levels we should have with passenger rail, why does that formula not apply to air?
How does Congress rationalize spending approximately $300 Million per year on airports just 40 miles down the road from another airport (e.g., Decatur, IL to Springfield, IL); or, for the convenience of a village so close to a major hub airport (e.g., Hagerstown, MD to Dulles or BWI)? The private airlines cannot sustain their profitability, despite subsidies and as they minimize or pull out of the short-haul airports, these towns will become even more dependent upon a viable passenger rail system!
> Why do the good people of Fulton, Kentucky, have to have a damn bake
> sale to get an adequate railroad station?
Because it is their train station. A train station should be the property of the local transit authority – if there is one – otherwise it should belong to the municipality. And the municipality, and its citizens, should pay for it. Ideally, really, it would be owned and operated privately – except our scheme of organizations and regulations makes that essentially impossible – so we are left with these half-baked [pun intended] solutions, at best; mostly we get nothing at all.
> When was the last time you read about ordinary citizens out raising money
> for a new airport?
No, in that case they TAKE our money to build it. On the other hand there is more than one departure a day…. There is a serious chicken-and-egg problem in transportation investment – multiplied by the fact that it is all far more expensive than it needs to be, and that magnified by the fact that it takes far too long to do anything.
We need to declare railroads common carriers – just as we did when we ‘privatized’ [kinda sorta] the telecommunications systems. And we need to slash the FRA’s and FTA’s ludicrous regulations – starting with the PTC requirement. Little to no chance that will happen. So we plod along in the system we have. Fortunately we have a lot of people who care enough to have a bake sale.