Incrementalist? April 21st, 1998
Editorial, William Lindley
I was recently asked whether I am an Incrementalist. Well…
If we’re talking about technology, what I see in our Nation’s future is commuter trains, regional rail trains, and intercity trains. High-speed rail is sensible only where existing conventional train lines are at capacity.
If we’re talking about policy, I am a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. Passenger trains can save us money (by reducing expenditures on expanded highway and airway systems), improve our economy (by enabling people of all walks of life to get to work without having to own or drive an automobile), and improve our environment. These are all conservative goals.
Private enterprise can and should run trains. Government should only do what private enterprise cannot; in the rail passenger arena, this means providing legislation and trust funds (just like highways, waterways, and airports) which would allow operators to be profitable even if the system as a whole is not (just as highways, waterways and airways require huge Federal subsidies).
Amtrak is still in a precarious position and may not survive. Even if Amtrak fails, we as rail advocates want the passenger trains to continue.
I see a unique opportunity to work with both traditional Amtrak supporters and opponents to build on existing Amtrak Reform legislation, and change the system to:
- minimize or eliminate Federal operating subsidies;
- create a Passenger Rail Trust Fund like the highways, airways, and waterways have;
- privatize passenger train operations: to States, regional authorities, private operators – even bus and airline corporations, and perhaps an Amtrak “morphed” into just operations.
Why would such a system change accomplish our goals?
- Conservatives get reduced government;
- Traditional Amtrak supporters get more trains;
- Rail passenger funds taken “off-budget” into a trust fund;
- Cities and states get funds to improve their stations and transportation systems.
Who would oppose this? Anyone who is not willing to risk what little we’ve got to gain much more.
Spending. This change does not mean Federal spending on passenger rail would cease. In fact it needs to increase… there is much infrastructure which needs rebuilding or improvement. We might retain a national agency (somewhat like Amtrak Headquarters) as an agent for liability insurance, equipment purchasing, and reservations. Dr. Adrian Herzog’s 1996 paper, “Towards An Amtrak Free National Rail Network,” sets forth some ideas in this direction.
Privatization. Some say privatization cannot work; but this country was built on free enterprise, which thrives when given incentives. Susquehanna (NYS&W) operates the OnTrack commuter train “without a subsidy in exchange for real property relief” and Walter Rich, President and CEO, says “OnTrack loses less money than what the taxes would be if we had to pay them.” [January 1998 TRAINS]. Let’s build on that.
Risk. Airlines come and go. Eastern, Pan Am, Branniff, National Air, and others have come and gone. But the airline system continues. Continental Trailways is gone, but Greyhound is doing well. This should be true of passenger trains as well. We must be willing to let companies be born, grow, and die.
I am reminded of my grandfather’s story of the Wisconsin woods. When he was a boy he would hunt deer. But in the 1920′s they erected ranger stations and doused the forest fires. Without forest fires, the berry bushes (which thrive in the spaces cleared by fires, and which bear fruit only on new growth) produced few berries. Without berries, the deer could not make it through to springtime.
The rangers thought they were protecting the forest. But they were killing it by preserving the Status Quo. After sixty years, they began to allow forest fires again. In Wisconsin the ranger stations concentrate on controlling, not eliminating, fires – and the deer have returned.
Do you see how preserving the Status Quo – not allowing forest fires – kills the ecosystem? This is what has happened with Amtrak. An artificially supported “things as they are” in the past quarter-century has crippled passenger rail’s ability to thrive.
There is no growth without the danger of loss.
Diamondbacks Express 1998 April 19th, 1998
On April 18 and 19, 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team ran a special train from the Tempe depot to the new Bank One Ballpark. Over five hundred baseball fans rode the train each day; and the thousand tickets sold out in a matter of hours.
Fans boarded the train in the morning at the Tempe Depot. Souvenir baseballs, and snacks and soft drinks, were distributed. Each passenger received a “boarding pass” which instructed them which car (1 through 8 ) to board. Car 8, the Dome, was boarded through Car 7.
This was the first passenger train to visit the Tempe Depot since the final Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle in 1996. Since that time, there has been much construction in the area, as downtown Tempe continues its revitalization. A new parking lot to the southwest of the depot was used for rail patrons.
The train pulled in right behind Bank One Ballpark at a temporary platform. The eight passenger cars and two engines (one at either end of the train) stopped between the outskirts of the UP/SP Phoenix Yard and the grade crossing just to the west of the Ballpark. Equipment for the train was brought from Los Angeles and consisted of seven Amfleet cars from the San Diegan service and Full Dome #9302.
Arizona Rail Makes Sense for Phoenix
* Rail and Baseball Facts — Phoenix is only Major League city without rail passenger service
* ARPA’s Arizona Rail Proposal
* “Fans get to ride the rails to BOB — Trying out a train” by Mary Jo Pitzl, The Arizona Republic April 19, 1998, page B1. QUOTES: “One thousand train tickets sold out in seven hours.” “Gil Mallery, president of Amtrak West, was in town Saturday morning to brainstorm possibilities with [ARPA] … He said Amtrak is interested in exploring corridor travel — such as between the Valley and Los Angeles, the Valley and Tucson, and the Valley and San Diego — as well as local commuter travel…”
* “All Aboard the 1st D-Backs Express” by Vivi Stenberg,Mesa Tribune, April 19, 1998, page A5. QUOTE: “And although it was meant as a one-time promotional event on the Diamondbacks’ behalf, passenger said they would eagerly catch another ride with the express if it’s offered again.”
* “Bumper to Bumper: Milwaukee discovers trains are ‘the way to go’” Column, Bob Petrie, The Arizona Republic April 19, 1998, page EV1. QUOTE: “The quick sellout of the Diamondbacks Tempe-to-Phoenix train commuter package for this weekend’s games with the Florida Marlins makes me wonder why rail wouldn’t be a nice alternative to being stuck in rush hour traffic, day after day.” “Rail is now working in Milwaukee, where a masstive freeway paving project on Interstate 94 sparked the creation of a temporary passenger train service between the west suburbs and downtown…”
* “Central Ave. events throw fans curveball: Mall bus won’t run Sunday” The Arizona Republic April 17, 1998, page A1. QUOTES: The baseball shuttle bus “was more successful than transit officials had dreamed of. More than 20,000 people rode the shuttles during their first week of operation.” “…transit officials said the huge response has been encouraging, especially because so many of the riders apparently had not used a bus before.”
* SIDEBAR: “Private firms bid to run buses” (ibid, page A12). QUOTES: “The city-run baseball shuttle buses have been a roaring success… the shuttles generated nearly enough money from the $2 round-trip fare to cover costs…”
* All aboard for tickets on D-Backs’ shuttle train The Arizona Republic April 7, 1998
* “Fans can go to 2 games by train from Tempe,” The Arizona Republic April 3, 1998
* “D-Backs Express keeps fans on track: Team touting 2-game train rides from Tempe.” Mesa Tribune, 3 April 1998, page A1. QUOTES: “A train dubbed the ‘Diamondbacks Express’ will take fans from downtown Tempe to the Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix for the April 18 and 19 games… The Diamondbacks might repeat the event if the idea proves successful, but as of now, no additional trips are planned.”
* News report, 10 February 1998: [Team owner Jerry] Colangelo seeks train service to Diamondbacks games