The Little Engine That Could
Train service around here can be awfully slow. Not so slow as the horse-drawn carriages the government allowed to fade away, but slow nonetheless. (Although you do sometimes see carriages at fancy weddings. Wouldn’t it be funny if people rented Amtrak cars for romantic occasions? That’s another idea for a reality show.)
Some of the federal stimulus money may be used to speed things up. This article in the Kansas City Star gives the details: The Obama administration wants to spend $13 billion during the next five years to make train service faster. But not much faster. And Amtrak is blaming its slow-as-a-turtle pace on our free-enterprise economy:
“We are where we are because of where we’ve been,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “Our rail system has functioned on a private ownership model going back to the 1800s. In the much more compact countries of Europe, they work on a government model.”
I’m thinking: What about Japan? Japan’s high-speed rail system is usually held up as a model of excellence. This is what the Mackinac Center concluded in a report on privatization and passenger rail:
In Japan, privatization has reinvigorated development efforts, and the new railways have designed more experimental trains using more advanced technology than the old national railway would have.
And as for Amtrak’s private ownership roots, here’s a lengthy Wikipedia article on the subject of Amtrak’s funding from federal and state governments. Given Amtrak’s extensive support from several levels of government, the comments about being hindered by too much capitalism sound like poor excuses for sticking to the same outdated technologies. Passengers would be better served by private ownership of the railways and healthy competition.
Or Amtrak could just continue on its uphill course, saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can …”