Passenger trains: Between Barack and a hard place

January 12, 2015

Only a damned fool would beg Congress for passenger rail funding, trapping in amber the status quo. With tax-and-spend hostile Republicans in control of the House and Senate until at least 2017, America’s passenger trains and their advocates are between Barack and a hard place…

President Obama’s vocalized vision of delivering to 80% of Americans access to high speed rail, accompanied by an orgy of stimulus-funds spending as if it were HSR-enabling fairy dust, is a cataract-blurred recollection. Today’s congressional majority is separated only by the degree to which tax and spending cuts are supported. This doesn’t deny congressional support exists for passenger rail. To recruit the misers, however, will require articulation of a new vision containing generous free-market elements…

Possessing fluency in the lingua franca of today’s political and economic reality, which looks to the private sector to produce goods and services more efficiently, at less cost and of better quality than government, is former Amtrak Reform Council member Jim Coston. He superintends Chicago-based Corridor Capital LLC, which raises private-sector money for public-private partnerships, and engineers, in conjunction with states, non-traditional operating and equipment maintenance strategies.

With freight railroads out of the passenger business and Amtrak stretched to the boundary in meeting just basic capital needs, Coston says “there is a role for a new kind of company—a passenger-rail developer to access capital, expertise, and other resources directly from the private sector.” An example is private-sector capital to increase the number and quality of passenger cars that in turn boost corridor capacity and revenue and lower costs. The model allows private-sector partners a profit…

Read the rest of the article by Frank Wilner in Railway Age, 12 January 2015.

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