Tuesday, March 10, 2009


This story got me once again thinking about the disrespect rail travel gets in some (rightwing, of course) circles. Kill Amtrak, it can’t make a profit! Why should taxpayers subsidize rail travel?!
Well, what I don’t get about this “argument” of profitability is this: Since when did highways (other than tollways) ever make a profit or even one red cent? We heavily subsidize road travel and no one says a thing. The cost of driving doesn’t end at the boundary of your vehicle.

Even air travel is directly and indirectly subsidized.

If all rail service had to make a profit, there would be a number of profitable trains in the Northeast part of the country and that’s about it. There’s nothing wrong with public subsidization for rail. In fact, it’s a pretty efficient means of transportation that should be encouraged.

But back to the story. I think it would be great to have high(er) speed rail between Chicago and St. Louis with a stop here in Springfield. When going to Chicago (downtown, anyway), my preferred method is by train. In the process, I’m keeping one more car off the road, don’t have to worry about parking, and can relax on the trip.


RickMonday said...


I am with you 100% on this. I personally would take Amtrak more often if it were A) more reliable and B) faster. The problem is that Amtrak rents the tracks from the major railroad companies and the freight trains have the right of way. So, even if we could go over 100mph, you still might have to pull over and wait 30 minutes for a freight train to pass.

I was talking to a conductor several years ago on an Amtrak trip I took to Colorado. The gentleman told me that the airlines were responsible for passing legislation that would limit the speed of trains as they saw Amtrak as a potential competitor.

But in general, I think it would be less expensive to upgrade the tracks than it would be to maintain highways. I think it would have a snowball effect, if more people take the train then there would be less wear and tear on the roads.

Anonymous said...

High speed rail is great theory, but in practice is more problematic, as fly-over county becomes ride-through country. High-speed rail could very well lead to closing of most railroad crossings through Central and Southern Illinois, in the same way that a new interstate highway closes them. And township governments do not have money for overpass construction and maintenance. Also, at its best, high-speed rail will only route a very small fraction of travelers from other modes. Damaging fragile economies along the routes seems a huge price to pay to get too few people from one urban center to another.

RickMonday said...


This "high-speed" that Durbin is talking about is the 110mph version not the 200 plus mph that Japan and others have.

I would agree with you to some extent if this were the 200mph version but since it is not, I dont think any of the negative effects that you suggested on smaller towns will take place.

Anonymous said...

Rick, the problem is when something like a 60 foot long semi tractor and trailer hauling grain, which is not an uncommon occurrence in much of Illinois, approaches the tracks. Even a 110 mph train will travel nearly a quarter mile in the time it takes for the truck to clear the danger zone around the RR tracks. Even if the urbanites sell the idea without closures, it will only take one wreck for them to change the rules.

RickMonday said...

Oh, I see what you are saying. I drive 55 quite a bit and I have seen many new crossing arms installed; even on old country roads.

Are we talking just the flashing lights and drop down gates or something more elaborate?