By Peter Churchman
It is past time for the government to get out of the passenger rail industry. Rail projects are not authorized within the enumerated powers of the Constitution. If this wasn’t reason enough, the government does an inherently poor job running a railroad. Government run programs like Amtrak have a poor safety record and consistently lose money. Additionally, government inefficiency leads directly to inefficiently run businesses. If a need for passenger rail projects exists, those projects should be left wholly to private industry, where the most good will be achieved - and will not snatch the taxpayers’ hard-earned cash.
Amtrak experienced the strongest ridership ever in its most recent fiscal year, yet as a business they still lost money. One reason for this is Amtrak cannot operate as a fully independent business because it is controlled by the government. A private business could adapt to its environment and maximize profits by making different choices, such as focusing on profitable areas and changing how they did business in unprofitable ones. Plus, it could generate money for maintenance and safety improvements without taking money from the American taxpayer. When passenger railways are run through a government program instead of a private business, decisions are made by politicians and bureaucrats who have no incentive to make it run efficiently. Lifelong politicians only vote for programs like passenger rail in hopes of gaining a few extra votes in the next election and leveraging a few more campaign donations from special interest groups.
Our government takes our tax dollars and grants them to rail projects around the country. Most often, these rail projects are located in large urban areas with huge local tax revenue. Why should the people in rural America see their wealth transferred to the large metropolitan cities?
In Central Texas, a high speed rail (HSR) project has been proposed from Dallas to Houston, but the HSR will have to use the might of the federal government and the dollars of the American taxpayer to build it. The company developing this HSR wants the federal government to grant them use of eminent domain and government loans to build the project. In other words, they not only want your tax dollars our government has taken with force, but they also want to steal your land. How many times must the citizens of this country inform our federal government that theft is wrong and it violates our natural rights that every individual is born with? This project would only benefit the large metropolitan areas of Dallas and Houston, leaving every county, town, and landowner between suffering.
The federal government should look to the past and recognize its strengths do not include the management of rail projects. Rail is something that should be built and operated by railroads, not the government. The free market will provide us safe trains when and where they are needed. The federal government has only one very simple obligation – to stay out of the railroad business.