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With a new administration in D.C., it's time to think outside of the box because passenger rail's survival just may depend on it

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Principle of Mediocrity

One of the biggest things holding passenger rail advocates back is a Principle of Mediocrity mindset where rail advocates are forever stuck in a 1970s mindset where passenger trains are always one step away from vanishing forever.

Exhibit A was Evan Stair's mind-numbing defense of the way Amtrak does business and NARP's passiveness while falsely suggesting that URPA has no solutions when in fact its spokespeople have provided plenty of solutions that are routinely ignored by the mainstream media (if some of these regional and state rail advocacy groups had actually forced Amtrak to adopt the "matrix theory," then the company may have more than a skeletal system today).

Exhibit B: The profit question will be left to the private operators, but is worth noting that other systems in the world do make money, so the mantra of "passenger rail isn't/can't be/won't be profitable" is absolutely false. Yet any talk about profitability and private operations will lead back to Wall Street CEOs who were rewarded for ruining their companies by getting huge raises. Such incidents are only indicative of those companies who don't really care about their customers because responsible companies do not allow their leaders to do greedy things. In other words, profit and private operators are not dirty words at all.

Exhibit C is the numerous people in the rail community who either incapable or unwilling to realize that running trains are part of a business and not a political guinea pig. The main reason why Amtrak was created was due to the federal government first placing burdens on the railroads during WWI and never lifting said burdens after that war ended. The famous 1959 Trains Magazine article "Who Shot the Passenger Train" further spells this out. If the burdensome regulations had been lifted by the end of WWII, the impact of the Interstate Highway System and airline travel may have been less damaging to both the freight and passenger industries.

Exhibit D: It's one thing for someone over the age of 40 to bemoan over lost routes but for anyone under that age to do it and not produce any type of solution is beyond ridiculous. The older people get a pass because of things like NARP's battle with Amtrak.

The bottom line is that the rail community has had a survivor mindset since the late 1960s. As a matter of fact, 2009 and 2010 were the only two years of the Amtrak era where rail advocates were in a real expansionist mindset due to the stimulus-fueled HSR chase (when Graham Claytor ran Amtrak, he had to deal with fiercely anti-Amtrak Reagan and Bush 41, who merely tolerated him). Even though we don't expect to see any European-style high speed rail outside of California, there is genuine interest in passenger rail by entities other than Amtrak.

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