A reader writes:
There is no passenger train system in the developed world that makes a profit. All are government-subsidized because they are a public service, like roads or airports or sewers. But in America, generations of Republicans saying that passenger rail, like the Post Office, must somehow be profitable or be eliminated has conned people into expecting Amtrak to make money. It can’t; it won’t; it never will. But it shouldn’t have to, no more than the Interstate Highway system should.
Public transit everywhere requires public subsidy – and as a fiscal conservative I would hope funds are spent efficiently and effectively. And while automakers, oil companies, the AAA and others lobby for more and improved highways, the lobby for rail is nonexistent – as the gains are delivered primarily to public rather than private interests.
Contra Stephen Smith, privatizing the Northeast Corridor would simply be a long-term path to putting it out of service.
Private owners would insist on a constantly increasing profit, wanting 10% this quarter, 12% the next, ad infinitum. Wall Street would report each failure to achieve these goals and investors would shun the company … leading the management to cut service and raise fares in an attempt to generate profits. This would lead to reduction in ridership and a further decline in profits, leading to another round of cuts in service and fare hikes. It could create exactly the set of circumstances that some 50 years ago led the previous operators of the NE Corridor – NY Central and Pennsylvania RR – first to merge and then get out of the passenger rail business entirely, selling the kit and kaboodle to the government to operate as part of Amtrak. As long as mass transit in this country – both inter- and intra-city – is viewed as a business and not a public service, this is the situation we will face.