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A Train That Goes Nowhere Fast

by on September 22, 2009

The word “private” doesn’t appear in a recent Buffalo News story about a potential New York-based super-swift train. It’s as if local leaders don’t even bother to pretend anymore that businesses should be the entities responding to the public’s needs. Unfortunately, officials are looking exactly one place for the proposed intrastate railway’s funding, namely from not-quite-voluntary investors:

New York State has submitted a detailed application — including almost $170 million for projects in Rochester, Buffalo and Niagara Falls — for stimulus money aimed at high-speed rail between New York City and Buffalo.

After all, that’s only a little more than 50 cents from every single American. Problematically, quick trains are the solar power of transportation.  If they worked properly, firms would be desperate to back them, acting like lunatics attempting to buy flat screen televisions at Walmart during the day after Thanksgiving’s pre-dawn hours. But that commercial stampede doesn’t occur. They’re either not given the chance to put up capital or don’t see choo-choos as wise investments; neither is a good sign for the project’s potential. But that won’t stop rail advocates:

“The fact that the Buffalo-to-New York corridor is in the top 50 is actually quite good,” said Petra Todorovich, spokeswoman for America 2050. “It’s unlikely in 10 years you’ll have 200-mph trains from New York to Buffalo. But it’s certainly possible Buffalo could procure hundreds of millions of dollars for studies resulting in trip time savings and reduced delays.”

And from where might said hundreds of millions be procured? It would be just another subsidy for train riders: paying people to go on work meetings or vacation jaunts will be one more expense added to the unwarranted stimulus pile.

It’s not as if the national taxpayer train corporation offers an admirable example. It costs every taxpayer a fortune per every Amtrak ride, all so people like Hobo Joe Biden can ride the rails at a discount. Unfortunately, it’s only a black hole for tax dollars: the trains don’t exactly travel at wormhole speeds. But certain congressional members prefer more government-sponsored transportation anyway:

Many officials, like Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, tout New York’s existing rail infrastructure as a major advantage over proposed corridors built from scratch. . .  Slaughter was unavailable to comment Thursday.

Perhaps Slaughter was too busy voting in favor of continued financial support for a pro-pimp and hooker tax evasion organization to have time for train-themed remarks. Either way, we can be certain she’ll continue to advocate wasting more federal dollars. That should be unpalatable to her constituents even if the cash is being wasted on them this time.

Our representatives should aim to spend nothing on zip trains. Specifically, we would be far better off if they tried to attract private companies to build locomotives and passenger cars. If there’s truly a need for such a transport mode, the as-yet nameless corporation should be more than willing to develop the venture with their own money. Next, they make profits from charging riders to use the service. Economists refer to it as a “free market,” in case anyone in New York is unfamiliar with or has forgotten the term.

Instead, we’re stuck playing a perverse game where our area tries to grab more federal dollars than we put in. That’s a competition where everyone loses. The speed of the mystery train is irrelevant: we’ll be unable to escape oblivion for as long as the government reflexively spends cash on countless undertakings.

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