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Proposed Solutions

The government builds, maintains and operates the transportation infrastructure of roadways, airways and waterways. Private companies provide and operate the vehicles that use this infrastructure to move people and freight. Passenger rail transportation operates totally backwards. Private companies build, maintain and operate the railways and the government provides and operates the rail passenger vehicles. Fixing this backward implementation of the national railway infrastructure would go a long way to solving the problems with passenger rail service and return a fare and competitive environment to transportation.

Let's look at doing for the railways what we have done for the highways, the airways and the waterways. First, the government needs to take responsibility for creating the modern high-speed rail infrastructure that this nation needs and deserves. Such a project needs to be approached with the same enthusiasm, financing and political muscle that was applied to building the national interstate highway system.

I am not suggesting that government take over the railroad companies, but I am suggesting that some roles need to be reversed. Shipment of freight by rail should continue to remain in the hands of the private railroad companies. I'm even suggesting that the responsibility for moving passengers over the rails should be done by private companies and not by the government, just as it is in every other mode of transportation.

I am suggesting the government take ownership of the railway infrastructure. The government needs to build that infrastructure to adequately serve the needs of the nation and then take responsibility to maintain that railway infrastructure. That will make the relationship between the railways and both government and private industry more on par with the relationship that other modes of transportation have with government and private industry.

Once the government has responsibility for maintaining, operating and upgrading the national rail network, just as the government has taken responsibility for these aspects of other transportation modes, private companies will continue to provide the trains and marketing to move freight over these rail lines. In addition, responsibility for passenger rail transportation will be moved to existing or new private rail companies. These changes will place railways on par with highways, airways and waterways where government provides the infrastructure with private companies providing vehicles and seeking passengers and freight shippers.

This will have a number of effects, not the least of which will be to open up the railways to competition and end the feeding frenzy of mega-mergers. Just like trucking companies, any railroad company will be able to compete for business anywhere in the nation. Since any railway can be used by any railroad company, individual rail companies are not restricted to the markets where they may enter. This will also make possible the existing of many private passenger rail providers. Any private company that wishes to open rail passenger service may do so by just paying for use of the tracks on the proposed routes.

Obviously, there are many more implications and even problems that will accompany this suggested solution. These are ideas that would need to be examined. The goal is to place rail at parity with other modes of transportation so that its profitability and usefulness to the nation can be examined fairly without the present systematic biases that tend to make rail look costly.

The government invested heavily to build the highways, airports and waterways knowing full well that it would be years before user fees would be able to pay back the taxes and bonds used to finance these major national projects. The same will be true for building a proper national rail system.

Massive funding will be needed to upgrade the present national network of railways to serve the needs of today and the next century. Just as with the building of the interstate highways system, funds will need to be found to build this system today with the expectation that taxes or other fees derived from future use of the system will eventually pay off the cost of building and then continued operation.

Go back to the main index and read the article on "Reverse History" for some ideas of what upgrades I believe are needed to create the national rail system this nation requires.

Note: I have not included for consideration publicly operated transit buses, subways, ferries and other modes of local urban transportation. Municipalities often provide local government operated modes of transportation over roads, waterways and rail. In those cases the vehicles are usually owned and operated by the government. This article is concerned with longer distance inter-city transportation and not local transit systems. For those longer distance modes of transportation, the infrastructure is almost always owned by the government with the vehicles owned and operated by private companies, except for rail.

Steve Grande

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