It’s amazing how some really lousy ideas never seem to go away, and how those ideas seem to find purchase with politicians when normal people see them as crap.
For example…passenger rail.
The political class can’t get enough of passenger rail, if you’ll notice, and they’re constantly trying to come up with ways to throw hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars at passenger rail projects.
And yet, you’ll notice, virtually nobody in the private sector is investing money in passenger rail.
Why do you think that is? We’ve got an idea – namely, that the business model of transporting passengers by train went down the tubes in the early to mid 20th century and it isn’t coming back. Why? Two things: the interstate highway system, which made it easy to travel from one city to another at a relatively high rate of speed without stopping, and air travel.
In all but the most congested travel corridors, there is a nonexistent window for passenger rail to be profitable. Along the Eastern Seaboard, perhaps it’s doable – and conceivable that catching a train from, say, Washington to New York might make for a shorter and more convenient trip than hopping a flight.
And for any trip less than, say, 80 miles, there is no way for a train to compete with a private car.
With all that as background, it should be absolutely no surprise at all that what’s left of the Louisiana Democrat Party’s political class is desperately trying to put hundreds of millions of dollars of your taxes into installing a passenger rail line from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. There’s a bad idea which Simply. Will. Not. Die.
A small but high-profile group of south Louisiana politicians met with federal transportation officials last week about the possibility of starting passenger rail service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. State House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, and Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, among others, talked to the Federal Railroad Administration on Thursday about potential funding sources for the project. Leger said Andy Kopplin, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu‘s chief administrative officer, and John Spain, Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s executive vice president, also attended the meeting in Washington.
So what would be the price of this marvel?
South Louisiana passenger rail would cost an estimated $250 million to build and $7 million annually to operate. It is likely to require several different financial resources for support.
Why so much? Because the existing tracks aren’t suitable for it. The trestle over the Bonnet Carre spillway is in ramshackle shape at present, for one, and freight trains have to slow down to 10 miles an hour for safety reasons.
Passenger trains typically travel at 69 and 78 miles per hour. The spillway trestle alone would need about $62 million of improvements to make those types of speeds possible. Leger said the Louisiana delegation might look at federal funding called the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant for the project.
Meanwhile, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation which recently commissioned a study by LSU economist Jim Richardson to accuse the St. George proponents of potentially costing the East Baton Rouge metro government some $50 million a year (a study the St. George people say is bogus but backfired for another reason, in that it brought to light the fact that the $50 million figure is essentially what the city of Baton Rouge is stealing from the unincorporated areas which would become the new burg), is now going to release a new study showing how awesome that passenger rail line will be for the economy of the region.
By the way, they’re no longer calling this “high speed rail.” And there’s a reason for that…
Proposed stops of the rail would be in downtown Baton Rouge, a suburban area of Baton Rouge, Gonzales, LaPlace, Kenner, Jefferson Parish and New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal. Proposed locations for the suburban Baton Rouge stop include either Essen Lane or Bluebonnet Boulevard, near the Mall of Louisiana.
Exactly how long would it take to get from downtown Baton Rouge to downtown New Orleans with SIX stops along the way when the top speed the train would achieve is 78 MPH?
Because anything longer than an hour makes it a waste of time to take the train. Bear in mind that when you get off that train you still need a ride to where you’re going, and if you don’t have your car with you you’re going to wait for a cab or find a streetcar or something.
By the time you’ve done that, you’ll find it’s quicker and cheaper to gas up the car, drive down and pay for parking than it is to take the train and then hail a cab.
And this is why no private investors are coming forward to finance this idea. Private investors who would be putting their own money in the middle look at something like this and say “it’s a dog with fleas.”
That doesn’t stop the Democrat politicians who can’t wait to find tax money to invest in boondoggles they can use to funnel contract cash to campaign contributors, though. And naturally Mitch Landrieu and Kip Holden can’t get enough of this project.
By the way, if you’re thinking of dropping something in the comments to the tune of “I’d use that train,” spare us. Unless you’d be willing to invest your own money into the project, your opinion is worthless. Anybody could allege themselves a customer. But the state was bankrolling a bus service between the two cities – they called it LASwift – and closed it down because of a lack of ridership. If you weren’t on the bus that was already running, you’re not going to be on the train that will cost the taxpayer $7 million a year.