The Choo-Choo Train Mafia Is Back At The Trough Again…

…and they’re demanding that your tax dollars go toward building a “high-speed rail line” between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that will take 30 minutes longer to get you to your destination than your car can – and by the way you still need ground transportation from the train station to go anywhere.

At this point we might be able to term this some sort of mass mental-health epidemic among the public sector officials in the state…

City and parish leaders from Baton Rouge to New Orleans vowed Wednesday to make the idea of a commuter rail line between the two cities a reality.

“This project will represent a string that will run through the super region, connecting people and jobs,” Buddy Boé, chief administrative officer of St. Charles Parish, said at a news conference Wednesday morning in Gonzales.

The event was held under a large canopy set up on a piece of open land that the city of Gonzales purchased in May as the possible future site of one of several train stops along the line.

The field on North Bouillion Avenue, near existing railroad tracks in the oldest part of Gonzales, is the first tangible sign of the long-sought commuter line.

“Our downtown area was once thriving. We’re very excited” about the possibility of recapturing that, Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux said Wednesday.

You might remember Buddy Boe as the hapless campaign manager for Hunt Downer in the 2010 Republican primary for the 7th Congressional District seat won by Jeff Landry. He somehow survived his abject failure in that venue and is now in a position to make official demands for your tax dollars to pay for a train station in LaPlace.

Who will actually use a train station in LaPlace? Hell if we know.

Somehow, Arceneaux thinks that people from Baton Rouge or New Orleans are going to get off a train in Gonzales, where there is neither public transportation nor anything like Uber or taxicabs readily available, to make a day trip to a downtown containing precisely zero attractions. Nothing against Gonzales, but it’s a bedroom community of Baton Rouge – not a tourist destination. But these infirmities are no skin off his back; he proposes to pay for neither the station nor a share of the rail line. You, as a taxpayer of Louisiana and the United States, will be covering those costs.

This is the “high-speed” rail line these clowns want you to pay for…

According to the Louisiana Super Rail Authority, a volunteer organization created by the state legislature in 2012, a one-way train ticket for the proposed commuter rail would cost an estimated $10 and would give commuters a ride between the two cities, with stops in downtown Baton Rouge, suburban Baton Rouge, Gonzales, LaPlace, New Orleans International Airport, Jefferson Parish and the New Orleans Union Terminal.

Estimated capital costs of the project are $262.4 million, with estimated annual operating costs of $8.89 million, according to the Rail Authority.

In 2009, Gov. Bobby Jindal rejected the idea of going after some $300 million in federal stimulus financing for the commuter line.

They want you to cough up $262 million to pay for a train that will make five stops in 80 miles. Then you can get off the train and pay for transportation to go where you want. So the $10 the train ride will cost might be half what you actually spend.

Gas Buddy says the average regular gas price in New Orleans is $1.99. The state average is $2.01. If your car gets 20 miles per gallon it’s about an $8 car ride to travel the same distance as the $10 train, and when you get there you have your car to take you where in New Orleans or Baton Rouge you need to go.

Outside of people going to New Orleans for a Saints game (or to Baton Rouge for an LSU game), or to go drinking – and there is no indication they’ll run a train at 2 in the morning to give the drunks a ride home (and who’s going to get the drunks home from the train station?) – why would anybody take this train?

At $8.89 million a year to run this thing, and $10 per ride, that comes to a need for 889,000 rides per year. Which is 2,435 riders per day. How many trips will the train make? Well, if it’s in continuous operation back and forth from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and can get there and back in three hours (90 minutes one way is what we’re told this will take), then it’s eight round trips a day – or 16 one-way trips a day. That would mean you’d need an average of 152 people riding that train pretty much at all times. That’s if you expect that train to run all day, and it’s a good bet $8.89 million is not an estimate based on continuous operation throughout each 24-hour period.

There is no way – no way – you will get that kind of ridership. And that’s what you’d need just to break even on the train if the estimates are correct, which you’re a sucker if you believe.

So instead, what we’re going to have is a money-losing choo-choo train sucking transportation money out of Louisiana’s clogged and pockmarked roads and preventing us from handling that $14 billion backlog of transportation projects we already determined were more important than a choo-choo train between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that nobody will use.

Hey, let’s ask Walt Leger what he thinks…

“I can assure you, there’s no one here today that will stop until the next governor understands” the importance of the project, said state Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, representing Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office at Wednesday’s news conference.

[sigh]

Another highlight…

Kristin Gisleson-Palmer, chairwoman of the Rail Authority, said Wednesday that “workforce issues are driving this.

“Industries in our region have planned more than $20 billion in development and expansion projects over the next several years. This will place huge demands on our transportation system,” Gisleson-Palmer said.

The drive toward a commuter rail represents an “unprecedented collaboration” among New Orleans, Baton Rouge and the area’s parishes, she said.

The communities aren’t competing against each other, Gisleson-Palmer said.

“We’re competing together against the rest of the country,” she said.

The train isn’t going to run past chemical plants along the river and stop to pick up the workers when the shifts let out, so it will do zero to alleviate the increased demands on the transportation system. If you live in Baton Rouge and work at the BASF plant in Geismar there is no question you can leave work, gett in your truck and make it home faster than you could catching the (assumed) company shuttle to the Gonzales train station, waiting for the train and then getting on it to ride to the Mall of Louisiana where you will get in your truck and drive home.

That’s what Gisleson-Palmer apparently thinks plant workers will do, and she’s beyond stupid if she’s sincere – or more to the point, she’s beyond disingenuous because she thinks people will actually believe this line.

One wonders how many of these people have been greased by Kansas City Southern, the railroad whose lines this choo-choo would use. Some $60 million of the $262 million that would be spent on this passenger line would go toward shoring up KCS’ trestle over the Bonnet Carre’ spillway, the poor condition of which now imposes a 10-mph speed limit on trains traveling over it. Kansas City Southern would thus get a $60 million improvement to their infrastructure for free, enabling an enhanced timetable for their freight trains.

Does it not impact anyone that Kansas City Southern, who actually operates a railroad and owns a rail line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, is not interested in using their current infrastructure to transport passengers? When the professionals actually operating the existing rail line between the two cities don’t see sufficient potential in expanding their business offerings to move forward, but the politicians insist on spending your tax dollars to prove the business people wrong, there’s a good answer here.

Which is to run screaming away from this boondoggle.

The Advocate’s article pushing this dopey idea has all four gubernatorial candidates paying some sort of lip service to it, with Jay Dardenne calling the 19th-century innovation of passenger rail “visionary” and John Bel Edwards saying it was a “disgrace” that Jindal turned down federal funds to put this boondoggle into operation. Scott Angelle and David Vitter have made less-specific positive statements, and both should be criticized for that. Actual leadership would be to come out publicly and burn this idiocy to the ground.

If someone wants to invest their own private dollars in a choo-choo train between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, more power to them. Anyone who wants you to pay for it is trying to steal from you.



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