The NOLA-To-BR Choo Choo Train Proponents Are Pulling A Fake-It-Til-You-Make-It Scam…

…with your tax dollars. And while you shouldn’t be surprised, you ought to be furious about it.

Specifically at issue is this

The Federal Railroad Administration has allocated about $2.5 million for 11 passenger rail stations on potential routes east and west of New Orleans. The move brings New Orleans one step closer to passenger train service to Mobile, Ala., and Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge, Gonzales and LaPlace will split $375,000 to start planning for passenger rail stops on a future commuter line between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Local governments have put up additional money for station design and development.

The timeline for New Orleans-Baton Rouge service, long a topic of government planning, is unclear; it likely will be several years. A commuter train line has not existed between the two cities previously, and a source of local public funding to support the project must be identified before it can move forward.

Money to operate the commuter line would have to come, in part, from state or local governments. A¬†study conducted last year¬†projected that about $6.7 million would be needed to help run a New Orleans-Baton Rouge passenger train. And that’s if 210,000 people annually paid a one-way fare of $10 to ride it.

Federal support to get a New Orleans-Baton Rouge commuter line also was elusive until recently. Business activists in both cities have been advocating for it, but former Gov. Bobby Jindal refused to pursue commuter train funding. Without Jindal’s backing, the federal government wasn’t interested in giving Louisiana money for a passenger line.

And a little more…

Louisiana has already started preliminary talks with the private owners of the freight rail line between New Orleans and Baton Rouge about opening it to passenger trains as well. It might initially be open only for special events, such as a larger football game, before transitioning to regular service, said Shawn Wilson, secretary of transportation and development.

“We want to see services as soon as its feasible,” Wilson said.

What’s going on here can best be described as a scam, but not a particularly effective one. There used to be Amtrak service from New Orleans to Orlando but was abandoned after Katrina for lack of passengers. Now they’re trying to bring it back – but as a special bonus, they’re actually going to bring it back as a Baton Rouge-to-Orlando line – and that way there’s rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans?

Isn’t that awesome? And it’s only going to cost $7 million a year in subsidies.

Assuming they can get $2.1 million in fares. Which would mean 600 people or so a day riding it. When the LA Swift bus line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans was shut down for having a whole lot less passengers than that.

Never mind those things, though – they’re now going to spend several hundred thousand dollars of your money making it rain on architects commissioning designs for train stations along the way from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, including stations in Gonzales and LaPlace which guarantee nobody will ride that train – because once it stops in Gonzales and LaPlace you can be sure it will take longer to ride the train than it will to get in your car and drive the 80 miles between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and that’s not counting the time lost in securing ground transportation from the train station in New Orleans (or Baton Rouge, if you’re riding the train the other way) to where you’re going.

Not to mention the cost of gas on that 80-mile trip is something like $8, rather than the $10 train fare, which doesn’t count the cost of the ride from the train station to your destination.

These people are torqued up about an idea which would provide a service that would cost more and take longer than the current preferred method among the public, when that service was already proven not to be marketable. And they’re trying to go about dissolving the impossibility of making it happen by implementing little pieces of it in order that at some point they can present the whole thing as a fait accompli. It’s the old fake-it-til-you-make-it tactic.

I was on Talk 107.3 with Kevin Gallagher this morning to discuss this idiocy, and I made two other points about this boondoggle.

First, the actual railroads who have operational tracks between Baton Rouge and New Orleans are not in favor of this idea. We know this, because if they were in favor of it they would be actually running passenger trains between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. They are not. They are running freight trains, and lots of them, on those tracks. Why? Because freight makes railroads money and passengers do not. Passengers have to get to the station within a tight window of time, passengers want services while on the train, passengers have to go to the bathroom during the ride and want the toilet kept clean, passengers get sick or fight amongst each other, and so on – you have to do things for passengers you don’t have to do for a shipping container full of torque wrenches, for example. And if you can’t spend the money to fulfill those expectations, then passengers don’t buy tickets on the train.

Therefore, the railroads put as many profit-making freight trains on their tracks as they can. Approaching them with the idea of displacing those freight trains for money-losing passenger trains goes a little like this…

Dumb and dumber is no way to run a railroad.

They’re acting like the tracks are available to run a commuter train between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. They’re not. To make this happen you need a brand new rail line, and now you’re building a mini-version of the boondoggle San Francisco-to-Los Angeles passenger line which is already up to $80 billion in cost with no end in sight. It’s going to cost at least the better part of a billion dollars to build that line – and that’s assuming you can get all the rights-of-way and environmental clearances and so forth, which is an unwise assumption.

Which brings us to the second point discussed on the radio this morning, which is that Louisiana’s congressional delegation is most certainly not behind this plan. I know this because I’ve talked to several staffers of congressmen who would have to push the appropriations through for this in order to make it happen. Guess what? They generally think that not only is this a stupid idea which will hemorrhage money and be shut down in a few years at most, but what’s worse it’s a distraction from much more important priorities.

It’s patently obvious that Louisiana’s most pressing transportation need is a new bridge over the Mississippi next to the southern part of Baton Rouge. Almost anybody could tell you this, particularly anyone who’s seen all the semi trucks clogging I-10 going through downtown BR during rush hour. When you waste time and effort on a choo choo train no one will ride and there is no available track for, you dilute that priority and make it less likely you will get what you need.

Meanwhile, that bridge – and the upgrading of Highway 1 on the west side of the river to an interstate-quality roadway between I-10 and the new bridge, plus an interstate-quality new roadway on the east side to connect with I-10 somewhere in Ascension Parish – would mean actual economic development for places like West Baton Rouge Parish (when all the trucks are now using the new bridge to bypass downtown Baton Rouge it all of a sudden becomes a viable idea for people to live in Port Allen if they work downtown).

That’s a serious transportation infrastructure idea which has serious positive benefits which could sustain themselves. The choo choo train does not. And the money being frittered away on architectural designs for train stations that will never actually be built is a signal that this entire idea is little more than graft, and hogs lining up at the public trough.

At some point, we the people are really going to have to wake up and put a stop to it. That’s your money being wasted; aren’t you the least bit irritated by it?

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