Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wyoming's senators oppose passenger rail revival

Westerners talk with pride about how railroads built the West. But it never would have happened without U.S. Government subsidies and a sweetheart deal to the railroads. You know, capitalism -- or is that socialism?

Now Congress wants to restore passenger rail service to Rocky Mountain states. Fact is, it can't and won't happen without subsidies such as those enjoyed by passenger airline service in Wyoming. Maybe there are only so many subsidies to be had, what with capitalist giants on Wall Street begging for money lest they go the way of, say, passenger rail service in the West.

Yesterday's Casper Star-Tribune featured an article about Congress's attempt to restart rail service in the Big Square States. Note that Wyoming's two senators, Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, oppose it. Thanks to Laramie's Nancy Sindelar for e-mailing the tip, and providing a great anecdote to go with it: "I had to ride the dirty grey dog up from Denver on my way home from MNLPS/StP because the train no longer comes to Laramie." The dirty grey dog, in case you've never ridden it, is passenger bus service, namely Greyhound. Wonder if that gets a subsidy? Nancy also wondered if Enzi and Barrasso had voted for "The Bridge to Nowhere" for Alaska.

Here's segments of the CST story:

An Idaho senator says he is organizing a congressional delegation to push for the return of the Amtrak Pioneer passenger train to the western United States.

Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, along with Rep. Mike Simpson, support plans to bring Amtrak rail service back to Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., say they're reluctant to support the proposal, however....

In comments to the Star-Tribune Monday, Enzi pointed out that Amtrak has failed in the past to earn enough revenue to cover its costs in the most populated areas of the country, a problem that he said will require the work of Congress to correct.

Enzi said he would be willing to fully consider the impact of passenger rail service on Wyoming if Amtrak "can present a financially viable plan for the Pioneer train in the state." But he sounded doubtful.

"While rail service is good in theory, the reality is that the cost is rarely offset without digging into taxpayers’ wallets to provide heavy government subsidies," Enzi added.

Barrasso’s spokesman, Greg Keeley, struck a similar tone when he said that passenger rail service in Wyoming, while appealing, even nostalgic, has historically bumped up against some "stark financial realities."

“For the past 30 years, Amtrak has not demonstrated any real ability to provide reliable and cost efficient service in Wyoming,” Barrasso said.

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