For an Idea of what National Health Care would be like just ride Metro-North

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 23rd, 2014

Week in Review

People don’t want national health care.  Which is why President Obama lied when he said “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”  Because if he told the truth and told people they would lose the health care plans and doctors they liked and wanted to keep they would have opposed the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) with a passion.  For they would have seen the Affordable Care Act as nothing but a prelude for national health care.  A health care system run by government.  And we know how well government runs things (see The Perils of Metro-North by Lynnley Browning posted 2/20/2014 on Newsweek).

The high-profile trains, run by the state of New York entity Metro North Commuter Railroad, convey middle-class commuters but also a sizable chunk of the 1 percent, all along a 74-mile stretch between New Haven, Conn., and New York City — to hedge funds in Connecticut and to global banks, consulting, design and advertising firms in Manhattan. But these days, the rail’s increasingly delay-plagued service to one of the planet’s largest metropolises seems less an odd contrast of Third World and First World and more a taste of Dante’s Inferno…

Epic frustration and stress have reached an inflection point for the estimated 136,600 weekday riders on Metro-North’s New Haven Line, the transportation lifeblood of America’s monied and professional class living in Connecticut and working in New York (though some riders reverse commute to hedge funds in Greenwich and banks in Stamford). Long plagued by outdated cars, sketchy, aging tracks and accusations of mismanagement, the commuter rail has seen its dwindling reputation tarnished further in recent months by mishaps and delays, some lasting hours in freezing, unheated cars…

The entire line needs $3.6 billion in urgent repairs, according to the Regional Plan Association, an independent think tank.

Trash and piles of metal parts line many tracks. Smelly cars dating to the 1970s shake passengers in stiff seats from side to side like livestock. Floors are perpetually grimy, and train cars are in short supply. Expensive equipment sits idle. “One day the toilet flooded and the water was just seeping into the vestibule,” recalls Noelle Villanueva, a trader at First New York Securities who commutes from Fairfield, Conn., a large commuter town.

Engineers – the people driving the trains – occasionally “overshoot” their stops and, if the tracks allow it, have to back up, leaving commuters like Lamorte to wonder if the people behind the wheel are asleep, or drunk. Trains come in unannounced on the wrong platform, sending riders to scamper like voles across crumbling overhead passageways to the correct platform. A 117-year-old bridge spanning the Norwalk River, in Norwalk, Conn., sports gaping holes beside the tracks. “They have a rescue boat, but the guy’s usually 1,000 feet away, fishing, so you’ll be dead by the time he gets to you,” says Bill, an ironworker for Metro-North. (He declined to give his last name, citing a fear of retaliation…)

Commuters are increasingly wondering when someone else might die. Late last July, as temperatures soared near 100 degrees, a train near Westport broke down in the afternoon, leaving passengers, including several pregnant women, trapped in unairconditioned cars whose doors and windows would not open…

The lack of communication – think digital signs at stations that almost uniformly announce “Good service” – irks riders, some of whom pay $400 a month and more.

Passenger rail is a horrible economic model.  The costs are so great that it is virtually impossible for it to work without government subsidies.  But in places like the island of Manhattan there are few viable transportation options.  For though costly it can move a lot of people into and out of a very congested city.  But the problem with passenger rail in big cities is all the other big city problems that come with it.  Unions, lack of competition, corruption, etc.  It’s so bad that even when some of the 136,600 weekday riders pay $400 a month (the equivalent of a car payment) the money is so mismanaged that wear and tear adds up on the system over time to the tune of $3.6 billion.  Which is why people don’t want national health care.  They don’t want a health care system operated like Metro-North.  Which is why they are so mad at President Obama for his lie about Obamacare.  And taking away the health care plans and doctors they liked and wanted to keep.

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Flying is Quicker and more Cost Efficient than Passenger Rail

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 8th, 2014

Week in Review

Politicians everywhere want to build high-speed rail.  Why?  Because there are maybe only 2 high-speed rail lines in the world that operate at a profit.  All other passenger rail requires government subsidies.  Because the massive capital and operating costs for passenger rail are so great they cannot recover them via ticket prices.  And high-speed rail is the costliest of all.

So passenger rail requires new taxation to support it.  And politicians like new taxes.  Also, building passenger rail requires an enormous infrastructure.  Built and maintained by lots of people.  Union people.  Something else politicians love.  Rewarding their union friends with lots of new union jobs.  Which is why politicians love high-speed rail.  They get a lot ‘thank you’ votes for all that government spending.  No matter how costly or inefficient passenger rail is as a means of transportation.  As we can see here (see I Spent 28 Hours on a Bus. I Loved It. by Eric Holthaus posted 2/4/2014 on Slate).

traveling by plane car train bus R1

The infrastructure between point A and point B for cars and buses is already there.  Paid for with fuel taxes.  Planes need no infrastructure between point A and point B.  But trains do.  A very costly infrastructure.

Trains carry more people than buses.  But not as many as planes.  Which means the far greater cost of passenger rail is divided by fewer ticket purchasers.  Whereas the less costly flying is divided by more ticket purchasers.

Planes can fly around 500 mph.  Passenger rail can travel up to 100 mph on some sections of track.  While high-speed rail travels at speeds of just under 200 mph on dedicated (and very expensive) track.

You add these points together and it’s little wonder that traveling by train costs about 20% more than flying.  While taking 5.8 times as long.  Or a little less for high-speed rail. Making the plane the undisputed champion of long-distance travel.  And it works without massive government subsidies.  Which is the best kind of travel there is.  The kind where the people traveling pay for their travels.  And not everyone else.  As is the case with passenger rail.

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Big and Heavy things that Travel Fast along the Ground have a lot of Dangerous Kinetic Energy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 1st, 2013

Week in Review

The most dangerous parts of flight are the landing and taking off parts.  Why?  Because planes are big and heavy.  And they travel fast.  And whenever anything big and heavy travels fast near the ground bad things can happen.  Because that’s a lot of kinetic energy that can do a lot of damage when it comes to a sudden and unexpected stop.  But up in the air away from the ground planes easily earn their title as the safest way to travel.  For up in the lonely expanses of the sky they can travel in excess of 500 miles per hour without a care in the world.  Because the odds of them striking anything are virtually zero.  This is where big and heavy things that travel fast belong.  Not on the ground.  Like high-speed rail.  For even low-speed rail can be dangerous (see New York train derailment: Safety officials recover ‘black box’ by Tina Susman posted 12/1/2013 on the Los Angeles Times).

Investigators have recovered the “event recorder” from a Metro-North train that derailed in New York City early Sunday, a major step toward determining what caused the crash that killed four people and left scores injured…

Earl F. Weener of the National Transportation Safety Board said at a news briefing that the agency expected to have investigators on the scene in the Spuyten Duyvil area of the Bronx for a week to 10 days.

“Our mission is to understand not just what happened but why it happened, with the intent of preventing it from happening again,” Weener said. He said investigators had not yet talked to the train’s operator. Some local media have said the operator has claimed that he tried to slow down at the sharp curve where the derailment occurred but that the brakes failed.

The speed limit at the curve is 30 mph, compared to about 70 mph on straight sections of track.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the area is “dangerous by design,” because of the curve, but he said the bend in the track alone could not be blamed for the crash.

“That curve has been here for many, many years,” he told reporters at the scene, as darkness fell over the wreckage. “Trains take the curve every day … so it’s not the fact that there’s a curve here. We’ve always had this configuring. We didn’t have accidents. So there has to be another factor.”

High-speed rail is costly.  Because it needs dedicated track.  Overhead electric wires.  No grade crossings.  Fencing around the track.  Or installed on an elevated viaduct.  To prevent any cars, people or animals from wandering onto the track.  They need banked track for high-speed curves.  And, of course, they can’t have any sharp curves.  Because curves cause a train to slow down.  If they don’t they can derail.  Which may be the reason why this commuter train derailed.  It may have entered a curved section of track at a speed too great for its design.  Which shows the danger of fast trains on sharp turns.

There haven’t been many high-speed rail accidents.  But there have been a few.  All resulting in loss of life.  Because big and heavy things that travel fast along the ground have a lot of kinetic energy.  And if something goes wrong at these high speeds (collision with another train or derailment) by the time that kinetic energy dissipates it will cause a lot of damage to the train, to its surroundings and to the people inside.

The high speed of today’s high-speed trains is about 200 mph.  Not even half of what modern jetliners can travel at.  Yet they cost far more.  Most if not all passenger rail needs government subsidies.  Air travel doesn’t.  Making high-speed rail a very poor economic model.  But they are capital and labor intensive.  Which is why governments build them.  So they can spend lots of money.  And create a lot of union jobs.  Which tends to help them win elections.

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When it comes to Buying Votes few things work as well as High-Speed Rail

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 3rd, 2013

Week in Review

Governments everywhere have a love affair with high-speed rail.  Because it’s big.  It’s costly.  And best of all it takes a lot of union workers to build it.  And even more to maintain and operate it.  That’s a lot of grateful people who will remember them at the next election.  And when you get down to it that’s what politics is all about.  Buying votes with taxpayers’ money.   And few things cost more than high-speed rail.  Which is why governments love them.  Even if they are not good economic models (see Upgrading existing rail network would be better value than HS2, government analysis finds by Tim Ross posted 11/3/2013 on The Telegraph).

Ministers published their latest economic “business case” for the controversial £50 billion high speed project last week, as the Prime Minister sought to deflect pressure onto Ed Miliband over Labour’s wavering support for the plan…

Ministers paraded the latest official estimate of the economic value of the plan, which claimed that HS2 would deliver £2.30 in benefits for every £1 spent on the scheme.

The figure was based on an assessment of the impact of quicker travel times, more trains running between London and the north, and extra investment in jobs and businesses along the new route, among other factors.

However, detailed analysis buried within a separate 150-page study into the alternatives to HS2, also published by the Department for Transport last week, showed that upgrading services on existing rail routes would provide far better value for money.

According to this study, one package of improvement works to existing lines between London, Birmingham and northern cities would deliver economic benefits equal to £3.30 for every £1 invested, 43 per cent more than HS2.

This is why high-speed rail is not a good economic model.  It may deliver everything they say it will but whatever it does deliver is never enough.  Not with those mammoth price tags.  In this case £50 billion (about $80 billion).  To return £2.30 for every £1 invested that would come to £115 billion in new economic activity.  Britain’s GDP in 2012 was about £1.49 trillion.  So the expected return on that high-speed rail investment would be 7.7% of GDP.  Sounds nice.  But highly unlikely when you consider Britain’s GDP growth was than 1% in 2012.  Coming in at 0.1%.  Worse, all the costs will be in the first few years of breaking ground.  While the new economic activity will be spread out over decades.  Guaranteeing costs will exceed revenue for a very long time. 

Of all the high-speed rail lines in the world only two actually operate at a profit.  One in Japan.  And one in France.  Every other passenger train in the world loses money and requires taxpayer subsidies.  And because they do it is better to spend less than more.  Especially when more is £50 billion (about $80 billion).  And you can produce a greater return on investment by spending less.  But that is hard to do when you’re in the business of buying votes.  Which is why they keep trying to build high-speed rail.

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Power Outage stranding Electric Trains show the need for Coal and Oil

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 29th, 2013

Week in Review

There are few more costly ways to move people than by train.  Running a passenger train is incredibly expensive.  With the biggest cost in maintaining all the infrastructure before point A and point B.  Track, signals, rights-of-way and people.  Lots and lots of people.  To build this infrastructure.  To maintain this infrastructure.  With electric trains requiring the most costly infrastructure of all.  Especially high-speed trains.  These costs are so great that they are greater than their fuel costs.  Unlike the airlines.  That provide a much more cost-efficient way to move people.

Trains are slower than planes.  And they make a lot of stops.  So they appeal to a small group of users.  So few travel by train that it is impossible to charge a ticket price that can pay for this infrastructure that people can afford.  Which is why governments have to subsidize all passenger rail except for maybe two lines.  One Bullet line in Japan.  And one high-speed line in France.  Governments pay for or subsidize pretty much every other passenger train line in the world.  Which they are only more willing to do because those ‘lots and lots of people’ are union workers.  Who support their friends in government.

So governments build passenger rail lines more for political reasons than economic.  For passenger rail is bad economics.  In a highly dense city, though, they may be the only option to move so many people.  But even then the ridership can’t pay for everything.  So it requires massive subsidies.  Worse, by relying on electrified trains so much these rail lines are subject to mass outages.  Unlike diesel electric trains.  Trains that don’t need such a costly infrastructure as electric trains do.  And with a full tank of diesel they can move people even during a large-scale power outage.  Like that currently happening with Con Edison (see Stranded NYC Commuters Ask Why Metro-North’s Power Failed by Mark Chediak & Priya Anand posted 9/27/2013 on Bloomberg).

Less than a year after Consolidated Edison Inc. (ED) left 900,000 customers in the dark during Hurricane Sandy, the utility faces the wrath of stranded commuters over a power failure that has crippled trains from New York to Boston.

Con Edison, based in New York, has warned it may take weeks to restore electricity to the Metro-North Railroad’s busiest line, which serves Connecticut and parts of suburban Westchester County. An electrical fault cut power on a feeder cable while an alternate was out of service for improvements…

The latest high-profile power failure for Con Edison follows Sandy, the worst storm in the company’s history, which brought flooding that left lower Manhattan without power for days. A few months before Sandy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, stepped in to resolve an employee lockout by the company that led to protests outside the Upper East Side home of Kevin Burke, the chairman and chief executive officer…

The rail operator is running buses and diesel-powered trains to accommodate no more than a third of the New Haven route’s regular ridership…

The power failure also affected Northeast Corridor passenger-rail service, as Amtrak canceled its Acela Express trains between New York and Boston through Sept. 29.

How about that.  Dirty, filthy, stinky diesel comes to the rescue.  Refined from petroleum oil.  As much as people hate it they can’t live without it.  No matter how hard they try.

This is what you can expect when you wage a war on reliable and inexpensive coal.  Pushing our power provides to become green only raises the cost of electric power generation.  Disconnecting coal-fired power plants from the grid removes more reliable power while replacing it with less reliable power.  And forcing power companies to invest in renewable power reduces their margins.  As they have to maintain their entire electric distribution system even if everyone has a solar power at home.  Because solar power won’t turn on your lights once the sun goes down.  And windmills won’t spin on a calm days.  So while power companies have to maintain their systems as if there is no solar or wind power they can’t bill for that capacity when the people get their power from renewable sources.  So they have little choice but to cut costs.  Leading to conflict with the unions.  And making an aging infrastructure go longer without maintenance.

You can’t have it both ways.  You can’t wage a war on coal and oil without getting costlier and less reliable power.  If you want lower-cost and more reliable power than you use coal and oil.  If you want to pay more for less reliable power then you can’t bitch when the trains stop running.  And the more we move away from coal the more our train will stop running.

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Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is Probably as Good an Idea as High-Speed Rail

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 18th, 2013

Week in Review

We transport heavy freight over land by train.  And transport people over land by plane.  Have you ever wondered why we do this?  Especially you train enthusiasts who would love to travel by train more often?  Here’s why.  Cost.  Railroads are incredibly expensive to build, maintain and operate.  Because there is rail infrastructure from point A to point B.  And at their terminus points.    Whereas planes fly through the air between point A and point B.  Without the need for infrastructure.  Except at their terminus points.  Making railroading far more expensive than flying.

If planes are so much cheaper to operate than trains then why don’t we use planes to transport all our freight?  Here’s why.  Price.  Trains charge by the ton of freight they transport.  And they can carry a lot of tons.  An enormous amount of tons.  Which makes the per-ton price relatively inexpensive.  A plane can carry nowhere near the amount of freight a train can carry.  It’s not even close.  Which makes the per-ton price to ship by plane very, very expensive.  So only high priority freight that has to be somewhere fast will travel by plane.  Heavy bulk items all travel by train.

We may be having an obesity problem but in the grand scheme of things people are very light.  But take up a lot of volume for their given weight.  The space their body physically occupies.  And the greater space around them containing the air they must breathe.  That holds the food and drink they must consume.  And the toilets they need to relieve themselves.  Now let’s look at a 747-400 with 450 passengers on board.  Let’s say the average weight of everyone comes to 195 pounds.  So the total flying weight of the people comes to 87,750 pounds.  Assuming flying costs for one trip at $125,000 that comes to $1.42 per pound.  If we add 15% for overhead and profit we get a $1.64 per-pound ticket price.  So a 275-pound man must pay $451 to fly.  While a 120-pound woman must pay $197 to fly.  Of course we don’t charge people by the pound to fly.  At least, not yet.  No, we charge per person.  So the per-person price is $224, where the lighter people subsidize the price of the heavier people.

The 747-400 is one of the most successful airplanes in the world because it can pack so many people on board.  Reducing the per-person cost.  Now let’s look at that same cost being distributed over only 28 passengers.  When we do the per-person cost comes to $4,464.  Adding 15% for overhead and markup brings the per-person price to $5,134.  A price so high that few people could afford to pay for it.  Or would choose to pay for it.  And this is why we transport people by plane.  That can carry a lot of people.  And we transport heavy freight by train.  That can carry a lot of tons.  And why this idea will probably not work (see Elon Musk Is Dead Wrong About The Cost Of The Hyperloop: In Reality It Would Be $100 Billion by Jim Edwards posted 8/16/2013 on Business Insider).

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s plan for a space-age Hyperloop transport system between Los Angeles and San Francisco would cost only $7.5 billion, he said in the plans he published recently…

But the New York Times did us all a favor by calculating the true cost of the Hyperloop: It’s going to be ~$100 billion…

The Hyperloop is a pressurized tube system in which passenger cars zoom around on an air cushion, at up to 800 miles an hour.

There is no greater infrastructure cost between point A and point B than there is for high-speed rail.  Because these rails have to be dedicated rails.  With no grade crossings.  All other traffic either tunnels underneath or bridges overhead.  These tracks are electrified.  Adding more infrastructure than just the tracks.  All of which has to be maintained to exacting standards to allow high-speed trains to travel safely.  Which is why high-speed rail is the most costly form of transportation.  Why there are no private high-speed rail lines as only taxpayer subsidies can pay for these.  And for all these costs these trains just don’t transport a lot of people.  Making high-speed rail the most inefficient way to transport people.

The Hyperloop will be more costly than high-speed rail as this is an elevated tube system of exacting standards.  Requiring great costs to build, maintain and operate.  While transporting so few people per trip (28 per capsule).  Not to mention high-speed travel is very dangerous.  Unless it is up in the air separated by miles of open air.  But on the ground?  When a high-speed train crashes it is pretty catastrophic.  And it can tear up the infrastructure it travels on.  Shutting the line down.  So traveling 800 miles an hour inside a narrow tube is probably not the safest thing to do.

Of course the biggest fear in a system like this is some politician will pass legislation to build it.  Because of all the taxpayer-subsidized union jobs it will create.  As they are constantly trying to build high-speed rail for the same reasons.  For the politics.  Not because it’s a good idea.  For any idea requiring taxpayer subsidies is rarely a good idea.

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High-Speed Train crashes in Spain because things moving at High Speeds on the Ground can be Very Dangerous

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 27th, 2013

Week in Review

Trains are heavy.  Getting a train moving is one thing.  But getting it to stop is another.  Because heavy things moving fast have a lot of kinetic energy.  The energy of something in motion.  In classical mechanics we calculate the kinetic energy by multiplying one half of the mass times the velocity squared.  That last part is really important.  The velocity part.  For as the speed increases the kinetic energy increases by a far greater amount.  For example, a train increasing speed from 30 kilometers per hour (18 mph) to 190 kilometers per hour (114 mph) increases its speed by 533%.  But because we square the velocity the kinetic energy increases by 3,911%.   Making high-speed rail more dangerous than regular rail.  Because of the great amounts of kinetic energy involved.

Airplanes are very heavy.  They travel at great speeds.  And have great amounts of kinetic energy.  Which is why plane crashes or so horrific.  Anything with that amount of kinetic energy suddenly stopping dissipates that energy in great heat, noise and the explosion of solid parts.  But plane crashes, thankfully, are rare.  For when they are travelling at those great speeds they’re up in the air thousands of feet (or more) away from anything they can hit.  And if there is a malfunction they can fall safely though the sky (with enough altitude) until the pilots can recover the aircraft.  For airplanes have the best friend to high speed objects.  A lot of empty space all around them.  Not so with high-speed rail (see Driver in custody after 80 killed in Spain train crash by Teresa Medrano and Tracy Rucinski posted 7/25/2013 on Reuters).

The driver of a Spanish train that derailed, killing at least 80 people, was under police guard in hospital on Thursday after the dramatic accident which an official source said was caused by excessive speed.

The eight-carriage train came off the tracks, hit a wall and caught fire just outside the pilgrimage destination Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain on Wednesday night. It was one of Europe’s worst rail disasters…

Video footage from a security camera showed the train, with 247 people on board, hurtling into a concrete wall at the side of the track as carriages jack-knifed and the engine overturned…

El Pais newspaper said the driver told the railway station by radio after being trapped in his cabin that the train entered the bend at 190 kilometers per hour (120 mph). An official source said the speed limit on that stretch of twin track, laid in 2011, was 80 kph…

Investigators were trying to find out why the train was going so fast and why security devices to keep speed within permitted limits had not slowed the train…

Spain’s rail safety record is better than the European average, ranking 18th out of 27 countries in terms of railway deaths per kilometers traveled, the European Railway Agency said. There were 218 train accidents in Spain between 2008-2011, well below the EU average of 426 for the same period.

There are no rails to derail from in the air.  And no concrete walls to crash into.  Air travel requires no infrastructure between terminal points.  High-speed rail travel requires a very expensive, a very precise and a highly maintained infrastructure between terminal points.  As well as precise controls to keep the train from exceeding safe speeds.  Planes do, too.  But when you have thousands of feet of nothingness all around you there is time to make adjustments before something catastrophic happens.  Like derailing when speeding through a curve too fast.

Air travel is safer than high-speed rail travel.  Which is why when a plane crashes it’s big news.  Because it happens so rarely these days.  Thanks to good aircraft designs.  Good pilots.  And having thousands of feet of nothingness all around you when flying at speeds close to 950 kph (570 mph).  Unlike having a concrete wall just a few feet away from a train traveling at high speeds.

High-speed rail may work in France and Japan.  The only two rail lines to pay for themselves are in these countries.  But every other passenger rail line in the world needs a government subsidy.  Because the costs of a rail infrastructure are just so great.  Making high-speed rail more of a source of union jobs than an efficient means of transportation.  Which is why they are a fixture in countries with liberal governments.  Who subsidize the high cost of these union jobs with taxpayer money.  In exchange for votes in the next election.

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India seeking Private Railway Investment to fund Modernization and Capacity Addition face Union Opposition

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 24th, 2012

Week in Review

India had an explosion of economic growth as they unleashed free market activity.  So much that their infrastructure is struggling to keep up with it.  Especially their railways (see Union Cabinet okays private sector investment in railways by Mahendra Kumar Singh posted 11/23/2012 on The Times of India).

Desperate to attract private investment in the cash-strapped railways, the Cabinet on Thursday cleared the state-run transporter’s plan to rope in the private sector for building new rail lines and plants, and augment capacity, a move that was red-flagged by the unions.

With the policy in place, the railways will be able to get the private sector to connect ports, mines and industrial plants with the rail network by allowing them to invest in laying the tracks for last-mile connectivity. The move is expected to lower the transportation cost and help evacuate minerals, coal and finished products from the production centres…

The move comes as the railways, in the absence of fare increase, has failed to generate resources for funding modernization, leave alone capacity addition despite successive rail ministers adding new trains to appease their constituency. In fact, it has repeatedly failed to meet the targets…

Even this time, the unions are opposing any attempt to hand over operation and maintenance to private players, which could deter investors looking to enter the BOT space for building new lines.

That’s a pity.  For it’s those operation and maintenance costs that consume the capital that they otherwise could use to fund modernization and capacity addition.

In the US there are two types of railways.  Those that make money.  And those that lose money.  Those that make money are privately owned.  Those that lose money are publicly owned.  Every subway, commuter train and Amtrak train loses money because of high operating and maintenance costs.  For the usual reasons.  High pay, pensions and health care costs for active workers and retirees.  While the heavy freight railways make money.  Despite their high operating and maintenance (all union) costs.  For there is no better alternative to moving heavy freight across land.  While every other way to move people (bicycle, motorcycle, car, bus, ship, plane, etc.) is a more cost efficient way to move people than by train.

The freight railways in the US are a modern marvel.  Moving so much freight that main line rails are like polished chrome.  While the best passenger train still pulls onto a siding to let a money making freight train pass.  Clearly showing who makes money.  And who doesn’t.  As well as the difference between a private sector union and a public sector union.  One has accountability.  The other doesn’t.  Customers moving freight have choice between rail shippers.  While people traveling by train have no choice.  The freight railroads have to be able to stay in business by being competitive.  While the passenger railways just keep raising fares.  Or beg for more taxpayer subsidies.  Which is why public sector workers don’t want to privatize their industries.  Because they don’t want to be accountable.  Or work within budgets.  Like everyone in the private sector does.  Including their union brethren in the private sector.  Who often don’t live as comfortably as their public sector brethren live.

If India is to continue her move into a free market economy she needs to privatize her freight railways.  Which could easily become and stay state of the art.  While biting the bullet on her passenger rail that probably will never make enough money to fund modernization or capacity addition.  But at least the money-making private railways can help bolster the economy.  Producing greater tax revenue for investment in the black hole that is passenger rail.

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Amtrak can’t make a Profit on a Cheeseburger they sell at $9.50

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 27th, 2012

Week in Review

Poor Amtrak.  Always the example of government at its worst.  Subsidizing passenger rail when all private railroads gave up on it long ago.  Because you can’t make money on passenger rail.  So what does the government do?  They furnish a service that no one is demanding.  Pouring billions of tax dollars into a failed economic model to desperately try to keep it afloat.   And Amtrak still loses money.  Despite selling cheeseburgers at $9.50 (see Amtrak’s food service: How to lose money on $9.50 cheeseburgers posted 10/23/2012 on The Economist).

JOHN MICA, the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, has held many hearings on Amtrak, America’s government-run passenger rail company, over the past few years. Few, though, have drawn as much attention as an August discussion of—what else!—hotdogs and beer, when Mr Mica noted that, over the past three decades, Amtrak has not once broken even on its food offerings.

… Andrew Biggs at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, suggests that Amtrak’s labour costs are to blame.

If you follow that link you will see these numbers:

How do you lose $85 million per year selling $9.50 cheeseburgers, as Amtrak reportedly has?

One way is to pay Amtrak employees 19% more in salaries and benefits than comparable private sector workers.

… Amtrak salaries were on average 4% lower than private sector levels. However, benefits were 81% higher than private sector levels, including 19% more paid leave, 181% more generous health coverage, and 51% more generous retirement benefits. This helps explain why, over a 7-year period, Amtrak quit rates averaged 2-3% per year while private sector quit rates were 26-27%. No one wants to give up a job with so many perks.

Going back to the Economist article:

Labour costs are part of Amtrak’s problem, but they’re not the heart of it. That honour goes to the company’s unprofitable, unpopular, slow and generally indefensible long-haul routes…

Amtrak loses a lot of money providing food service on its long-haul routes because it loses a lot of money on almost everything related to those routes. Long-haul passenger train trips, especially at Amtrak speeds, are for hobbyists, people with lots of time and very restricted budgets, and people who are afraid of flying. No private-sector company without Amtrak’s political and legal obligations would continue to operate its long-haul routes without substantial changes.

All passenger rail loses money.  Except for, perhaps, the Bullet Train in Japan.  And the TGV in France.  These are the only two trains (at least they were at one time) that actually make a profit.  All other trains cannot survive without taxpayer subsidies.  Because rail transportation is very expensive.  Moving heavy freight by train works because it’s the most cost efficient option for heavy freight.  And sometimes the only option.  But moving people?  There are a lot of other options.  We can drive ourselves.  Take a bus.  Or fly.  All of which are more cost efficient than a train.  A commuter jet, for example, can make three round trips in the time it takes a train to make one trip.  One-way.  So that’s six revenue-producing trips for the commuter jet versus one for the train.  Which is a big reason passenger airlines can be profitable while Amtrak cannot.

Trains require an enormous amount of infrastructure.  And a lot of people.  All of this just to move a few passengers.  Who don’t weigh much.  But require a lot of space for their weight.  So your typical passenger train doesn’t carry a lot of people.  To recover the full cost of moving a passenger train from point A to point B in the ticket price would require a ticket price far greater than anyone would pay.  Which is why the government subsidizes passenger rail.  Because no one would board a train otherwise.

The long-haul trains add porters, bartenders, food staff, wait staff, etc.  Greatly adding cost to a money losing route.  Making these trains the biggest losers.  In large part to those employee benefits.  For those employees on the train. And those not on the train.  To all of those who help get it from point A to point B.  And the insufficient number of revenue-producing trips these trains make to cover those costs.

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Because of Idiots Queensland raises Fines for Accidents at Railroad Crossings

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 14th, 2012

Week in Review

Despite how dangerous trying to beat a train at a railroad crossing is people do it all of the time.  YouTube is full of videos of people trying to beat trains at crossings and losing.  It happens far more than most people probably think.  And being that a train has no steering wheel and sometimes takes a mile to stop, they should.  In Queensland, Australia, they’re trying something else to get people to think before they cross (see Fines for ignoring rail crossing warnings doubled by Tony Moore posted 10/15/2012 on the Brisbane Times Queensland).

Motorists or pedestrians who ignore warnings that a train is approaching a rail crossing and race into it can now be fined $8800, a frustrated Transport Minister Scott Emerson has announced.

The maximum fine has been doubled – up from $4400 – after a string of incidents last week caused accidents and triggered hours of transport congestion.

‘‘I have had a gutful of drivers who ignore the rules and go into these areas causing incidents at our level crossings,’’ Mr Emerson said.

‘‘These idiots cause massive disruption to our public transport system,’’ he said…

In the past 12 months, boom gates have been struck by vehicles 194 times and 180,000 rail commuters have been delayed.

There are few locomotive engineers who haven’t killed someone at a grade crossing.  It’s a horrific thing to have to live through.  And with.  Because all they can do is blow their whistle and slam on the brakes.  Which rarely stops a train in time.  Or it could even cause a more dangerous derailment.  It’s especially hard when you kill a car full of kids.

Will this help prevent grade crossing accidents?  Perhaps.  Some people may alter their behavior.  But probably not the young.  Who do stupid things.  Because they’re not mature enough to make responsible decisions.  They drink while under age.  Do drugs.  Have unprotected sex.  They drive recklessly.  And even drive around railroad crossing gates while a locomotive is speeding towards them at 67 mph.

As a side note these are also the people who vote overwhelmingly Democrat.  And who Democrats aggressively court during election campaigns.  Why?  Because responsible, mature people tend to vote Republican.  But the cool people vote Democrat.  Because the Democrats don’t frown on the fun things kids like to do.

Should we raise the voting age?  To match the drinking age?  Or should we lower the drinking age to match the voting age.  The overwhelming majority would probably not want to do the latter.  So would they support the former?  Perhaps.  But the youth vote would probably thwart any such change.  As well as the liberal Democrats who need the youth vote to get them elected.  As the responsible and mature people won’t vote for them.

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