The American people have a love affair with trains. They are a picture of progress, states are throwing millions into new light rail systems, and there is even a push to create a rail line from Columbus to Chicago. But an important aspect of progress is learning from those who come before, to see what to do and what to avoid.
If we want to look for what not to do, we need to look no further than the United States.
Case one: Amtrak.
Amtrak only comes into the news when it derails and kills more people, but it is always running in the background. And in spite of running cars empty and being underused, compared to the amount of rails, trains, and capital it has, it is constantly funded through taxpayers. So far, receiving subsidies that have now cumulatively passed $45 billion. Every single ticket bought is also partially covered by the taxpayer, $60 a pop, and this federally run company has never run at a profit, even in with this assistance.
Even though before the government nationalized the private railways systems that existed before Amtrak had often posted profits in the years leading to their decline and government buyout. And even the problems with Amtrak pales in comparison to the public subways systems in Washington D.C., or Chicago, or the constant delays and increases of price in the government financed monorail in Florida.
Now to see what to do, let’s look at Japan: a country who is consistently rated within the top 5 rail systems in the rail, a country that consistently innovates and puts out new fastest trains, a country where even in the capital city of Tokyo, with the majority of transportation done by rail even the trains still run on time. It even has something liberals in the US can only dream of: separate cars for women during rush hour for their protection.
And the reason for this is very simple. The decade after the US nationalized Amtrak, the Japanese public rail system was falling apart and draining colossal amounts of money. So their government did the only thing it could to cut the cost: it completely privatized the railway.
Subways, trains, the works.
And to many different companies, with over 40 operators in Tokyo alone.
Every innovation, every success, of this, one of the most acclaimed rail systems in the world, came after it was completely removed for government and the profit-and-loss system was allowed to function.
So next time your liberal friend tells you how the US needs to update its transportation system and replace cars with efficient electric cars, let them know that all they need to do is get the government out of it.