Search
Archives

You are currently browsing the blog archives for March, 2019.

Categories

Archive for March, 2019

It’s been funny watching DC pundits discuss Beto O’Rourke’s political gifts. Democrats, of course, are giddy, with some saying he’s “Kennedyesque.” Seriously, Beto isn’t at all like JFK or RFK. He’s an intellectual lightweight who hasn’t figured out what he stands for.

One thing that’s immediately apparent is that Robert Francis O’Rourke isn’t a marketing genius. That’s apparent in a brief trip to O’Rourke’s campaign website. O’Rourke’s slogan of “We’re all in this together” sounds too much like Hillary’s “Better together” slogan.

Seriously, if Robert Francis O’Rourke is apologizing to the press for making improper comments about his wife and his white privilege, imagine how he’d melt during negotiations with Putin or Kim Jung Un.

Last week, Rep. Omar tweeted out another tweet questioning politicians allegiance to the United States. Later last week, the House passed a watered-down resolution condemning hate. This week, Democrats tried pretending that Rep. Omar’s statement wasn’t anti-Semitic:

Speaker Pelosi must think that we’re totally gullible if she thinks we’ll believe that crap. Pelosi is also trying to get people to believe that Rep. Omar’s statement about allegiance to foreign governments was just a comment about special interest groups.

Rep. Omar sent a letter to a judge asking for leniency for men trying to become ISIS terrorists. If Rep. Omar is questioning the allegiance of Americans who also support Israel, it’s only fitting that we can question her allegiance to the US while she supports leniency for ISIS.

Northstar Departing for Insanity
John W. Palmer, Ph.D.

Last Friday I waited three hours to have 3 minutes to address the Minnesota House of Representative’s Committee on Transportation Finance about the possible extension by rail the NorthStar Commuter Rail line. During my three hour wait, I heard many people express their opinions and desires to spend other peoples money on a project they want.

When my chance to speak came I focused on the economics of commuter rail (nowhere in the USA do the fares cover the cost of operation and the average public subsidy is 47% of operating costs). Then I reminded the committee of the widely known definition of insanity (Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and again and expecting a different outcome).

A brief review using a case study approach covering the last 100 years of commuter rail in the USA helps explain why spending taxpayer dollars on an extension of the NorthStar Commuter Rail fits the definition of insanity. The interurban, early commuter rail, was of great importance to the eastern half of the United States from about 1890 to 1925. Interurbans provided passengers service between cities and towns. Interurbans were a cross between a tram and a conventional train. In 1915, there were 15,500 miles of interurban rail in the US. http://chicagocityofbigshoulders.blogspot.com/2013/05/electricinterurbans.html

My home town (Kenosha, WI) was served by one of these rail lines. The Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad (The North Shore Line) is representative of commuter rail’s history. The North Shore Line was one of the most successful interurban systems ever put together. The history of the company dates to the 1890s and in terms of the passenger traffic it carried during its peak years of operations was the second busiest interurban in history. Unfortunately, the company’s downfall was the plight of nearly all interurbans, the heavy reliance of passenger traffic could not sustain it forever and bankruptcy finally came after a long legal battle in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The North Shore once stretched from downtown Chicago to Milwaukee. Today only one segment, the Skokie Swift, remains in use for Chicago commuter service. Given the fact that the company operated high-speed service and was located in a highly populated region it weathered the 1920s downfall of the interurban and initially did fine after the Great Depression hit.

World War II brought back traffic level comparable to that of the great years of the 1920s. Total passenger traffic climbed from barely ten million revenue passengers in 1940 to almost twenty-eight million by 1945. By November of 1946 after nearly fourteen years of bankruptcy, the North Shore came back. But, trouble and crisis returned swiftly at the War’s end.

Passenger traffic dropped and kept on declining. In 1948, a prolonged strike lasting more than three months, shut down the system; only a better than 40 percent commuter fare increase enabled the company to meet the resultant wage increases and resume operations. In June, 1958, the North Shore asked for permission to abandon all operations. Five years later (1963) The North Shore ended service thus leaving only one passenger provider (the Chicago and Northwestern) serving Chicago’s north shore communities. http://www.tmer.org/Section/History/ Chicago_North_Shore_and_Milwaukee/index.html

Prior to 1970 most railroads providing commuter service to Chicago were financially stable due to the benefits of increased traffic during the war years, expansion of suburbia and modernization of their fleets. By 1970 costs were rising and revenues were declining and in1974 the Chicago Regional Transit Authority (RTA) was formed and commuter rail service became publicly funded and government operated. By 1983 after recurring financial difficulties RTA was reorganized shifting commuter rail to a subdivision called METRA.

Today the old Chicago and Northwestern commuter rail service along the north shore of Lake Michigan is operated by METRA. The similarities of METRA’s service from
Chicago to Kenosha, WI and the NorthStar are striking. METRA’s service to Kenosha covers 51 miles and the current rail based Northstar is 40 miles. Both services us main line rails of private railroads. The similarity ends when covering cost with fares is examined. Fares collected on METRA cover 55% of the cost of operation. Northstar’s fares covered only 20%. METRA’s service had about 1.8 million riders in 2017 compared to 737,000 on the Northstar service.

The difference in population density along the two routes probably accounts for the large difference in cost recovery since ridership and population density are highly correlated. The rail line from Kenosha to Chicago traverses some of the USA’s most densely populated corridors. The Northstar corridor has many miles of undeveloped land.

With commuter rail’s long history of decline that lead to unprofitability and now government subsidy to cover shortfalls in revenue and with clear evidence that ridership and fares are not going to cover the cost of operation, investing money in commuter rail clearly meets the definition of insanity. With the brief history of Northstar showing an inability to even come close to covering operating cost at the fare box, spending more money on the failing experiment with Minnesota commuter rail is crazy.