Back in 1974, the trucking industry gained authority to operate trucks that had a gross vehicle weight (truck and load) of 80,000 lbs. on federal-aid highways. The funny (not haha funny) thing about it was the neither the House nor Senate had ever held a hearing on the proposal to increase truck weight from the 73,280 lbs. that had prevailed since the Interstate Highway System was begun. Nor was the provision in either the House or Senate version of the highway bill. It was inserted in the dead of night by persons unknown into the final, conference version of the bill. Conference committee versions of legislation are not subject to debvate or amendment; they get a straight up-or-down vote.
Now the truckers and some of their customers want to increase truck GVW to 97,000 lbs. They would add a sixth axle, as Canada did, and claim that with 22 wheels instead of the current 18, damage to highways would actually decrease. By golly, those fellers really are concerned about the public welfare, aren't they? Congress is screwing around with a reauthorization of the surface transportation program, the House talking about a five year program and the Senate talking about a two-year program. Neither knows where the money will come from, but the existing gas and diesel fuel taxes do not provide enough money to pay for what the talkative House and Senate committee chairmen say they would spend. There have been no hearings on taking truck weight limits up to 97,000 lbs., nor is a provision to do so in either House or Senate drafts.
That means it is time for railroad lobbyists and others who think gigantic trucks are not good for the country to go on guard for something to be slipped in during the dead of night. It worked before, and the quality of House and Senate members hasn't increased over the past 37 years.
The way most of the Class Is (UP being the exception) have been lining up at the public trough, it's increasingly difficult for them to take the moral high road and fight this sort of thing. There may be repercussions for the Heartland Corridor, the National Gateway, et al. And now we have BNSF (which is no stranger to using the government to achieve its ends) creating a new office, the Director, Public Private Partnerships.
Frankly, I think the industry would be better off focusing their lobbying activities on protecting themselves against the various governments and reducing subsidies to competing modes of transportation, rather than actively seeking favors and pork.
Seems like an old song but, AAR should recognize that passenger trains make railroads "personable" and therefore less like the cold producers of cold cash for investors. Why they don't support passenger rail conceptually is beyond me, it is an obvious way to garner public good will when such issues as those dangerous overweight trucks try to make themselves even more dangerous to little old ladies on the highways while doing 60,000 times the damage as the private automobile to the taxpayer supported highway. Happy Thanksgiving, Larry.
There has been so little activity at this blog site that I was beginning to wonder whether anyone was still reading it or commenting - other than the Grand Spammer who saw fit to infliuct his/her annoying sales pitch on us.
Guys, I hear you and I even agree with you to a degree. But we're not discussing morality here; we are discussing hard dollars, which really is what makes the world go round. Railroad public-private partnerships should not equate to subsidies for railroads. They should be defensible on the ground that more jobs will be created more quickly by a partnership than if the railroad must make a 100% contribution of its own capital. In the case of the truckers and big truck advocates, we are talking of the motor carriers' ability to charge rates that are not fully compensatory and that lower the unit cost of a ton-mile because of the public provision of right-of-way for which the trucker does not pay. I don't think the railroads have to be bashful in demanding competitive equity from the government. Interestingly, when I was at the AAR back in th3 1970s, we called efforts to get trucks and barges to pay their share for the rights-of-way provided by the public our competitive equity campaign. Some things never change. If I were a trucker or barge operator, I might do exactly as they do. As I said, we're not discussing public morals here, but we are discussing who pays what and why the taxpayers of this country should provide any mode with an infrastructure for which it does not have to pay.
MONSTROSITY TRUCKSTERS will inflate all tyres with super-compressed helium-10(imported from the MOON). All trucks will acheive lighter-than-air status and will be under the jurisprudence of the FTAA-Federal Trucking & Aeronautical Abomination...
Happy Holidays from the GRAND SPAMMER~!
And you have the gall to ask for comment on your post about a fictional TV series? In all the time that you have been commenting here, you have not once participated in a serious or otherwise rational discussion of a real railroad/transportation issue. Try it sometime, you might find you like it, but be sure not to overtax your brain if you do.
I think it's a little shortsighted to focus entirely on job-creation strategies; most long-term plans have to focus on the opposite; on freeing capital; human capital as well as money. ROI, in other words.
Lots of potential overlap of public and private interests. You have rural areas where short lines save the county hundreds of thousands in road repair bills. You have suburbs where grade crossing improvements can same millions in work-arounds for the cities involved. You have relief of freight and commuter traffic on highway corridors where increasing capacity could be monumentally expensive.
(And, of course, you also get projects that don't actually pencil out, but are falsely justified this way.)
You are absolutely right, anmccaff. That's what I get for commenting in a rush and using verbal shorthand. Thanks.
I'm going to chime in now only because High Speed Rail in the U.S. still has a faint pulse.
I appreciate the comments made earlier that indicate the largest railroads may finally be coming to the public trough. I still view this approach as win, win, win for all stakeholders railroads, government and the public.
I still find the debate about the development of "true" high speed rail projects extraordinarily disappointing. I'm no economist but when I consider that the cost to develop a true high speed rail system in California (~$98B) equates to annual tax contribution of just ~$2.5B (20 year project; 50% by state) from federal coffers and this translates into an average annual tax burden of just $15 per national taxpayer, I become disillusioned. I'll head off the arguments that claim folks outside California should not be burdened with costs to develop state projects with the following rebuttal. The costs to develop alternative modes to handle projected population growth in the state are estimated at $170B. These funds will be used to expand interstates and airports in the state to handle the increased demand. These costs do not include the costs to maintain the infrastructure. The current california high speed rail business plan estimates an operating surplus in the billions of dollars. Considering capital costs only, true HSR represents the far more cost-effective solution. With no (conservatively, very little) required operating subsidy, the HSR solution almost becomes a "no-brainer".
I attended a HSR debate recently between politicians for and against the development of HSR systems in the U.S. The answer one un-named politician (on the House transportation and infrastructure committee) provided as a solution to the congestion problems on the highways and airports in California..........BUSES.
While I consider myself a supporter and avid user of public transportation systems, I refuse to climb on board a bus to join the congested crowds on highways with an unpredictable trip time. I wouldn't get on the bus if it were free.
Rest assured the costs related to expand the highways and airports will be borne by all U.S. taxpayers, including the costs to operate and maintain them for decades.
Job creation? Rest assured that the expansion of highways and airports will create many more jobs than the development of a HSR system. If the current house committee has its way, in the short term, we'll need more bus drivers, more mechanics, and considerably more non-renewable energy. I certainly hope those buses and their operation and maintenance don't cost be more than the $15 per year of the HSR alternative.
Thanks, Blaine, for a thoughtful discussion. Those who argue that national taxpayers should not be paying for California's HSR system should first return to the rest of us taxpayers the highways, airports, hospitals and any other projects that were paid for in their states and districts. Then, and only then, will their argument have any credibility. This is one nation, indivisible, and with liberty for all, to steal a line from our pledge of allegiance. It is not 50 sovereign states; we fought a war over that.
I suspect I know who the member of Congress was whom you heard in a debate on HSR. If I'm right, let's not give more attention to a certifiable fraud who thinks nothing of grabbing all the pork he can for his district and thinks nothing of denying other districts.
As for HSR, I'm swinging around to the incremental view; there is nothing inherently wrong with a system that allows trains to move at 110 mph; it just isn't as fast as some other speed and is incrementally faster than current train speeds. The real issue, to me, is the quality and integrity of the cost-benefit studies that have been and will be done. Does the proposed route actually move a decent volume of people at a fare that covers above-the-rail costs? If it does, then it deserves funding. If not, forget it and let's move on to projects that justify our investment of time and brain power.
Finally, for now, let us not forget to remind the doubters that the population of this nation will grow inexorably. That will mean more, not fewer, demands for infrastructure. The current crop of politicians are so focused on getting themselves reelected and hopefully embarrassing the opposition that they manage to avoid any rational thought about solving America's real problems. Moving our population is one of those real problems. Perhaps what we really need is a new crop of politicians?
A few points. The slide from "can be a win-win-win" to "must be a win-win-win" is often subtle, and often happens before the plans are finalized, at which point seemingly minor details can turn winners into losers; whenever different "colors" of money are involved, the possibility for mistake or mischief skyrockets; and railroads -and some shippers and passengers, truth be told, have learned the hard way that people often remember what they put into the pot, and completely forget what the other party has.
You can find politicians and voters who still think "the railroads" -whatever that means, exactly- are indebted forever to an equally ill-defined "general public" because of subsidies given 50 or 150 years ago.
You are thinking of the land grants, if I recall my railroad history and the fact they industry never was subsidized except for the land grants. The grants were an inducement to get entrepreneurs (capitalists) to invest in and build a system at a time when there was no commerce. No one in his right mind could have financed the railroad construction of the second half of the 19th Century. As "payment" for the land grants, those railroads accepting them were required to extend discounts from tariffs and fares of some 20 and 25%. Even the railroads that didn't get land grants ended up extending the same discounts because no one could bear the thought of its principal competitor getting all that revenue, even if it was discounted. Accounting rules made all revenue appear to be earnings, something the federal regulators were very slow to learn was not so. In 1939, Congress investigated the discounts and determined that railroads had repaid the value of the land grants by a factor of 10. The railroads were permitted to continue the discounts right through WW II when they hauled almost all troops headed for ports of embarkation and hauled about 90% of military equipment and supplies. Finally, in 1946, Congress repealed the mandate. Subsidized? Hardly.
Well, you had all kinds of other examples, right down to direct payment for track in place, which nonetheless remained - or became- private property. You had other grants of property, or of right of way, and you often had government acceptance of costs which could have been private, and restrictions on trade of potential competitors, for just a few examples.
Most of which has very little to do with here and now. As you mentioned, government (or other institutional) support was often done because it was seen, rightly or wrongly, in the public interest. There were also countless examples of governments singling out railroads as income sources. As you know, many cities, counties, and states taxed railroads, even for improvements that were more in the public's interest than the railroad's, and often taxed them at the highest possible rate. You had restrictions on trade designed to benefit other carriers, direct subsidy of road and highway traffic, and so forth.
Very few or the world's "railwayists," seem to consider the costs imposed on railways, or the real payback, direct or in externalities, that the railroads made, but they seem to remember every penny of subsidy, or of things that can be made to look like subsidy.
At least they do when it suits their arguments. This is a real reason why railroads have to tread carefully with public-private partnerships. Historically, their contributions are often glossed over, while every cent that can be thought of as a subsidy is remembered for decades.
That is all so. Discriminatory state and local taxation was outlawed in the 4R Act of 1976, but localities still try to soak their friendly neighborhood railroad when they think they czn get away with it. As I seem to recall, CSX had to fight one and took it to the Supreme Court just this year.
The original concept of public-private partnerships was that each party would pay for those project costs that benefited it and by both sides contributing projects would be undertaken sooner than if society had to wait for local government to pay for a project or for private parties to pony up for an entire development. You are very right about railroads being careful getting into PPPs. Sometimes it is hard to define what the public interest is. Most communities seem to accept addition of jobs and increased tax payments, but not much more.
Relating to the original subject:
The threat of "pork" being thrust on the American Taxpayer is always real. It is not solely a railroad issue if the truck weights are increased, but we do pay some of the bill by using vehicles which travel on these same roads. The railroads are Taxpayers too! That should be lead line in anything we say about heavy trucks. Personally, I do not care if the truck weight limits were increased to 1,000,000 pounds in a law. It will take only one truck trying to travel over a major bridge at that weight (unless that truck is a mile long) to collapse the bidge and force every highway department to post every bridge in the country for a lower weight.
Convoys of trucks at 97,000 pounds could make Minneapolis / I-35 W bridge collapse a regular occurance. Rebuilding all the bridges to eliminate the newly "substandard" ones cannot be done for many years and for many billions of tax dollars beyond current revenues. The railroads, like every other taxpayer, would have a perfectly understandable reason to publicly holler.
Now for the "subsidy" issue that the subject morphed to:
There were other subsidies to railroad interests. There were few railroads built without an attempt to have towns along the route "subscribe" to the stock of the railroad constructing the line. Often the sales pitch was that the line would go through one town rather than another because that town would promise to buy more stock in the railroad. Often these early companies went bankrupt and the towns, the citizens in those towns, either because they personally bought the stock or because the town government bought the stock with tax monieswere stuck for the losses. Of course, there are many cases where the money did not actually subsidize the construction of a railroad, but went directly into the promoter's pocket, so quantifying such subsidies is nearly impossible. But people are vaguely aware of this history and, despite investment laws which prohibit it, people remain suspicious. (We all know what Bernie Madoff would have been doing in 1870.)
About the only subsidy that I recall of this nature that was entirely successful was the underwriting of the construction of the Cincinnati Southern Railway by the City of Cincinnati. The City used its good credit to guarantee the bonds for the construction of the railroad. It was built and the city has been receiving rent on the railroad ever since. The line is operated as the Norfolk Southern main line south from Cincinnati to Chattanooga today.
As to the land grants, at least the federal land grants for the transcontinental railroads, there was another string attached to the "gift". The railroad only received the alternate sections within a certain distance of its line. This is like getting the black squares on a checkerboard. The Feds retained the white squares. The Feds also had to sell their squares in an area BEFORE the railroad could sell its squares. And lands that the government could not sell for $1 an acre before the railroad would sell quickly for $3 an acre right after the railroad came through. Thus, this "subsidy" could easily be called an investment. But that was an investment that even a Congressman could see at the time. Probably there are none today who actually remember the history.
Thanks for the comment, ARailroader Who Remembers Things. I was beginning to wonder, afte two weeks, if anyone was still reading the PR blog and comments. You are substantially correct, but I'll add a few further comments. As for the western land grants, the railroad di not receive the patent (title) on the grant until after it actually built through the area. I guess that sort of put them in the category of guaranteed loans: build some railroad, get title to the land, then sell the land, largely to immigrants from norther Europe, at least in the case of the Northern Pacific.
Robber barons, the early developers of railroads certainly were. I only would point out that they reflected the public morality standards of the day and railroad builders were not the only robber barons. Not excusing anyone, just pointing out the reality in which they did business.
Subsidies: As 18-wheelers do not now pay anything near their allocable share of the cost of the highways and bridges provided by the public, they are effectively subsidized. The best number I have seen is 80%, leaving them subsidized by 20%. Increase the amount of freight they can carry without changing their cost allocation and you increase the subsidy on every unit they carry. That's where the railroads get just a bit testy over subsidies. Anything the truckers get is considered a highway "investment," but anything a railroad gets immediately is condemned as a "subsidy." It may be, but we're not talking semantics here. We are talking competitive equity. As you pointed out, railroads are taxpayers, too. So why should railroads be sanguine about their taxes going to their direct competitors?