I can still hear it in my memory, over 30 years ago: Kenny Rogers’ opening lyric, “On a warm summer’s evening, on a train bound for nowhere. . . .” It was The Gambler, maybe the most perfect country music song of all time. It told the story of a gambler’s philosophy of life. “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to fold ‘em.
In 1998, Governor Pataki (R) decided to get into bed with Amtrak. That bureaucratic vampire has never made a profit in any year for over 40 years. The taxpayers have subsidized it to the tune of a billion dollars a year since 1970. Still, it gets a bum rap. Airline and highway subsidies over the same period have been well over $2 trillion. Everyone wants in on the federal government’s transportation gravy train. Trains get the fewest subsidies. But their failures are more visible.
Amtrak wanted to unload seven locomotives that were in such poor shape that, even by Amtrak standards, they were uneconomical.
The Gucci shoe boys at Amtrak had a plan. They persuaded Pataki to persuade the legislature to pay $70 million to turn this scrap metal into a high-speed train system. All it would take is a little retrofitting. “Trust us. This is doable.”
In the original plan, the state was to take possession of seven trains that were built in the 1970s and retired from Amtrak and rehabilitate them for the planned high-speed rail project.
Four of the trains—each of which included two locomotives, a café car,
and two passenger cars—never ran. The three that did run were plagued by technical problems, including malfunctioning air conditioning systems and fires.
The three barely functioning trains were eventually towed by Amtrak to Delaware in 2004. The state stored the four remaining trains and spare parts in the industrial parks.
It has cost $150,000 a year to store them.
Governor Cuomo wants to get $500,000 for these locomotives as scrap metal.
Here is the deal. They can be shipped by rail. All the buyer needs is a locomotive.
“And somewhere in the darkness, the Gambler, he broke even.”
The taxpayers of New York will not come close to breaking even.
But all is not lost! Gov. Cuomo is undaunted. He still has big plans for high-speed rail lines. These plans involve you and me. According to Wikipedia,
In 2009, The New York State Department of Transportation released a statewide rail plan, including a program of capital investments to increase passenger rail speed and reliability. In October 2009, the state applied for funding for a number of these projects from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program. The NYSDOT also named a project manager for high speed rail, Marie Corrado.
New York governor-elect Cuomo sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood shortly after his victory in the New York gubernatorial election requesting that New York receive the money granted by the federal government to high-speed rail projects in Wisconsin and Ohio that the governors of both states pledged to cancel.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again . . . but next time, with federal money.
You and I are being taken for a high-speed ride.