Thursday, February 7, 2013

HB 1828: Acquiring Land for Railroads

Virginia House Bill 1828 will, if enacted (and it probably will be), authorize the state to buy land for railroads, specifically for passenger trains intended to encourage more people to ride trains instead of driving.

For those who choose to live in and near cities, rail service is definitely a plus. And government doesn't need to encourage people to ride the train when they can...all it takes is an hour or two inching along Route 66 in bumper-to-bumper traffic, while those cute little four-to-eight-car Metrorail trains whir past you every three to six minutes, and you're checking your watch and saying, "Dang, if we'd parked at the Metro station we'd be home now."

And if you spend a lot of time commuting between two corners of Virginia...well, when I did that, Greyhound had this wonderful red-eye express bus that left Bristol around 11 p.m., stopped for fuel in Roanoke, and reached D.C. around 6 a.m. Great if your home was near Bristol. Nobody else seemed especially partial to this bus and at last report Greyhound wasn't running it any more. Now people whose homes are near Bristol can join the rest of Virginia in noticing how quick, easy, and even pleasant it is to travel between D.C. and Pittsburgh or Harpers Ferry by train, and why can't we go home this way too? It used to be possible; we had passenger trains in Southwest Virginia when I was a kid. Some of the rails were torn up and converted to little-used "trails." Very few if any old railroads have become part of private homes, stores, or gardens, and it wouldn't give much inconvenience to many people if Virginia had at least a local connecting train in every town, again, the way we had up into the 1970s.

However, although my legislators like the idea of bringing back the trains, and so do I, fair disclosure: some Tea Party contacts suspect that Agenda 21 will worm into the railroad revival plan somehow. Personally I feel less worried about that than about the observed facts: Metrorail trains and Amtrak trains are fun to ride, but Metro and Amtrak have, er, not exactly become profitable, or even fully self-supporting. In the case of Metro there is an obvious correlation between unprofitability and management by guys who opted for snazzy new bells and whistles over maintaining the working parts of the system, with results that can literally be described as a train wreck, or train wrecks; I don't know how much of the financial problem is due to this mismanagement, or whether it's possible for a passenger rail system to be profitable these days.
HB 1828 has passed the House and passed a committee vote in the State Senate unanimously. It's going to be hard to stop this "train," if that's what you were wanting to do. An ever-increasing number of Americans really shouldn't drive but have more freedom to travel, and interest in touring the state, than they have ever had before. Try to keep them (us) from getting train travel back, and you'll sound like Scrooge on steroids. This web site recommends sharing your Agenda 21 concerns with people in your community to make sure that re-connecting your town to rail service does not turn out to entail anything less pleasant.