Pa. taxpayers to get railroaded again?

Pa. taxpayers to get railroaded again?

At the risk of sounding like Dr. Seuss, it’s the pipe dream that refuses to die. But given the facts, the question has to remain “Why”?

The supposed “big news” to come out of a transportation roundtable discussion last week was that Pittsburgh could get additional Amtrak service to Harrisburg, Philadelphia and New York City within three years.

But hold onto your hoopollas and hollers and gizmoldoes and, especially, your dollars. For such service never has been cost- or time-effective. And it never will, or can, be until government gets out of this black rail hole.

It appears that the only reason there’s revived talk of the additional Amtrak service is because of all the money – your money – that the Biden administration and Democrat-led House and Senate have been throwing around in the name of “transportation infrastructure.”

But there’s hardly anything prudent about spending millions of dollars into doubling service that long has been a joke to begin with.

Consider that in the time it takes Amtrak to travel from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg – 5 ½ hours — someone in an automobile could drive to the capital city, turn around and drive back within a half hour of home.

And lest we forget, on another Amtrak line, it takes 9 ½ hours to reach Washington, D.C., from Pittsburgh. The drive is five hours shorter.

Anything resembling acceptable travel times are extended because – between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg — the rail lines used belong to Norfolk Southern; freight traffic takes precedence.

Those shilling for the new service say travel times will be reduced because Norfolk Southern carries less freight these days. That number supposedly is down between 30 and 40 percent.

But what if it starts to carry more freight, especially as pandemic-affected supply chains return to normal?

Results of a new Norfolk Southern study on the effects that added Amtrak passenger service would have on its freight service are to be released soon.

But again, resumption of a second daily train would be wholly reliant on funding from the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan.

While the cost of the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg leg of the restored service appears to have not been nailed down in this iteration, the cost for capital improvements need to enact the plan, in toto, is pegged at an astounding $2.7 billion.

That alone – coupled with what likely would be a paucity of ridership — should be a good indication of this effort’s cost-ineffectiveness.

Of course, that’s never stopped pols from pimping for such things. After all, when taxpayers are footing the bill, cost is no object – especially when they seek to use your money to build their political legacies.

Or as Dr. Seuss himself might say:

“We will roll down the rails with empty trains; ‘Joy, joy, joy’ will come the refrains from those who ‘saved the day’ in order only to make political hay.

“We’ll get there when we get there; for time is of no concern. Especially when those in power keep acting like we have money, all borrowed, to burn.”

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).