In the end, everyone loses

Terri Shiavo died today.

O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer!

Now cracks a noble heart.

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.



An editorial (reg req or no reg here) yesterday in the Seattle Times by Neal Peirce talks about Amtrak.

Peirce starts talking numbers. He had to do that. Nothing gets me more interested in a story than giving me numbers to average or manipulate. So here we go.

Peirce says:

"...an abrupt cutoff of federal support, currently $1.2 billion a year..."

"...last year increased its ridership 4.3 percent, to 25 million passengers..."

For fun, let’s assume that no one riding on Amtrak ever makes multiple trips. At 25 million unique passengers, the government spends $48 each. Seattle to Portland today is running at $31 one way taking 3 and a half hours, not a profitable route. Driving takes just under 3 hours to cover 180 miles. Seattle to Eugene runs $50 one way and takes just over 6 hours. Driving takes approximately 4 ½ hours to cover 280 miles. Seattle to Whitefish, Montana costs $67 and takes nearly 14 hours. Driving takes approximately 9 hours to cover 530 miles. If you assume 17 miles per gallon in a car at $2.29 per gallon, the cost to drive is $24.25, $37.72, and $71.39 respectively. With the added flexibility of being able to leave whenever you want, a car is much more economical.

Well, what about urban areas. New York Penn Station to Newark, New Jersey, obviously a commuter route (17 minutes on the train), cost $27, running every thirty minutes during the day and every 17 or so during the rush. This pair is served by light rail also. On the subway system, the trip takes approximately 33 minutes. But there are many more options as three to four subway trains leave in the same time span during the rush. Additionally, the fare for the subway is $1.50. Amtrak costs 18 times as much for only twice the speed and one quarter of the flexibility

How bad does it get? The White House states "...it would literally be cheaper for Amtrak to buy each passenger a plane ticket to the next destination. For example, a round trip ticket for direct flights between San Antonio and Chicago (the Texas Eagle route) can be purchased for as little as $216." Per passenger loss on that route is $258.

Peirce also goes on to mention:

"...Amtrak shutdown would be a body blow to the crowded Northeast Corridor (Boston-Washington)..."

Amtrak runs daily commuter service in the Northeast. So it’s safe to assume that ridership is definitely not 25 million unique passengers. So we can find the other bound of the per rider expense to our wallets. 25 million passenger trips, 730 daily trips per year per passenger gives us a ridership of 34,247 people. At $1.2 billion, that works out to $35,040 per passenger.

Somewhere between $48 and $35,000 is the actual cost. From Amtrak’s own website

"Each day, approximately 68,000 passengers travel on Amtrak."

This number is simply 25 million passengers spread evenly over 365 days in a year. Obviously not accurate, but we’ll run with it. If we assume these are the same people every day, the cost is roughly $17,650 per person.

So let’s assume that half the trips are made by people commuting 5 days a week to and from work. That’s 520 trips per commuter per year. That’s 24,039 people using Amtrak to commute and 12.5 million that use it only once. At $48 per trip, means we spend nearly $25,000 per commuter.

Peirce states that, "Other advanced nations are now building world-class rail systems." While this is true, many of them are implementing high speed rail. The infrastructure requirements of high speed rail are far beyond our current system. 97% of the track used by Amtrak was designed to transport freight.

If you’ve ever ridden Amtrak, you know how bumpy the ride is. You also know how slow the trains move the majority of the time. The freight lines that own the rail don’t care whether or not the wheat or oil or potatoes on board get thrown around a bit. Their trains can fly down the tracks at 80 miles per hour because a few bumps doesn’t hurt anything. Amtrak has humans on board that don’t care for being bounced against the sides of the car.

To have a truly functioning passenger rail service modeled on Europe and Japan, a huge investment in infrastructure must be made. A high speed national rail would have to move away from renting right of ways to owning and building its own tracks.

Other concerns would still exist, however. Most Americans don’t really care for trains rolling through their neighborhoods. They’re noisy and unsafe to people near the tracks. Trains are actually forced to slow down in towns, as well as blow their horns at crossings, making more noise. A system of tunnels would need to be constructed to allow trains to pass at speed under small towns like Sumner, WA. A few miles of tunnel for the Alaskan Way Viaduct is going to cost somewhere between $6 billion and $11 billion.

Europe and Japan are not forced to deal with the expanse or extremes of our geography. A drive from Lynden, WA to Key West, FL is just under 3,600 miles. Add to that two major mountain ranges, multiple major rivers, myriad temperature extremes, the costs to build an efficient line begins to build.

Peirce cites Senator Kennedy, "Japan and Germany, notes Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., spend about 20 percent of their national transportation budgets on trains, compared with the 2 percent Amtrak has requested."

Light rail costs approximately $23 million per mile on a relatively flat surface. The Colorado Rapid Transit Alliance estimates their proposed rail running between 80 and 110 mph will cost $40 million to $60 million per mile. (By comparison, highway construction runs $5 million to $10 million.) Even at the low end, which would be to assume no elevation change, no tunnels, no right of way purchases, etc., the cost of a rail from Lynden to Key West would be $144 billion. That one line is nearly three times the total budget for the Department of Transportation.

If we were to build a high speed rail system comparable to the heavy rail passenger system already in place, we would need to build roughly 22,000 miles of track. Total cost just to actually put rails in: $880 billion dollars.

By 2036 at Peirce and Kennedy’s 20%, we will have paid for the rails.

That number assumes $40 million per rail mile. It doesn’t include rights of way, extraneous infrastructure such as tunnels and bridges, or any other possible nit that could drive up the cost. If we consider those and government cost performance, we should probably double the number. That pushes us out to 2047. This project would cost more and take longer than fixing Social Security.

Amtrak is a dinosaur. It is inefficient in time and expense. Implementing high speed rail will be a huge expense for a small, if even existent, benefit. Until rail can get you from Seattle to LA in two and a half hours, most people will fly.

Let Amtrak die.


Looking forward to Halloween

I've decided to go as Napoleon Dynamite. Can't decide on what out fit to wear, though. Should I do the generic unicorn outfit, the wedding scene outfit, or the Vote For Pedro outfit.

I think I'm even going to grow my hair out and get it colored and permed. May have to take Monday and Tuesday off that week.


My brother's friend Ron

RonDiggity and the New Mexico Kid (hey G, it's better than Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh) are good friends. If I remember correctly, RD came up to Seattle with tNMK and we met at the Claim Jumpers' (no link you gluttonous bastards) in Redmond. Ron's life is so the opposite of mine. You can check him out at Liquid Etchings.


You're gonna do what?

Foxnews reported yesterday that tsunami survivors are suing the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. The case was filed in the Southern District New York. Apparently, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center didn't do enough to warn people. Forget the fact that it is the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center...

Does Congress vote on anything real?

CNN today proclaims, "Senate votes for ANWR oil drilling". But did they really? Always go to the source...

Today the Senate is considering Senate Concurrent Resolution 18, AKA the appropriations bill. The big hullaballo is about Section 304 which states, "If...the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources reports a bill or joint resolution, or... blah blah blah..., that permits exploration and production of oil in the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and such measure is enacted; and...the reconciliation instruction set out in section 201(a)(4) is met,...the chairman of the Committee on the Budget may revise committee allocations for that committee and other appropriate budgetary aggregates and allocations of new budget authority and outlays by the amount provided by that measure for that purpose, but the adjustment may not exceed $350,000,000 in new budget authority in each of fiscal years 2008 through 2010."

Lots of words...but guess what. All of the news media's hype is irrelevant. The Senate didn't approve the appropriations bill, they only struck down an amendment. The amendment, called Senate Amendment 168 states only "Strike Section 201(a)(4)."

Section 201 (a)(4) states "COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES- The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources shall report changes in laws within its jurisdiction sufficient to reduce outlays by $33,000,000 in fiscal year 2006, and $2,658,000,000 for the period of fiscal years 2006 through 2010."

So here, apparently, is the line of thinking: By not passing an amendment that eliminates a forced reduction in spending, the Republican controlled Senate has allowed oil drilling in ANRW to begin.

Am I missing something???

Thanks to one of my Senators, Maria Cantwell, for putting up a bogus amendment so that the media can villify the Republicans. Had she really wanted to stop drilling in ANWR, she would have moved to amend Section 304, where drilling in ANWR is actually discussed.


All I'm going to say about the Gay Marriage Issue

On this coming Tuesday, the Washington State Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of the state law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Right off, I'll say that I don't believe in a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage. First, I think it really is a states rights issue. Second, the few CA's that limit the rights of the people have been utter failures. Take Prohibition for example.

At the state level, however, the issue does need to be dissected a bit.

There are three prevailing views of marriage. Those opposed to gay marriage view marriage as a religious issue. Marriage is a sacred pact with God, blessed by God, made in faith to spend the rest of your life committed to another person. It mirrors the life long commitment to God. Religious documents say that God considers homosexuality a sin; therefore the blessing of God could never occur in a marriage of two men or two women.

Most heterosexual supporters of gay marriage view marriage as a legal construct. This view has only really been able to take shape since the "separation of church and state." Based on the privileges provided to married couples in our society, there is no wonder that supporters consider marriage a vehicle of the state. The privileges can provide hope of a better life. Since marriage is a legal and state supported institution, it should not be denied to any citizen.

The third view is that held by homosexual couples themselves. Love, love, love. They breathe, they bleed, they love. They love as strongly and passionately as any man or woman can. The fact that they find someone they choose to commit their life to is as difficult for homosexuals as it is for heterosexuals. If gays love as straights love, they should be able to profess that love to the world in the same way.

We can all talk until we're blue in the face. "Just don't call it marriage," I hear on talk radio. "Hateful, bigoted, ignorant, right-wing conservatives," I read in the paper. A rose by any other name, I say. Can't we all just get along, I say.

"If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."

Jesus gives us an answer, whether or not anyone wants to hear it, "and now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."

We can find an answer...to make everyone happy.