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Train project would derail needed road improvements

A recent proposal to restart the Amtrak rail connecting New Orleans, Biloxi, and Mobile will not fix commuters’ woes. Instead, the proposed plan that would restore the route that existed between these cities before Hurricane Katrina would only make commuting worse for the residents of these three states.

The commuters of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama would be better off if this route remained closed and the money were spent on the states’ roads and bridges. A recent report from the Reason Foundation found that Louisiana ranked 35th overall for its highway performance in the United States. Just last year, a study by Bankrate ranked Louisiana as the second worst state for driving.

Louisianans already largely commute to work by driving – roughly 76% of New Orleans’ 384,000 population commute to work in their car, not accounting for those who rely on buses. According to a 2015 Amtrak study of restarting the three-city line, the Amtrak line would serve roughly 40,000 people annually. That’s roughly 100 people, or 0.03 percent of New Orleans residents each day. The money this proposal calls for would divert critical funding from a highly used infrastructure to one that, by comparison, is hardly used.

Just how much would it cost to get this rail running? As the Mississippi Center for Public Policy noted, even with the tens of millions of federal tax dollars set aside for this project, states would still be required to commit their own funds. Louisiana is kicking in around $10 million towards the start-up costs of this project.

The cost of continued operation of the Amtrak rail is more daunting than the start-up costs. Even with the massive investment of federal tax dollars, the plan is to transition future costs to the states. Federal dollars would account for 80% in year one, dropping to 60% in year two, and so on, until it becomes a 100% state-funded line. An Amtrak study estimates the annual cost to operate for this rail would be around $7 million. This proposed route’s costs will eventually come from Louisiana residents’ wallets, and these rails are typically far from profitable.

In fact, Amtrak’s only profitable rail is the Northeast Corridor that connects Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, and New York City. These cities are far more affluent and have much higher population density than the Gulf Coast region, which is the reason this one line can run a profit.

If there is a market to serve commuters with a rail line, private investors will get it up and running. The state and federal governments should not subsidize a boondoggle that will serve so few as opposed to investing in better transportation opportunities that will be utilized by residents of the states. Our infrastructure problems are multifaceted, and an Amtrak rail would only make things worse.

This article was originally posted on Train project would derail needed road improvements

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