A Private Non-Subsidized U.S. 21st Century Passenger Railroad
By David Henderson
You read that headline right.
This last Wednesday, I sat for over an hour in a waiting room while my wife was having a medical procedure. On the way to the outpatient facility early that morning, I picked up my Wall Street Journal from the curb, and while she was being treated, I read it through much more thoroughly than usual, as thoroughly as I used to do in the late 1980s.
The editorial page isn’t always excellent, especially when the writers talk about U.S. foreign policy, but on domestic policy, especially on regulation, government spending, and taxation, the editorial page is often excellent. Wednesday was a good day for the Wall Street Journal. Why do I introduce the topic in such a lengthy way? Because some of my younger friends on Facebook have been trashing the Journal editorial page lately, in a way that causes me to suspect that they don’t actually read it.
I could easily highlight 3 or 4 articles. I’ll mention two briefly and then discuss another extensively.
The one I want to focus on, though, is Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.’s article, “A Private Railroad is Born.”
One obvious risk of playing this game [the game of high-speed rail that is being played, very expensively, I might add, in California] too long is that some poor state’s taxpayers might end up with a white-elephant rail system that will require operating subsidies till the end of time. Florida was one of several states that waved off the initial dollop for exactly this reason, for what most knew was a nonsensical Tampa-Orlando bullet train. Thereupon something interesting happened: Private investors stepped up with a rail vision of their own, aimed at making money rather than spending it.
Their brainchild, All Aboard Florida (the train will get a new name this year), is not designed to push political buttons. It won’t go to Tampa. It will zip past several aggrieved towns on Florida’s Treasure Coast without stopping.
Nor will the train qualify as “high speed,” except on a stretch where it will hit 125 miles an hour. Instead of running on a dedicated line, the new service will mostly share existing track with slower freight trains operated by its sister company, the Florida East Coast Railway.
But the sponsoring companies, all owned by the private-equity outfit Fortress Investment Group, FIG -0.55% appear to have done their sums. By minimizing stops, the line will be competitive with road and air in connecting the beaches, casinos and resorts of Miami and Fort Lauderdale with the big airport and theme-park destination of Orlando. Capturing a small percentage of the 50 million people who travel between these fleshpots, especially European visitors accustomed to intercity rail at home, would let the train cover its costs and then some.
I love it.