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Not all trains are alike: A freight line's sobering perspective

February 10. 2013 12:44AM

If its proponents have anything to say about it, the fix is already in on a so-called New Hampshire passenger rail "study'' to be done at great taxpayer expense.

With the exception of the clear-headed Chris Sununu, the Executive Council went along with Gov. Maggie Hassan last week in endorsing the study the House had earlier approved.

Passenger rail fans say the study is a big step forward in bringing passenger rail to southern New Hampshire. As for recent past studies, which debunked the idea? Well, they clearly were no good, say the train fans.

The only thing clear here is that rail fans won't be confused or deterred by the facts. The public, however, may want to take note of recent remarks by someone with some experience in railroading.

In a piece we ran last Friday, Pan Am Railways President David Fink was quite clear. Pan Am runs freight trains through New Hampshire and New England. It does so without taxpayer subsidy. Passenger service, on the other hand, will require huge amounts of taxpayer loot in New Hampshire, just as has been the case elsewhere. Fink cited Minnesota.

"There, a 40-mile rail line was upgraded at a cost of approximately $317 million for service into Minneapolis in 2009. Since the operation of the first train, ridership has consistently failed to meet projections, and the taxpayers of Minnesota are paying a subsidy of approximately $1 million per month to support a service that is failing to meet even muted expectations."

No problem with "muted" expectations here.

The passenger rail choir is loud and proud. It now includes some Nashua and Manchester businesses that insist they could attract more workers if they could be allowed to live in hip Boston and merely hop the train to work up here in the sticks.

This, they say, is the "big picture" that we need to look at. The train is an "investment."

If that is so, how about a rail tax on the willing? How about letting these people and businesses who say "build it and they will come" pay for it? Dave Fink and Pan Am pay the freight.

Let the passenger pushers follow that example.

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