Why Not Trains?
The closing of the Fung Wah shows the need for more rail lines
Last week, in a victory for the causes of public safety and human sanity, the United States federal government ordered the Fung Wah bus service to cease all operations. The Fung Wah service was one in a fleet of several functionally unsound “Chinatown” lines that perilously escort passengers from Boston to Manhattan. Despite the plethora of automobile accidents instigated by derelict Fung Wah drivers in the line’s 17-year history, the bargain of a price unfortunately attracted more than a few Harvard students looking for an economical route back to New York City. The faults identified by the U.S. government demonstrate how each passenger aboard the Fung Wah bus put his or her life in jeopardy. Those structural problems authenticate pleas for an extensive and cost-effective train system throughout the nation.
It is truly a shame that so many Harvard students are compelled to take their chances with the shoddy engineering of cheap buses rather than ride in the relative luxury afforded by the Amtrak line. The rationalization is not a complex one: While the astute shopper can purchase a standby bus ticket for as low as $1, train tickets are liable to cost around upwards of $100. Amtrak’s amenities explain this variance in price—passengers are privy to clean bathrooms, WiFi, café cars, and the guarantee of a safe trip home. In addition, trains are rather comfortable and enjoyable to ride, with expansive legroom and nonexistent wait times that place them in direct contrast to the commoditization of the altogether harrying airplane experience.
America’s peregrinators are finally recognizing the halcyon alternative to disagreeable and sometimes dangerous travel adventures. A recent study by the Brookings Institution shows that Amtrak’s passenger count has ballooned from 20.1 million to 31.2 million in the past 15 years. This demonstrative shift in demand was initially met by Obama administration plans for an illustrious national high-speed rail system. Unfortunately, the substandard shape of American finances put the kibosh on this program, and the recent realization of the feared sequester lends little hope to future earmarking for novel spending regimes.
This is a shame, as a revamped rail service would reap benefits sure to ripple throughout the economy. It would also increase public safety by luring travelers away from more precarious automobile transportation. While buses may have their place delivering children to school and ferrying tourists around a city, there are few compelling arguments to why they should be relied upon for long distance transportation. At the moment, trains serve as the perfect surrogate. But a rise in demand must be met with a commensurate rise in supply. We hope America’s policymakers understand this basic point of introductory economics and bolster support for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, otherwise known as Amtrak.