The great age of trains — the 19th century — spawned a few amazing political careers, not excluding the railway lawyer, Abraham Lincoln. Many major railroads depended on moving politicians first, earth and iron second.
More than ever, today’s passenger rail lines are creatures of the state. Amtrak loses money, and could only be successful as a private operation were politicians able to let its unprofitable lines go.
Congress insists, instead, on putting up more money-losing railways in as many places as possible. President Obama even tried to get a bullet train put through between Tampa and Orlando, despite the fact that the two Florida cities were too close to each other for a super-fast train to make any sense.
Worse for the bullet was the politics.
In 2000, Floridians had voted in high-speed monorail; in 2004, they voted in greater numbers to kill their own project. Voters realized that, with politicians in charge, railroad projects tended to go runaway.
Perhaps that helped convince Rick Scott, the new governor, to reject the federal government’s offer to pay $2.4 billion of a $2.6 billion bullet train. The billions of “free money” that the Obama Administration promised began to seem, well, costly.
So, of course, the federal government sued. In early March, a Florida court ruled that the governor did indeed have the power to tell the feds to play with trains elsewhere.
A minor victory for railway sanity. A major victory for federalism.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.