Op-ed on the “Brain Train”

State Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough) has written an op-ed on the so-called “Brain Train.”

The new push by proponents and others to seek construction of a commuter rail line from Athens to Atlanta is nothing more than fantasy littered with fuzzy math by those who will propose and financially prosper from it.
University officials, some developers and others are attempting to get taxpayers to foot the bill to construct a slow old train for the 60-mile distance between Athens and Atlanta. This would not only drain state coffers but cost local taxpayers in each city and county along the way who would have to pay for annual maintenance and operation costs of this rail service. The operational cost is substantial and is being grossly underestimated as is 90 percent of all transit projections nationwide.

The Henry County Republican Party is also sponsoring two ballot questions, one of which asks “Should you be able to vote on a transit system that is paid for or maintained by county taxes?”

48 comments

  1. Nativeson says:

    Regions that are competing against Atlanta for economic development are pressing ahead with commuter rail. Has Mr. Davis taken a look at the price of gasoline these days? Has he heard of “peak oil”? If metro Atlanta does not develop commuter rail, all of us will pay a dreadful price for this lack of vision. Look at how we lost the banks in Atlanta. We’ve lost the Ford and GM plants and Fort Mac. Delta is wasting away. Hello. We’re going to lose a lot more if we don’t join modern civilization and adopt commuter rail. The brain train would be a bonanza for the communities along the route. People will be able to avoid the nightmare commute the state provided when it built the Ga. 316 death trap on the cheap.

    Democratic Lt. Gov. candidate Greg Hecht actually has a commuter rail plank in his platform but, alas, doesn’t mention it in his lame “Give ’em Hecht!” TV commercial — http://greghecht.com/gouge.wmv. He falls back, instead, on some predictable blather about fighting oil companies to bring down gas prices. No. Gas prices are going to go higher. That’s not the issue. The issue is to develop alternative transportation for the future and Georgia is not doing that.

  2. LINDA says:

    Representative Davis is absolutely correct in voicing opposition to this silly idea. Look at Amtrak, and all of the travelers in the Northeast for a comparison. Amtrak is always running in the red even though trains are always busy. What should have been done years ago was to encourage workers to carpool like I did when I lived in Louisville, KY in the late 70s. All businesses should be taking a leadership role in encouraging their employees to carpool in to work. We do not need another government project, and instead we need to look at what enterprises that we can privatize.

  3. kspencer says:

    Amtrak is a bad example. Quite simply, Amtrak Northeast is profitable. Unfortunately, the cost of running along most of the rest of the country at a loss is too much to overcome. Add to this problem the tendency of the funding body to refuse to pay for upgrades they demand be done and it’s a classic catch 22 that can only amaze those who really look at it.

    I’m not saying the Athens-Atlanta train is doable or good. I’m just saying that if it’s filled like Amtrak NE it WILL be profitable, so that’s a bad example for detractors to use.

    Kirk

  4. LINDA says:

    It would be much more prudent to offer a tax credit for a company like Groome Transportation that operates in Macon between Macon and Atlanta. A tax credit could help the company invest in the land, building and the acquistion of buses. People could park their vehicles at the bus terminals in Athens and ride to Atlanta. I suppose the drop off place could be at a centrally located Marta terminal. If the demand exceeds the supply, then and only then should commuter rail service be looked at seriously. Notice that I said specifically, a tax credit could be made available not a tax free ride. Remember if the demand is there, a private business will step up to the plate if a profit can be made.

  5. hccitizen says:

    “Regions that are competing against Atlanta for economic development are pressing ahead with commuter rail.”
    And they are taxing everyone to pay for it. Georgia has over 8 million people now – about half live in metro Atlanta. I would say our growth (population) is already exceeding those competing cities.

    Linda is on target! It would be much more prudent to offer a tax credit. Encourage private enterprise to press ahead – do not create a multi-year tax subsidy as was proposed with the Lovejoy Line! Where there is a market for goods and services, allow capitalism to work. Avoid the socialist concept that “government” can provide, because IT does not. We DO with our tax dollars.

    Saying “The brain train would be a bonanza for the communities along the route” is a narrow world view. Look at GA 400 – did it help or simply create heavier traffic and more congestion. People along the route, cities and counties, will be burdened with higher taxes to support businesses — another socialist concept. Where there is a market, free enterprise will erupt like a volcano. It is not the role of government to create a market.

    Has anyone read about the water restrictions in the metro area? It will not get better by adding millions of people into high density developments in these now-rural areas. Allow the growth to occur naturally without building in tax subsidies (we pay) for artificial social engineering.

  6. jacewalden says:

    “If metro Atlanta does not develop commuter rail, all of us will pay a dreadful price for this lack of vision. Look at how we lost the banks in Atlanta. We’ve lost the Ford and GM plants and Fort Mac. Delta is wasting away. Hello. We’re going to lose a lot more if we don’t join modern civilization and adopt commuter rail.”

    Nativeson,

    You sound about as logical as one of those kooky environmental freaks who say the Earth’s temperature is going to rise to 250 degrees and the skies will rain sulfuric acid…

    People that live 20+ miles from the city are NOT going to chose riding on a cramped train when they can get up a little earlier and drive their own cars. Furthermore, people who live 20+ miles away are DEFINITELY not going to want to pay for this rail system through their tax dollars…why should they? Why should tax dollars go to pay for a rail system which, at the most, will carry a handful of people?

    A rail system does NOTHING to boost the economic development in the Metro Area. In fact, it is detrimental to economic growth outside of Atlanta. Think about it. Why would someone care about starting a business in Athens or McDononogh or Canton or Douglasville when they have a “brain train” to carry them into Atlanta to do business there?

    People leave Atlanta in part because of the traffic. Even if the rail did help traffic, which it won’t, it would keep people from wanting to move out of Atlanta and start up somewhere in the Metro.

    If you want to alleviate traffic, the answer is HOT and TOT lanes, and expansion of existing interstates. People love driving their cars. They won’t stop simply because someone decided to build a train.

  7. Decaturguy says:

    You guys are on the wrong side of this issue. Poll after poll of voters in Gwinnett County want the Brain Train. Why are you opposed to the popular will of the people on this issue?

    People drive their cars right now because they have to, not because they want to sit in traffic all day. Give them the option to not sit in their cars and they will use that option.

    Nativeson is right, if we in the Atlanta region do not start to develop a better public transit system, we will be left behind as a giant sprawling wasteland in 15-20 years. In 100 years, our grandchildren will be able to see the giant mess we have left behind. Think Cleveland, Detriot as examples. Hell, look at LA today.

    Study after study after study shows that expanding highways and interstates does nothing to alleviate traffic. As soon as the new road is online, it fills to capacity because you just encourage more people to drive more often.

  8. Rusty says:

    You guys are definitely on the wrong side of this. Even places like Hall County (Cagle’s home turf) want commuter rail.

    Generally, I think all devlopment should be planned as if gasoline cost $20/gallon. Because it will, sooner or later.

  9. JaseLP says:

    Let’s see what the will of the people really is. Let them vote on it. When a vote was talked about here in Henry County, the rail advocates went nuts. They aren’t truly concerned with the people. The are concerned about the temporary boom in development along the rail and the brief spike in property values.

  10. jacewalden says:

    “You guys are on the wrong side of this issue. Poll after poll of voters in Gwinnett County want the Brain Train. Why are you opposed to the popular will of the people on this issue?”

    Decaturguy,
    76% of people are opposed to gay marriage in Georgia…why are you opposed to the popular will of the people on that issue?

    If the “majority” of the people in Gwinett County want a commuter rail, would you approve if the only people taxed to pay for it are the ones who vote for it?

    Commuter rail isn’t a bad idea. Tax-payer funded government waste is a bad idea. I will NEVER use commuter rail. Why should my tax dollars finance YOUR use of commuter rail? See my point?

    If commuter rail was financed ONLY by those who want commuter rail, then I would support it. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

  11. jacewalden says:

    To be more specific,

    Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7.

    Congress shall have the power to levy taxes…

    [Clause 7]:To establish Post Offices and post Roads

    I see no clause about tax-payer funded government waste though…funny.

  12. jacewalden says:

    Would you say that in a city such as Atlanta, with millions of people, that a multi-lane highway isn’t necessary to ensure the timely delivery of post?

  13. Rusty says:

    I would be interested to see some numbers on the expense involved in delivering mail by plane, rail, and highways. I’d wager rail is the least expensive option and that timely delivery is possible (if you consider current delivery times timely, which is another question itself). So an argument could be made about the efficiency of one mode of transportation versus the other.

    But are highways necessary? Absolutely not.

  14. JaseLP says:

    I’d like to see us stop looking to government for the answers to these sort of issues. It’s like we keep going back to the drug dealer for the next hit. We have become that dependent on government. It’s worse then our addiction to oil.
    We need to start looking for free-market solutions to these issues and stop taking hits off the government needle.

  15. GTdem says:

    “Remember if the demand is there, a private business will step up to the plate if a profit can be made.

  16. JaseLP says:

    Too often government intervenes through regulation to where private companies can’t succeed.
    Or private companies see that any possible investment will be a disaster. Government is the only entity to enter into a venture knowing that it will lose money.

  17. JaseLP says:

    But government should be trying to maximize net benefits, not make a profit.
    Wrong. Government needs to let the market handle these things and be more responsible with taxpayer funds.
    When the government keeps pouring money into something that is going to fail, then they are not holding up to their end of the fiducary trust with the citizens.

  18. Robert says:

    Leading Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, Greg Hecht is providing a detailed report throughout the state regarding his Transportation Plan. Recently, Greg announced his transportation plan. “We can’t just keep talking about transportation; we must detail a realistic plan for our State and go about the task of getting results to alleviate our traffic problem. Every year that we wait, our traffic gets worse and commutes take more time. CEO’s from out of state are less likely to bring quality jobs to Georgia with our mounting congestion. Our families’ quality of life and economic success depend on real leadership on transportation policy.

  19. GTdem says:

    When the market will maximize net benefits the government should let the market work. I have no argument with you there.

    But when there are market failures(benefits are not maximized), as in the case of monopolies, the government can and should work to correct those and there by maximize the net benefits. Otherwise we are leaving benefits on the table. That is true waste.

  20. JaseLP says:

    But when there are market failures(benefits are not maximized), as in the case of monopolies, the government can and should work to correct those and there by maximize the net benefits.
    Does government have the authority to regulate a monopolies? No, not at all. It’s not one of the functions of Congress as defined by Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.

  21. GTdem says:

    Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution (the Commerce Clause) does give the congress some power to regulate commerce among the states. This power has waxed and waned over the years depending on the makeup of the Supreme Court. I’m not a constitutional scholar but the government has been regulating monopolies for quite a while.

    However, I was attempting to make an economic argument for government intervention, not a constitutional argument.

    Are you arguing that monopolies are good? And by ‘good’ I mean in a net sense. As in the winners, whoever they may be, win more than the losers lose.

  22. Decaturguy says:

    JaseLP,

    Based on your comments, I take it that you support private funding of roads instead of state and federal funding, such that the private companies would charge you a toll to use the roads built. Right?

    And Jase, I NEVER use Georgia 400, but my tax dollars still have to pay for it. What’s the difference?

  23. kspencer says:

    JaseLP, the answer is:
    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    Most if not all of the specifics above tend to be disruptive to profits. Monopolies tend to care little of Justice. They tend to provide for their own defence over that of the common, and certainly the general welfare is second only to their own. And I assure you that liberty is the last thing a monopoly wants to see – competition cuts profits.

    Heck, I would think libertarians would understand this better than most. A competitive market works best for the customer. A monopoly does not have to adjust to best serve the needs of the customer as the customer’s desire to go elsewhere cannot happen. The government’s intervention neutralizes that imbalance, preventing (or at least reducing) the monopoly’s ability to sacrifice all customer benefit to the almighty profit line.

    Changing the subject slightly, I raise an ironic point. A quick review of the letters to the editors when MARTA rail was being proposed shows they could be almost perfect reflections of what’s written now. “I wouldn’t ride such a thing.” “Unprofitable, a waste of our money.” So why is it true this time when the objections to MARTA rail can be proven incorrect?

    Kirk

  24. Decaturguy says:

    If everyone had that opinion, there would be no public infrastructure at all. No roads to get goods from place to place, no schools to provide education, no utility lines to bring power from place to place, no airports to provide air transportation.

    What we’d be talking about is an undeveloped third world country because there would be no way to conduct modern business. Is that how you’d want to live?

  25. JaseLP says:

    Kirk,

    I don’t like monopolies, but I believe in the power of the market. Eventually, someone will compete.
    The Constitution does not give government any authority to regulate monopolies.

  26. GTdem says:

    Monopolies are a market failure.
    There is no independent market force that will restore competition.
    Monopolies also mean there is social waste. Someone so opposed to ‘government waste’ must surely also be opposed to social waste.

  27. LINDA says:

    The only socalled brains that would ride this train are probably students from UGA going to Atlanta to party. I think that is why some of you young guns want this train. Ha! “Government is best that governs least.” This idea needs to be put in file 13 (the trash).

  28. Decaturguy says:

    “Pull the government needle from your arm”

    Jase, is that supposed to be a response? Or are you actually going to give a substantive response as to how our economy would operate without the publicly subsidized infrastructure that we all rely upon either directly or indirectly.

  29. JaseLP says:

    I trust capitalism and I believe that the market would have made this country better than what it is. However, through economic intervention we are stuck with an addiction that is far worse than our addiction to oil. We are addicted to government.

    I believe we could have been so much better through free-market capitalism.

  30. Decaturguy says:

    I don’t disagree with you Jase. But I think that you’ve got to acknowledge that certain things can only be done by government (basic things like infrastructure) or else free markets and capitalism will not be allowed to work.

  31. midtowndem says:

    If you look at the development proposals springing up along the Beltline in the City of Atlanta you can see what effect mass transit can have on a region. The City of Atlanta is undergoing a population boom with an influx of well to do suburbanites giving up on the long commutes from Cobb, Gwinnett, Cherokee, and other outlying areas. In the mean time the cities poor are being forced to the outlying suburban areas. Look at South Cobb and Southern Gwinnett as an example of what is going to happen to the more traditionally Republican areas of Georgia. Both of those aforementioned areas have had their school populations become majority minorities and seen subsidized lunches increase dramatically. This is just an example of the many changes affecting the region due to lack of viable mass transit.

    If the Georgia Republican Party would bring efficient mass transit to suburban areas of metro Atlanta voters may see that the GOP has more to offer then rhetoric and tax cuts for corporate America.

  32. hccitizen says:

    Both Jace and JaseLP have voiced my opinions on this issue. But one quote (above) I could not pass up:

    “These things may be true in a competitive market but public transportation is usually not.

    For the market to be competitive, there must by multiple profit maximizing firms and low or minimal cost of entry. The cost of entry for a commuter rail line is definitely not small. And to have completive rail lines would probably require multiple sets of tracks. That’s probably not going to happen because as I’ve already said the entry costs are huge.”

    In the case of the Lovejoy Rail and the Atl-Athens Rail, the big winners are CSX and Norfolk Southern. THEY OWN THE RAILS, they own the cars, they set the schedules. The cost prohibitive requirements they insisted on building into the contracts REMOVE ALL THEIR FINANCIAL LIABILITY.

    Nowhere in my lexicon is there a polite way to say NO to a long term tax subsidy when the private enterprise depends so fully on Other People’s Money.

    I love the idea of riding a train. When I am overcome with desire I go to Stone Mountain! It is a nice, peaceful ride. But it was better when they had Indians “attack” the train…. And I am sure you kids do not remember that.

    Listen to an old guy who has seen over-taxed citizens crammed into socially engineered environments — Where there is a genuine market, private enterprise will explode like a volcano.

  33. Demonbeck says:

    Why not build public trains to Macon and Athens – Georgia has proven through MARTA that it can run trains with no problems at all.

  34. GTdem says:

    Hccitizen,

    Did you have a problem with my description of competitive markets or my explanation of why public rail transportation has monopoly properties?

    Otherwise I agree with your disdain for long term tax subsidies to firms in competitive markets. They tend to distort the market and cost us all a lot of money.

  35. Nativeson says:

    There used to be private operators. They were called railroads. And they ran very successful, privately operated commuter trains into and out of Atlanta. They were called “accommodations

  36. Rusty says:

    Nativeson made what I saw as the only compelling argument of the anti-rail crowd here: that government kowtowing to the road and oil lobby caused many of our problems with too many roads now. So, on that much we agree. The question, then, is how to undo that advantage so better alternatives could be profitable for private rail companies. I guess this isn’t the crowd to bring up a $5/gallon gas tax with, eh? Any ideas that jive with conservative philosophy?

    If that’s impossible, then I view government ownership as the only viable alternative, distasteful as that may be to you (and believe it or not, me).

  37. hccitizen says:

    GT Dem, I agree with your definitions and explanations. It is the “cost of entry” into the market that caught my eye. Nobody else here noted the contract requirements demanded by NS – or the fact they already own the tracks & cars.

  38. Harry says:

    I’ve suspected the railroad companies are one of the forces behind the green curtain of commuter rail promotion. Who is paying for those mass mailings that have gone out all over Gwinnett for the “Brain Train”? The pieces say that there could be “conceivably” as many as 10,000 riders, but assuming there are only 5,000 and most of them ride for less than the full distance, what will be the subsidized (taxpayer) cost per passenger mile?

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