Monday, December 10, 2012

The Role of Public Infrastructure

NPR has a story on the role of Amtrak in getting people to the oil fields of North Dakota and Montana. Amtrak is a weird service because like the post office, it really doesn't have the right to cherry pick routes like private services and hence loses money. What's really interesting about this piece is the tortured relationship many have with public infrastructure. The following exchange in the story captures the contradiction, and hopefully this will lead to others to re-evaluate the role of public infrastructure.

STEVEN MCDUFFIE: The new Amtrak slogan should be: Well, you're paying for it anyway. So, you know, that's the way I look at it.
BOYCE: Washington state resident Steven McDuffie travels through Montana to get to the Bakken too. Politically he's libertarian. He's pretty much against the idea of government supported transportation. But, he's been riding the Empire Builder every two weeks since February. And some of the stereotypes about riding Amtrak, he says they hold up.
MCDUFFIE: This is the first time that the train left Edmonds, Washington on time and it's the first time where we're actually scheduled to get into Williston on time since I've been taking the train.
BOYCE: Overall though, he says his gripes are pretty minor. And, again, it's cheap.
MCDUFFIE: I know this is ironic because I'm - philosophically I'm opposed to public transportation, but yet here I am having a pretty good time on the Amtrak train.
BOYCE: And since there's no sign of the Bakken oil boom slowing down for decades, Amtrak can probably count on a lot more people realizing the train is the best way to get there. For NPR News, I'm Dan Boyce in Helena, Montana.


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