What if the GOP ran a railroad?

Other day in Luverne, Minnesota local GOP state senator Weber tried to defend his no vote on a bonding bill that would have extended the Lewis & Clark Water System to nearby Worthington and fund a new sewage treatment plant in his district too. Weber’s defense was that funding for a light rail project in the big city was included in the bill… Dang, can’t let them city folks have a train! While they were assuring that the big cities didn’t get a 3rd light rail line after the first two are roaring successes, the GOP legislators killed any hope of fixing our pothole strewn highways and buckling bridges. The GOP claims that they’re trying to run the state like a business, but could they run a business or run it into the ground?

Probably the closest business analogue to a government is a railroad, both possessing massive infrastructure investments that must be maintained. Heck, the big railroads have even built towns… Milwaukee Road power stations are still supplying Montana small towns long after the tracks are gone, and while back I read that Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) was trying to get out of the business of supplying a trackside former company town with utility services.

There’s a reason democrat Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway bought BNSF, actually a whole bunch of reasons. I live alongside the BNSF tracks, and every day, holidays included, an inspector drives down the tracks in an adapted “hi-rail” truck checking for defects. That takes this busy single track out of service for a couple hours a day, and that’s just the start. Every train gets inspected before it pulls out of the yard too, and sensors along the tracks check for overheated bearings or brakes and dangling brake hoses that could cause an accident. If any defects are found the train stops right there, and repairs are made or the defective car is “set out” at the nearest available siding. That just the inspections… The tracks are regularly shut down for hours and even days as worn ties, bridge beams, and miles of track are replaced. Even in this unprofitable year BNSF will spend around 4 billion dollars on maintenance and new rolling stock, and in the last few years BNSF often reinvested over half of profits in maintaining and upgrading the railroad. That’s the way democrats do infrastructure, and after over a century of life BNSF is in better shape then ever.

Now if we were to mistakenly entrust the GOP with running a railroad, it would probably be the Milwaukee in it’s last decades. Favored by land grant corporate welfare, the Milwaukee in the worst GOP tradition answered the postwar challenge of trucking by cutting maintenance and selling off tracks and ties for scrap value. Valuable real estate was spun off into the Chicago Milwaukee Corporation which still exists, while what would now be a valuable line to the west coast was slowly abandoned. Worn out locomotives were in a desperation move finally replaced by a fleet of new GEs, and those new locomotives engines were ruined when Milwaukee management ordered them shipped east from the west coast in winter without ordering that the cooling water be drained from them before they crossed the freezing Rockies. Those trains headed east to Milwaukee were called “hospital trains”, the rolling stock in such bad shape that mechanics rode along to make repairs en route. With all the breakdowns and wretched worn out tracks, what should have been a couple day trip dragged out for a week or more.

Like any business run in the “drown it” manner the GOP would run a railroad, the Milwaukee Road went bankrupt three decades ago. Then in the true spirit of GOP corruption, the bankruptcy court judge took a seat on the board of one of the start up companies that bought part of the Milwaukee while small business creditors and laid off railroaders fought to get paid and abandoned shippers searched for service. Fortunately the then Burlington Northern was run in a more “democratic” style and reinvested in infrastructure, and was thus able to hire a lot of laid off Milwaukee railroaders and serve many of the abandoned shippers.

So the choice is ours: We can fall for the lure of low taxes and let the GOP slowly degrade our infrastructure into a bankrupt apocalyptic wreck while they invest in their private stashes of bottled water, jacked up 4 wheel drive trucks, and all the other “prepper” accoutrements. Or like a well run railroad or other business, we can invest in clean drinking water, great schools, safe highways and transit, parks, and libraries for our children and their children!


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