This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
Michael Dukakis (yes, he) makes the case for reviving it:
If you were in Obamas position, how would you do that?
The first thing you do is give the automobile makers a $5 billion contract to manufacture transit equipment. This would be far more stimulative, plus youd get something for it. And then you distribute the equipment to transit systems all over the country. Lets see if we cant get them to make a streetcar. I mean, if you can make a bus, why not a streetcar? There are 100 cities in this country that want to do light railthats a market for you. Did I ever tell you the story about Jack Welch and me?
No, please do.
This is after the Cold War. GE was closing some plants. I said, Instead of closing these plants, why not get into the transit business? As governor, Im spending hundreds of millions on transit equipment and Im not buying a stick of it in this country. Ill never forget it. He said, Im a railroad guyhis father was a conductor on the Boston & Maine railroadI love trains, but we go where the money is. As long as this country is spending billions on missiles, well make missiles. Whenand ifthey decide to spend billions on rail, well start making transit again. So here we are. We have an administration that seems to want to do it. We have a Congress thats strongly rail supportive. I think this might well be a time to act. And Im serious about these bus contracts* for Detroit. Why not?
I love Jack Welch’s response there. No illusions about the invisible hand of the market. GE exists to build whatever the government decides it wants.
What is the state of the domestic passenger rail industry? I know there’s United Streetcar (which basically exists to bring Skoda’s European designs in line with “Buy American” laws) and the ill-fated Colorado Railcar . GE is building some hybrid diesels for freight, but that’s about all I can think of.