Last week, Americans for Tax Reform, Americans for Prosperity, and the Mississippi Center for Public Policy sent a coalition letter to the Mississippi legislature urging them to vote NO on Senate Bills 2542 and 2982. If implemented, these bills would waste scarce public resources on the Gulf Coast Rail Project, a pointless undertaking that will surely turn into a massive taxpayer boondoggle. The full text of the letter is pasted below:
To: Members of the Mississippi Senate
Re: Oppose Senate Bills 2542 and 2982
We, the undersigned organizations dedicated to lower taxes and limited government, urge you to reject Senate Bills 2542 and 2982, legislation that would waste scarce public resources on the Gulf Coast Rail Project. As has been the case with comparable undertakings in the past, the Gulf Coast Rail Project will surely turn into a massive boondoggle.
The Gulf Coast Rail Project is a proposal to have two new daily passenger trains – four individual trains – run between New Orleans, Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama. In addition to the infrastructure enhancements that will be necessary to accommodate this service, Mississippi taxpayers will also be on the hook for long-term operational and maintenance costs that will occur on an annual basis.
While the total cost of this proposal is currently unknown, it is estimated that a one-way rail trip, which would take around 4 hours, would require a state subsidy of $180 per passenger. To put this cost in perspective, a person wanting to travel between New Orleans and Mobile today can get a ticket on Megabus, a 2.5 hour trip, for $14. For the $180 subsidy, the state could give 12 free bus tickets per passenger. In fact, hiring an Uber, a 2-2.5 hour trip, would often be less expensive than $180.
Recognizing the longer length and higher estimated costs of the train trip, it is reasonable to assume that it would be the least popular choice of commuters. The rail carrier’s own analysis projects the Gulf Coast Rail Project would attract just 26 riders per train.
Making matters worse, the Gulf Coast Rail Project could put existing jobs and potential new jobs at risk. There have been no studies on the impact the Gulf Coast Rail Project would have on Mississippi’s rail-served industries along the Coast. But, given that passenger trains get priority over freight and the line is mainly single tracked, negative impacts are expected unless additional state capital is expended.
Similar state-supported trains running between New Orleans and Mobile have been attempted in the past, and were discontinued because they were slower, less reliable, and more expensive than other existing modes of transportation. There is no justification for pouring millions of limited public resources into a pointless infrastructure project that will likely face the same fate.
The Gulf Coast Rail Project is a non-solution in search of a problem. If pursued, it will soak up millions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars now and will also leave taxpayers on the hook for years to come. As such, we strongly urge you to vote NO on SBs 2542 and 2982.
Americans for Tax Reform
Americans for Prosperity
Vice President for Policy
Mississippi Center for Public Policy