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Opinion: Rail haters should take a hint from Warren Buffett

(The following column appeared on the Kansas City Star website on March 7, 2011.)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It's been a good year so far for rail haters.

New governors in Wisconsin and Ohio made good on their campaign promise to kill passenger train projects in their states. Florida's new governor soon followed.

Not everyone scoffs at rail investment, though.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett paid $26.5 billion in 2009 for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway — or more precisely, for the 80 percent of BNSF he didn't already own.

There is considerable resistance to rail investment, but that's largely rooted in lack of familiarity. Pundits claim that Amtrak has received billions in federal subsidies since its inception in 1971 and that it's never been profitable.

But were it not for massive federal investment in highways, trucking companies, homebuilders and fast-food chains wouldn't have been profitable, either. Creating the Interstate highway system in the 1950s changed the American economy.

The Warren Buffetts of the world have a pretty good track record, so to speak, in predicting what lies ahead. Would you rather listen to them, or to the rail haters?

The full story appears at www.kansascity.com.

Monday, March 7, 2011

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