Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Biden the right pick for rail

Joe Biden is officially Barack Obama’s running mate for the November election… but although we know Obama’s position on rail, where does Biden stand? Our friend Robert Cruickshank over at the California High Speed Blog has clearly done a lot of research on the subject and has an excellent post up that includes a number of direct quotes from the man himself. The short answer? Rail advocates have a friend in Joe Biden. Just a few exciting excerpts from what CAHSR has collected:

A lead author of the legislation, Senator Joseph Biden, Jr. (DE) said, “Every advanced economy in the world invests more than the United States in high-speed inter-city service. We like to think of ourselves as the most advanced country in the world, and I believe we are, but for years we have nickel-and-dimed passenger rail service in this country.”

Biden proposes an interstate high-speed rail service similar to the interstate highway system.

“One mile of one lane of I-80 costs $22 million,” Biden said. “One mile of I-95 (on the East Coast) holds more traffic and costs $41 million.” By contrast, “One mile of high-speed rail costs $1 million.

“You can fit more people on a rail car and you’ll be taking 50 automobiles off the road. Rail uses 1/50th of the cost (of a car) in terms of energy consumption.”

Biden said the reason why railroads haven’t been used more in the past is because of special interest groups, most notably the airline industry. “They get $350 million a year to go where no one wants to go,” Biden said, qualifying that by saying that there is not enough business to support a commercial flight. He said people don’t like the idea of subsidizing railroads, yet the airline industry gets subsidies to fly to sparse locations.

John McCain will be picking his running mate soon as well. However, it hardly matters, as he has long made his regrettable position on passenger rail quite clear. There are some transit moderates in that field of options though, so we’ll be keeping track just in case.

Edit: I don’t know how I forgot to point out what the Obama campaign has been making a big fuss over… that during the time Biden works in Washington, he rides “a lonely Amtrak train” every night back to Delaware to be with his family.

And about the $1 million per mile of high-speed rail thing… I can’t really find the specifics of what he was referring to. Perhaps, as the Overhead Wire editor suggested, he was talking about semi-HSR upgrades or something. Or, well, he is a politician after all. They’re not known for always being informed/honest with their facts.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, , , , , ,

7 Responses

  1. Allan says:

    Excuse me? Biden thinks HSR costs $1 million/mile??? Estimates for HSR are from $40 million to $80 million per mile. If this is Biden’s grasp on the facts, then he’s not getting my vote.

  2. I was a bit shocked by that as well. We know that is not true. Perhaps Semi HSR with diesel vehicles at 110 mph is 3 million per mile for trackwork, but not full HSR.

  3. Jerry H. Sullivan, P.E. (retired) says:

    The cost of HSR would be very high. You could upgrade a lot of trackage in the US to 90mph operation at a cost of $1M to $3M per mile, based on estimates that I have seen during a 43 year career in the industry, but to create a totally new route from the ground up is going to cost about the same as a highway, because while less R/W width is required, grades and curves are a major factor, so adjusting the surface of the land can be VERY costly.
    But so what – if the service is used and used well, we should not quibble over the cost. Better to spend the money on our infrastructure than in Iraq, where, by the way, we are building railroads too.

  4. Doug says:

    Perhaps Biden was merely reprising Sec. Minetta’s gaffe about the number of people in Montanna who ride Amtrak’s Empire Builder? Turned out he was off by a factor of 100 or so. When asked about the discrepency between the truth and Sec. Minetta’s version of it, a spokesman for him stated that the Secretary was “just being hypothetical.” I can only hope that a President Obama would give the transportation portfolia to his V.P., and the SecTrans job to Bill Richardson.

  5. Allan says:

    So true Jerry. I’d rather see systemwide upgrades to bring the tracks up to at least the 79 mph point … You’d know better than me but I think anything over that require even more upgrades. I’m not sure of the cost-benefit ratio after 79-mph.

    When it comes to HSR, I’m a proponent of skipping it and going to maglev.

  6. tlc says:

    Hello people! $1 million, $5 million, hell even $40 million are still the same or less than the cost of building roads. At this point I think America takes pride our ignorance. We need HSR 10-20 years ago. Well, I guess we will continue to let the airlines decide.

  7. Steven Reed says:

    I worked for 15 years and had people help from all across the state concerning getting rail service from St. Louis to Springfield and Branson and on the Tulsa. Last year in Missouri the highway department tried to convince the State Legislature to help get funding for Amtrak from Stylus to Branson and on. They say it will help relieve traffic on interstate 44 and help drivers have other options. Rolla, Lebanon, Springfield, Branson and many other cities could benefit from the economic development it could bring
    Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden has spent many years promoting the idea that additional routes will increase traffic in general on Amtrak. . What about those gas prices? If Biden becomes vice president he will bring more Rail Passenger Service to Missouri and the United States.
    Steven L. Reed
    1441 South Estate Ave.
    Springfield, MO 65804

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