Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Schwarzenegger essay on infrastructure hits Newsweek

Newsweek brings in the California governor to make some important points on transportation policy and infrastructure. He is hitting one of our favorite themes: the transportation gap with every other nation on earth.

An important highlight follows, and here is a link to the entire thing.

We’re a society where e-mail, handheld devices, videoconferencing and thousands of satellites in orbit keep us connected. So why do Americans stand in long security lines at the airport, in our socks, just to sit in the terminal for hours as our flights get delayed because of overcrowded airport runways?

None of this makes sense in America. It doesn’t make sense that in the greatest country on Earth we still rely on trains that go the same speed as they did 100 years ago, so our shipping times and commutes are longer than other countries. It doesn’t make sense that we drive across unsafe bridges like the one that collapsed in Minnesota and live behind inadequate levees like those that failed in New Orleans.

If we were to come up with an analogy, I’d compare our situation to running a company. Imagine trying to compete in today’s business world of BlackBerrys, e-mail alerts, videoconferences and PowerPoint when all you have is an IBM Selectric typewriter and a single telephone landline. You’re going to get beat. And when you think about America’s aging infrastructure, we’re going to get beat, too—by our competitors China, India, Europe and Brazil. Travel overseas and you see faster commuter trains, better public transportation, double-decker freeways, and more efficient ports. Meanwhile, infrastructure spending as a share of gross domestic product in the United States has dropped 25 percent over the past 20 years. So, government spending is at an all-time high, while investment in our critical infrastructure is at a historic low.


Filed under: International High Speed Rail, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

Conservative rail advocate, Paul Weyrich, dies

The New York Times online has the news. He has a sordid grab bag of lamentable beliefs, but he was strictly right on transit and intercity rail.

Published: December 18, 2008

Filed at 12:29 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — Conservative activist Paul Weyrich, who coined the phrase ”moral majority” and helped turn social conservatives into a powerful force in the Republican Party, died Thursday. He was 66.

Weyrich’s death was announced by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think thank that he had helped to create.

One of the discussin groups highlighted the last Weyrich column on transportation. His enlightened and intelligent approach should guide conservative thought.

As talk about infrastructure stimulus heats up and as state leaders opportunity to advance new transportation goals in Wisconsin that meet the challenges of the 21st century. In addition to spurring ourprepare a wish list of projects to propose, we have a historiceconomy, targeted and wise infrastructure stimulus investments should help to solve our biggest transportation problems and produce real results for the long haul.

It is not enough to simply spend money. As many have pointed out,
America’s transportation system isn’t just broke, it’s also broken.
And Congress would be wrong to assume that with transportation more is always better. On the contrary, transportation contributes to many of America’s most pressing problems.

Our transportation system is the chief source of our nation’s
addiction to oil, consuming two out of every three barrels, and
leaving America vulnerable to volatile prices and hostile foreign regimes.

Each year Americans waste billions of dollars and millions of
hours stuck in traffic – a problem that is often made worse by
construction of new highways.

Too many transportation projects like Alaska’s infamous “Bridge toNowhere” have been embarrassing boondoggles that erode confidence in government and divert dollars from more productive uses. Clearly, not every infrastructure dollar is equally well spent. Asdepartments of transportation across the country eagerly offer wish lists, what rules should be established?
There must be a commitment to spend for results rather than simply to inject dollars into the economy. The current federal transportation
system primarily collects gas taxes from the states and then pumps
those dollars back based on outdated formulas forged by political
compromises that had nothing to do with achieving national goals.
For decades, the federal government has spent billions of dollars on
highway projects with little evaluation and no accountability. That
must change. Spending must be based on allocating dollars where they will yield the greatest results and guided by clear goals for what the transportation system should accomplish.
Thus the next Congress should spend taxpayers’ money more wisely by focusing transportation dollars on solving our nation’s biggest
problems. Federal transportation money should be spent only on
projects that produce real results over the long haul – for example,
by reducing our dependence on oil, alleviating congestion, improving
safety and supporting healthy, sustainable communities.
For its part, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and other
state DOTs should report on the results of how transportation stimulus money was spent. That sounds like common sense, but it would actually be a major advance. States should report back on the extent to which the projects funded with stimulus money increased or decreased jobs, energy security, carbon dioxide emissions and vehicle miles traveled.
This accountability will help make sure money is not misspent.
In doing so, a transportation stimulus should move the nation toward a vision of the future and also protect the nation’s existing
transportation assets. Emphasis should be placed on expanding clean, efficient transportation choices for Americans by prioritizing
investment of new funds for street cars, light rail, commuter rail,
rapid bus service, high-speed intercity rail and other forms of modern
public transportation. The stimulus should allocate at least as much
money to these transportation choices as to roads and highways. Doing so will encourage transportation investments that build dynamic and accessible communities, where more Americans can walk, bike or take transit to get where they need to go. Meanwhile, stimulus money allocated to highways and bridges must first address long-deferred maintenance and repair projects instead of new highway expansions.
Here in Wisconsin, a stimulus package could put people to work on
vital projects we will need for the future, such as the Kenosha-Racine- Milwaukee commuter rail line, high speed intercity
rail that connects our major metropolitan areas and fixing Wisconsin’s 1,300 structurally deficient bridges. These aren’t just good jobs programs to get through the recession. These are projects that will improve our economy for the 21st century.
By ensuring that infrastructure stimulus money is spent wisely, we
can ensure that Americans put back to work today can feel proud of
what they’ve built for the future.

Bruce Speight is an Advocate with the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, http://www.wispirg. org.
Kenosha Streetcar Society member Paul M. Weyrich, a Racine native, is chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation.

ANOTHER VIEW: The Guardian has a rather settling analysis of Weyrich’s life and accomplishments. Not all rosy stuff. Moreover, Ian Williams’ fine column links to TFA, for which we are appreciative. Here is a tasty sample and the necessary link for the feast.

And the interesting thing about the rabid anti-communist radicals like Weyrich was how they emulated the unscrupulousness of the Third International in going after their targets with a combination of absolute ruthlessness and manipulation of front organisations. From the persecution of Bill Clinton (for all the wrong reasons) to the swiftboating of John Kerry, his cabal of cheque-wielders were behind the plots.

In triumphant mode at Bush’s re-election, Weyrich declared: “There are 1,500 conservative radio talkshow hosts. You have Fox News. You have the internet, where all the successful sites are conservative. The ability to reach people with our point of view is like nothing we have ever seen before!”

And yet, reality has this gravitational effect. It is entirely fitting that as he shuffles off his mortal coil, we can look around and see why Americans looked on his works and despaired. The shoe is on the other foot as protégée George Bush shuffles shame-faced off the world stage. The meltdown of the casino economy, the nadir of American prestige, the stalemate in Iraq and Afghanistan – these are all suitable epitaphs for the world Weyrich made.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Ray LaHood named Obama’s Transportation Secretary… good for rail?

The strongest emotion surrounding Barack Obama’s pick of Ray LaHood, a congressman from Peoria, IL,  for the top DOT job seems to be surprise. He wasn’t on any of the shortlists, and he’s a Republican without much transportation experience. Obama needed a Republican in the cabinet (Robert Gates is a registered independent), and for better or worse, transportation got him. Fortunately, he seems to be a strong moderate who is well-liked and easy to work with. Mainstream news outlets, such as the Chicago Tribune say that

Unlike many Republicans in Congress, LaHood has a record of supporting funding for Amtrak and public transit.

However, a closer look at his record tempers that view slightly. To start off with, some of his record is reassuring. He did vote for this year’s 2008 Amtrak reauthorization legislation and has supported other pro-rail and pro-transit legislation. He has also made comments against privatizing Illinois’s Amtrak rails, and has praised Amtrak subsidies in light of the larger funds given to highway and air interests. But some of his comments about high-speed rail and Amtrak are a bit worrisome. Our friend Robert Cruickshank at the CAHSR Blog has pointed to LaHood’s comments about high-speed rail in 2004:

LaHood said he considers Amtrak “the lifeblood transportation for small communities,” and he knows many college students from Chicago’s suburbs use trains to travel to school, Copley News Service reported via The Lincoln Courier.

“On the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak is fabulous,” LaHood added, “and after 9-11, it became the transportation of choice for a lot of people because they felt it was safer than flying.

“I think if we’re going to have a pot of money where we subsidize airlines and we subsidize the funding of highways, that we certainly ought to continue to subsidize Amtrak,” LaHood said.

He said, “I don’t think we can afford at this point, with the kind of deficits we’re running,” to be talking about high-speed rail.

While funding is his main concern, he said, “People in rural Illinois are not for high-speed rail… They do not want a train traveling 120, 125, 150 miles per hour through the rural areas, and I support them on that.”

As Cruickshank states:

Obviously 2008 is different from 2004, and the “HSR vs. Amtrak local” dichotomy that LaHood set up in these 2004 comments may no longer apply (if it ever did). But this doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in our new Secretary of Transportation, who ought to be someone who understands the ins and outs of transportation policy, particularly high speed rail.

I would also take issue from how he describes Amtrak here. It’s great that he supports our national rail carrier, but I think it’s critical to not write it off as a service for small communities and cash-strapped college students. That’s basically saying it’s a second-class option for those who can’t afford to fly or don’t have access to an airport. That’s fine for continuing the status quo, but if we want to improve our passenger rail system, even a little bit, we need to recognize that trains are there to provide fast and efficient service between major cities (and small towns) that is convenient and affordable for all Americans. We need a train system that people want to take, not one they have to.

That being said, perhaps we’re jumping the gun. He’s now operating under Obama’s administration. His effectiveness when it comes to rail will likely be a product of the administration’s views on the subject and willingness to impose them.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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December 2008