Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Are state DOT’s capable of handling Obama’s high-speed rail plan?

Pat pointed to Mark Stencel’s Congressional Quarterly article this past weekend about the political hurdles Obama’s federal HSR plan faces. One of these issues is well, federalism itself. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has a good piece about how woefully unprepared the state’s Department of Transportation is for implementing any sort of passenger rail improvements. This is despite the fact that Altanta is supposed to be a regional HSR hub under the plan. Here’s what one metropolitan Atlanta policymaker said:

“Let’s face it, our Department of Transportation has for years been primarily a department of highways,” said Chick Krautler, director of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

That’s hardly surprising; this is the same DOT that allowed metro Atlanta to become the hellish asphalt sprawl we know today. When endless freeway widening and traffic engineering cause issues in my hometown of Knoxville, TN, people say “Gee, this place is becoming just like Atlanta.”

And the article rightly frets about what this backwardness means for Atlanta’s position as the cultural and economic capital of the South. North Carolina and Virginia, as we’ve seen here at TFA, are taking the initiative when it comes to rail, and it’s helping them to stay vibrant and enticing in a tumultuous national economy. But hey, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce President Sam Williams isn’t worried. At least they’re not as backwards as South Carolina!

On the other hand, he said: “Virginia and North Carolina are way, way ahead of us, probably by 20 years. I have been very disappointed that GDOT has not gotten onto this thing a lot sooner. But South Carolina’s worse off than we are. I think this is a great shot in the arm to rejuvenate Georgia and South Carolina.”

Well, I suppose. Whatever helps them sleep at night. And we’ve known for a while that GDOT isn’t the only one in trouble. But there’s no time like the present to start retooling your state’s rickety and traditional DOT for a more sustainable transportation future.


Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail, ,

GAO report on high speed rail

Mark Stencel’s comment on the post below concerning his original CQ Weekly column is herewith moved to the front page. This is good stuff.

In case anyone here is looking for the March GAO report on which much of my CQ column was based, you’ll find it here…

It’s a good, balanced economic reality check on all aspects of the U.S. high-speed rail discussion, with interesting findings on current proposals, past efforts in this country, and existing projects in France, Japan and Spain. The report helpfully sums up and, to the extend possible, enumerates the fiscal challenges while also acknowledging that there are potential societal benefits that policy makers might well decide justify the investments, even if they are not entirely offset by potential revenue.

Susan Fleming, GAO’s director of physical infrastructure issues, summarized the report’s findings succinctly in her prepared testimony for an April 1 House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on high-speed rail. “In summary,” she wrote, “high speed rail does not offer a quick or simple solution to relieving congestion on our nation’s highways and airways. High speed rail projects are costly, risky, take years to develop and build, and require substantial up-front public investment as well as potentially long-term operating subsidies. Yet the potential benefits of high speed rail — both to riders and nonriders — are many.”

It is a good idea to be cautious of the  promises of true high speed rail. It must be kept in mind, however, that these provide many good jobs in construction and, more importantly, operation.

Here at TFA, we are big fans of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association and its proposal for a network of conventional “fast” lines. Cost of start up is less and a lot quicker. Benefits many, including the jobs and improved transportation service to smaller communities.

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

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April 2009