Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

High Speed Rail funds should be targeted: BNSF CEO

Dow Jones files a report from Austin that may become formative in transportation discussions.

“I’m concerned (the money) will be spread like peanut butter” nationwide and have little impact, said Chief Executive Matthew K. Rose, speaking to the Austin Economic Club, a local business group. “I’m afraid it’ll be a missed opportunity.”

The federal stimulus package includes $8 billion in seed money for development of high-speed passenger rail service, and U.S. President Barack Obama also has called for an additional $5 billion over the next five years.

Rose sees little benefit for operating “host” railroads, and emphasizes the cost of developing 15-2- true HSR corridors. Nonetheless, he seems genuinely supportive of the concept.

Additionally, Rose says he sees no momentum for HSR in Texas and contends that nobody in D. C. is talking about the Texas T-bone.

Rose focuses the debate as the development of true European style HSR. At TFA, we have been supporting an incremental approach. The disadvantage of this is exactly what Rose contends, HSR never happens anywhere.

Politically, our position has the advantage of giving various constituencies a tiny slice of the pie and there is an improvement in local rail service. One point to remember is that we are in a transportation deficit because of interest based political decisions. If our viewpoint prevails, true HSR is moved to an indefinite future time.

Rose stakes out a reasonable position. Devoting the entire $13 billion to a single European style HSR project makes completion much more likely. In our political climate, his purist position, while containing many positive attributes, is unlikely.

It benefits those of us who support a rationale transportation policy to be intellectually honest about the choices and their consequences.

This may sound very trite, but I think we might all want to remember that we live in a very imperfect world. This ain’t Burger King and we can’t always have it our way.


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

A modern transportation policy? (Nah, let’s keep making the same ol’ mistakes!)

Building America’s Future sent this item along.

Washington, DC – As Congress prepares to revise the federal transportation program (SAFETEA-LU), Building America’s Future – a national, bipartisan infrastructure coalition led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor Ed Rendell and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – released a memo today calling on Congress and the Obama Administration to make transformative changes and chart a new transportation vision for the 21st Century.

“Our nation’s current transportation system is simply outdated and unable to meet the demands of the 21st Century,” said Kerry O’Hare, policy director of Building America’s Future.  “We cannot continue to channel billions of dollars through the same old programs which lack innovation, accountability and an outcome-driven focus. The country is hungry for change and Congress and the Obama Administration have a unique opportunity to transform current transportation programs and enhance our nation’s economic competitiveness and improve the quality of life for all Americans.  The time to act is now and Building America’s Future stands ready to help build the political consensus to make this vision a reality.”

Included in the memo were four key principles to use in shaping this new transportation vision.  Excerpts:

1.      Renew Leadership at the National Level
To ensure that America has a 21st century transportation system that meets our 21st-century needs, the federal government must once again lead, by outlining key national goals that will guide how transportation investments are made in the coming years…

2.      Increase Accountability at the Federal, State, and Local Levels
Federal transportation funding is no longer guided by clear objectives. Rather, funding decisions today are based more on politics than on merit. For example, the number of earmarks in surface transportation bills has ballooned from 10 in 1981 to over 6,000 in the 2005 transportation authorization. While not all of these earmarks involved funding “bridges to nowhere,” a politicized method of distribution increases the risk of funding inefficient projects that do not meet national objectives…  In laying out a vision for a new national transportation policy, we challenge Congress to significantly reduce earmarking and offer alternate routes – with greater transparency and accountability – to achieve national goals…  Congress and the Administration must begin to hold states and localities – and themselves – accountable for ensuring that federally-funded projects meet national goals and that taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently. Otherwise, it will simply be business as usual – and that is no longer acceptable.

3.      Encourage Innovation and Flexibility at the State and Local Levels
In recent years, the federal government has begun to allow states and local governments greater flexibility in how they spend their resources, leading to increased innovation in meeting national transportation objectives. The next transportation bill should significantly accelerate this development, through streamlined processes as well as expanded financial incentive programs, such as the Urban Partnership Program…

4.      Find New Ways to Fund National Goals
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is a critical down payment on our country’s backlog of transportation capital needs.  But much more needs to be done to address both that backlog of capital projects as well as ongoing and future operations and maintenance costs. If we are truly going to address our nation’s transportation needs in the size and duration required, we need ongoing and stable streams of revenue that are dedicated to transportation…

Read the full memo at:

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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May 2009