Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

A response to Mr. Rose’s “targeting” proposal for federal HSR funds

NOTE: EXCELLENT DISCUSSION IN THE “COMMENTS” SECTION.

This post started off as my response to a reader in the thread below dealing with the BNSF CEO’s concept of “targeting” all the HSR stimulus money into a single project.  It is a very good discussion and I thought I would move my thoughts to the front page for wider consideration.

Rose’s position is similar to some political positions which support the concept while imposing conditions making its implementation impossible. It’s like the guy for Georgia who thinks the time has come for HSR and it should pay for itself. (I plan to post on this idea soon.)

America’s railroads were built on the basis of a public-private partnership. The corporations generally got land and tax breaks in exchange for the promise to provide a necessary transportation service.

An earlier poster observed the advantages of “targeting” the northeast corridor. While this has some advantages, the idea also exposes an interesting aspect of Rose’s formulation.

Pouring $13 billion into the Washington-Boston corridor is a political impossibility. This geographic region represents everything middle America hates. Those of us who follow rail transport instinctively feel slighted by the neglect of our long distance trains.

Satan will ice skate across Hell when the northeast corridor gets $13 billion.

Let me clarify that I am not speaking to the merits of the above post concerning the northeast corridor. It has a powerful basis in fact.

These decisions are always political and politics is the science of the doable. Spreading the money around like peanut butter is politically easy and we need to be aware of this.

I think spreading the money across a regions, such as the Midwest High Speed Rail Association routes, makes very good sense. That may be too narrow, from the political viewpoint.

For most Americans, health care and the Middle East are first order political priorities. For airlines and highway interests, killing competing forms of transportation is more important than anything – anything. They will stop at nothing.

It ought to be noted that BNSF is probably not an enemy of Amtrak or HSR. They are not friends either.BNSF owns a business and rightly expected to be compensated for use of its facilities.

Expect the enemy to favor HSR in principle and propose the methods that result only in our demise. Our goal must be to get Americans on trains and that means making trains available.

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

14 Responses

  1. NEC Transplant to the Southeast says:

    Pouring $13 billion into the Washington-Boston corridor is a political impossibility. This geographic region represents everything middle America hates.

    Wow. What a comment. We went through the “Real America/Fake America” debate during the campaign, with the debate pushed by McCain/Palin and the Republican party. It was a terrible time for this country. And now you want to bring it back?

    Your nauseating comments have NOTHING to do with the legitimate discussion over whether high speed rail investment should be spread widely across the USA or invested in one or two corridors.

    But let’s pretend to take you seriously for a moment, and ask what it is about the Boston to Washington corridor that middle America hates. For comparison, let’s take a look at Lynch’s home state of Arkansas, a.k.a. “middle” or “Real” America.

    The lower teen pregnancy rates of the BOS-NY-WASH corridor?

    http://womensissues.about.com/od/datingandsex/a/TeenPregStates.htm

    The 50% to 70% lower divorce rates of BOS-NY-WASH? (Arkansas, 6 divorces per 1000 people, MA 2.2, NY 2.8, MD 3.1, CT 2.7)

    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0923080.html

    All those college degrees?

    http://www.statemaster.com/graph/edu_bac_deg_or_hig_by_per-bachelor-s-degree-higher-percentage

    The higher quality health care?

    http://www.statemaster.com/graph/hea_hea_ind-health-index

    The higher incomes of BOS-NY-WASH?

    http://www.statemaster.com/graph/eco_gdp_percap-product-current-dollars-per-capita

    If one buys into your worldview, then one can take the data above and conclude that middle America, and especially Arkansas residents, hate responsibility, commitment, self-improvement through education, physical fitness, and a strong work ethic.

    This is, of course, utter hogwash, because the reasons for differences between Arkansas and the BOS-NY-WASH corridor are numerous, complex, and in many ways tied to poverty, and not remotely to the character of the citizens of Arkansas.

    The nation is having a serious conversation about the future of mobility that involves everything from road pricing to high speed rail to bicycle infrastructure to safe routes to schools, and we need people from every region of the country and every walk of life at the table with their good ideas. For the sake of not only transportation but our energy future, the environment, and public health, we need quality discourse.

    Mr. Lynch, if you can’t come to the table without bringing a chip on your shoulder, please do us all a favor and let Logan run the blog.

    I hope this gets retracted, and soon. If not, I hope the rest of the sustainable mobility community cuts this website off their blogrolls.

  2. patlynch says:

    Dear Mr. Transplant.

    First and foremost, let me thank you for a well formed and comprehensive response. I appreciate your position and I think you come exactly to the point.

    What I bring to the table is 30 years of political experience. My views are sought out on various forms of media and I write weekly in the Democrat-Gazette. My thoughts are also carried on a somewhat regulat basis on Little Rock television. That is my background.

    Everything you have said about Arkansas, so far as I can tell, is true and your “upity” attitude ain’t gonna’ help you one damn bit out here in the real world.

    Let us be clear, I do not approve of provinncialism, I merely recognize its presence and report the facts.

    And I can count. Arkansas has two votes in the United States Senate, just each of the northeast corridor states.

    Rose’s proposal lays bare the underlying tension in the Amtrak debate. It is always “us” versus “them” – even when it is between the Pioneer and the Sunset. There is a shameful scarcity of resources for rail transport.

    I do not think “targeting” is a good idea and I do not think it is politically possible.

    Folks in the northeast are well served by frequent, fast and generally on-time trains. Amtrak should improve its market “footprint.”

    Again, I sincerely appreciate the fine opinions and take no offense whatsoever.

  3. Alex says:

    I think you hav missed two key points here.

    $8 billion of that $13 billion is suppose to stimulus for ready-to-go projects.

    Secondly, the money has already been allocated, and it is up to the DOT choose where it goes now. Not congress. It is out the door. The DOT can do what it wants with it, and congress can’t say boo. If you were talking about the transportation bill that congress is working on now, I would say that you have a point about the politics of spreading money around.

    And anyway, for the $8 billion, it is about who is ready to go first.
    California is the only state that realistically can put shovels in the ground in 2010. As I understand it, they are going to ask for 4 billion or so.

    So where to put the other 4 billion? LaHood has mentioned Florida, but there are legal issues there (their environmental study is from 2002). Some of the money can go for planning and research for future HSR for the midwest etc. But it will really come down to who is ready first. I can’t see Texas or Georgia or wherever being ready in short order, can you? They have barely begun to talk about it. And you know as well as I do, that to get anything done in America, it has to be talked to death for 5, 10, 15 years.

    Well, California, the North East, and Floria (sort of) finished the talking, and in California has got some of the planning done. The reality is that they are going to get most of the money because they are the furthest along.

    But again, if you are talking about the Transportation Bill which is still in congress, then it is a different story all together and your points about the politics are spot on.

  4. Alex says:

    I want to add in case I wasn’t clear, that I am NOT saying that the Northeast is going to get a lot of this money. They may be done with the 5 or 10 years of discussion, but they are not far along in the planning. Unless you are talking about some of the more minor track fixes that have been on hold for years for lack of funding. There is a great example of an old bridge along the Acela route where the train has to slow to 10 MPH because the bridge is in such bad shape. Amtrak has had plans to replace it for years, but hasn’t been able to for lac of funds. This IS a ready-to-go project. Other then stuff like that? well read this:

    http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/05/18/northeast_trails_in_race_for_rail_funds/

  5. patlynch says:

    I really appreciate the good discussion.

    The DOT controls the money, but Congress controls the DOT. The HSR funding is a big deal and there are real political considerations.

    In other words, were the DOT to award the entire funding to the Amtrak Washington-Boston corridor, there would be political hell to pay for the Obama administration.

    That is not the best way ot making good transportation decisions, just how things work (from my perspective).

    The northeast corridor certainly needs work, including that old tunnel at Baltimore. We need to be sure that we are operating in the world of political reality.

    I am enjoying the conversation.

  6. Alex says:

    But as I was saying that I think you are both wrong.

    I agree with you that the whole $13 billion isn’t going to go to the NE corridor. But it won’t have anything to do with politics. It’s to do with the fact that they aren’t shovel-ready.

    The bids for the first batch of money have to be in this summer.

    The only place ready for this in any major way is California. I think it’s pretty clear that California is going to end up with half the money.

    A few million will end up being spread around for planning in places like Texas, but actual shovels in the ground outside of California, Chicago, and a few shovel-ready projects in the NE corridor? I don’t see it.

    That planning money may end up being very important however since there is bound to be more money for HSR and transit in the Transportation bill.

    The big question is Florida. If they can work out their legal issues, they could end up with the biggest chuck of the money after California.

  7. Eric J. Taylor says:

    I have been a resident of Florida for the past 29 years. Passenger rail in Florida is a joke. I do not know how Mr. LaHood says Florida is ready. He could not be more wrong!! The people passed a constitutional amendment for HSR. Then Jeb Bush and the Republican legislature conned the people into revoking it. The Legislature just rejected the purchase of CSX rail around Orlando for a commuter rail system, Lakeland is screaming about increased freight traffic from CSX building a new freight terminal in Winter Haven and fight whether they will even support the present Tri-Rail system in South Florida. From a Legislature that refuses to fund its public schools (they are seeking a waiver from Washington for stimulus money fo fund the schools) and its large anti-tax attitude, Florida will probably raise one tax for a HSR system. They will want Washington to fund the entire system.
    I beleive LaHood’s statement was for political purposes. Both the Midwest proposal and the Southeast plan from Washington to Raleigh is much further along and will affect many more people. Speaking of people, since the Florida plan is only between Tampa and Orlando, who is going to ride this? Most tourists who fly to Florida rent a car to have flexibility. And the 2 cities are only 80 miles apart. Florida residents will not use it and I doubt many tourists will either. Of all the national proposals, this in the LAST that should be funded or built. Florida is a long way from even being able to use one dime of federal money.

  8. Cal says:

    I would love CA to recieve 6 billion for our project.itneeds spread around to jump start as many as possible nationwide and make it a national priorty.We need 12-16 Billion to build the system.We will never get that if its just CA building HSR

  9. Alex says:

    But for the purposes of the stimulus, the Florida project has completed it’s Environmental study, which is more than can be said of just about anywhere else (besides parts of California). They even picked Bombardier to build the thing.

    Florida is asking for 2 billion of stimulus money for the project.
    http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/orl-high-speed-rail-052109,0,7194067.story

    The problem is that the Environmental study is dated now, and so is there is a bit if a legal issue. But it looks like they are pressing ahead anyway.

    4 or 5 billion for California, 2 billion for Florida. That leaves what? 2 Billion for other shovel ready HSR?

  10. Alex says:

    btw you can read a good presentation from Florida’s High Speed Rail Commission here (from April of this year)

    http://www.floridahighspeedrail.org/uploaddocuments/FHSRA%20WRKSHP%20SLIDES%204-1-09.pdf

  11. jim harper says:

    I disagree with the idea of funding only one project. I also disagree with the idea that the rest of the country won’t support transportation projects “back east”

    We need several of these projects to make a dent, nationally. So start on 7 or 8 good projects without obvious favortism. As long as the NEC or California isn’t the only project, the rest of us would support it.

    HSR costs as much to build as a highway. People see that as “doable”

    I do believe that since these are 100% federal projects, they should be managed at the federal level. That would require expedited and federalized siting and environmental studies.

  12. Alex says:

    Finding a way to fast track the Environmental Impact Statements would be a good idea.

    I remember reading months ago that the President could suspend that requirement due to an emergency (in this case an economic one). Not sure if that is true or not.

    If it doesn’t happen, don’t hold your breath for shovels hitting the ground outside of California. And even there in California, the NIMBYs are beginning to come out.

  13. MadPark says:

    Pat is right in many ways – Politics WILL trump logic – this is the US in the 21st century. Anyone who has watched television or read the history of this country over the last 6 decades cannot help but acknowledge this.
    A reminder from the far NW corner of the US: We here in WA do have some shovel ready projects, and already use 5 Talgo train-sets capable of traveling much faster than the current maximum speed limit. Might we perhaps have some of that US$8B for the Seattle-Eugene corridor, for improvements north from Seattle and for another half dozen Talgo train-sets?

  14. Alex says:

    Vancouver to Seattle is a no-brainer. I just wish the Canadian government would get on board. You would think that with the 2010 Winter Olympics being in Vancouver they would be all over better rail service, but I guess not.

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