Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

On David Sanders “idiotic” comments about high speed rail

The following was posted today on my Lynch at Large blog.

David is a fine guy and calling him a “worm,” as I did earlier today on Twitter may have been somewhat harsh. On the other hand, it may have been a severe disservice to worms, which have a useful purpose.

Sanders’ recent column in the Stephens Media Group deals with two things that anoy him. The first items is various plans to shake up “a system of health care that works well for most Americans.” Without getting knee deep into it, let’s just say that Republican conservatives truly do live in an alternate universe.

Of much greater import is Mr. Sanders ill-considered attempt at a discussion of transportation policy. In the same column, he colors the decision by the state Highway Commission to seek $100,000 in matching funds from the Federal Railroad Administration for a story of the proposed high speed rail corridor from Memphis to Little Rock as “idiotic.”

The use of such derisive terms, of course, conceals an inability or unwillingness to consider factual elements of other viewpoints. Sanders has his mind, foggy as it is, firmly made up.

Why should we spend a dime on studying this? Here are the results: To build, operate and maintain a high-speed rail system would cost billions of dollars. Who would ride it, the thousands of people commuting from Little Rock to Memphis orTexarkana to Little Rock everyday? They don’t exist.

The real shame of this is that David Sanders really is a bright guy and such dribble is merely symptomatic of the intellectual fatigue so prevalent in the realm of so-called conservatives.

The “results” to which Sanders so proudly points are easily refuted.

  • the billions of dollars supposedly needed presupposes the institution of true European-style high speed rail. Trains that operate at 200 mph. require special right-of-way builtspecifically for that use from the ground up.
  • The Federal Railroad Administration recognizes as a category of high speed rail development something called “high performance rail.” Such facilities are conventionaltrains operating at around or over 110 mph.
  • High performance rail makes use of existing railroad tracks and relies on upgrading tracks, sidings, cross-overs, signals, dispatching, and whatever else is necessary to operate at speeds higher than the 79 mph. maximum allowed Amtrak out in this part of the country (and the actual speeds are shockingly below that).
  • Because developing high performance rail does not require buying land or the higher demands of 200 mph. operation, the cost is significantly lower. We are still talking hundreds of millions, but not millions.
  • The corridor in question effectively extends from Fort Worth to Memphis. Although the original designation was Little Rock-Fort Worth, the extension to a larger population base in Memphis makes this route more attractive and viable. Of course, that should be determined by a professional study (which might prove more reliable and informative than Sanders’ right knee jerk).
  • Spreading initial planning and associated costs among three states is an added benefit. Furthermore, this project could conceivably connect three airports, including two of America’s busiest on each end. This makes potential public-private partnerships more possible.
  • Had we used Sanders’ illogical argument that nobody travels along this route, we would never have built the interstate highway system. (Alright, I am bending David’s argument, but only a tiny fraction. You get the picture.)
  • The I-40 corridor between Little Rock and Memphis is among the most congested. There is a little tid-bit I picked up at the recent Intermodal Transportation Committee meeting in Little Rock. Very many people with business on either end might gladly hop on for a quick ride.
  • Many people “commute” between the Little Rock and Memphis airports for airline connections. If the system were designed to reach airports, we have new and exciting travel possibilities.
  • The existence of high performance rail service between Memphis and Fort Worth would be especially beneficial to smaller cities such as Searcy, Arkadelphia, Texarkana, Marshall, and Longview. This would open up possibilities for college students, people doing business with state agencies, and people with doctor’s appointments in any of the region’s medical centers.
  • The economic benefits of drawing a region’s cities closer together for easier trade and commerce ought to be obvious, but that will have to be demonstrated in the professional study which David Sanders has already conducted inside his somewhat narrow mind.

David, you’re still my friend and I know damn good and well you just wrote that idiotic babble to get a little rise out of old Lyncho. For goodness sakes, let’s try to think about more than how things have always been.

Texas has 16 million people living in the “footprint” of the proposed Texas T-bone high speed rail project. It would be a 200 mph. true European style system. Whether or not that particular network is constructed, Texas will face such transportation needs that it will have real inter-city high speed rail. Arkansas should be part of a connecting service.

It is an accident of geography that Arkansas so benefits from the junction of interstate highways at the center of America. We should likewise have enough sense to take part in a similar movement in the form of both high speed rail and high performance rail.

Finally, I really like David Sanders, while abhorring his politics. I hope we get to sort all this out over lunch soon!

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

5 Responses

  1. Allan says:

    One of the big confusions is the term “High Speed Rail” (HSR). For most, it means the 150+ mph trains rather than 110-mph “High Performance Rail” (HPR) or “Fast”.

    HSR is very expensive and we don’t need an HSR line between LittleRock and Memphis. An HPR, on the other hand, would be a great extension to the Texas HSR.

    At some point, we need to clarify the difference to journalist, the public, and the especially the politicians. Otherwise we’ll continue to see this sort of confusion.

  2. NikolasM says:

    Eh, If you think bigger picture, the distance from Atlanta to Dallas via Memphis is 828 miles. A real HSR line at 220mph could cover that in a very reasonable amount of time and provide stops such as Birmingham, Tupelo, Memphis, Little Rock, and Texarkana to the mix. It is actually shorter than the much dreamed about NYC to Chicago line.

  3. Allan says:

    But at what cost? There is a hugh difference between the costs of 110-mph rail and a 220-mph rail.

    With unlimited funds, I’d build maglev lines across the nation. But we don’t have unlimited funds. Thus we can get a lot more bang for the buck with 110-mph rail.

    Besides, I don’t see the political clout much less a general demand for a ATL-MEM-DFW HSR.

  4. NikolasM says:

    No? That is a lot of jobs in a lot of states that have in the past been at best ambivalent to rail. Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas. At least half of the equation is political. This line would naturally be part of a larger network but a large portion of the Southeast would be within 2 to 2.5 hours of the two largest airports in the country not named O’hare…

  5. Allan says:

    Altho often overshadowed by being the worlds largest cargo airport (FedEx), and the 4th largest inland port in the US, Memphis is also one of only three cities that has 5 of the 7 Class I railroads in the United States and the railroads are expanding their intermodal operations.

    It’s not that the Memphis area is ambivalent to rail … it is a major source of employment and a major player in the Memphis economy.

    Memphis would be the natural nexus … but don’t hold your breath for them to see the obvious.

    But the truth is that rail lines are not plentiful in the South and, in general, haven’t changed since before the War of Northern Aggression.

    The rail line between Memphis and Nashville takes a somewhat circuitous route that made sense in the antebellum days but not now except that it would cost too much to straighten it out (the proposed McKenzie bypass) unless the railroads get huge tax breaks for doing so or the gov’t builds and maintain the tracks and charge them a fee for using them.

    Between Nashville and Knoxville is nothing … except to loop thru Chattanooga. There has been a study proposing a directMemphis-Nashville-Knoxville-Bristol (and on to DC) … but it isl anguishing in the gov’t bureaucracy. HereisaPDFfileonitifyou are intersted:

    All of this is fine for freight but adds precious time for a passenger route. Which May account for PART of the reason there is a lack of passenger rail in the South … Especially on the east-west routes.

    Heck, a maglev paralleling I-40 between Memphis and Nashville would make Nashville a suburb of Memphis for the purpose of transportation. It would allow Nashville residents easy access to the Memphis passenger airport hub and Amtrak (Amtrak doesn’t serve Nashville).

    But which is more likely to happen, if at all … HSR or maglev between Memphis and Nashville or upgrading the circuitous route to 110-mph rail (HPR – High Performance Rail)?

    The same logic applies in most other cases … The money just isn’t there for a nationwide network of maglev or HSR … So do you spread the limited funds around with HPR or concentrate it on a few HSR projects?

    I vote for spreading it around with HPR or just normal 79-mph rail.

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