American Elephants

High-Speed Pork? Thanks but No Thanks! by The Elephant's Child

Florida’s Governor Rick Scott has joined three other Republican Governors in rejecting Obama administration funds for building high-speed rail lines.  He said he informed U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood of his decision today.  The state had been awarded almost $2.4 billion in federal money for an 84 mile passenger line between Tampa and Orlando. This was the first new project in the $53 billion that President Obama included in his fiscal 2012 budget this week.

Florida already pays $34.6 million a year to subsidize the Tri-Rail commuter line that links West Palm Beach and Miami, because passenger revenue covers only $10.4 million of the $64 million annual operating cost.

Scott joins Governor John Kasich of Ohio and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and New Jersey’s Chris Christie who refused $3 billion for a commuter-rail tunnel under the Hudson River.  Typically,  the $3 billion saddled New Jersey with $5 billion in potential extra costs.

Secretary LaHood said that he was “extremely disappointed” and that there was “overwhelming demand for high-speed rail in other states that are enthusiastic to receive Florida’s funding.”

Robert Samuelson wrote in Real Clear Politics

Vice President Joe Biden, an avowed friend of good government, is giving it a bad name. With great fanfare, he went to Philadelphia the other day to announce that the Obama administration proposes spending $53 billion over six years to construct a “national high-speed rail system.” Translation: the administration would pay states $53 billion to build rail networks that would then lose money — not a little, but lots — and, thereby, aggravate the budget squeezes of the states or federal government, depending on which covered the deficits. …

Longtime critic Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute recently planned a trip from Washington to New York.  Noting that fares on Amtrak’s high-speed Accela start at $139 one-way, he decided to take a private bus service.  The roundtrip fare: $21.50/  Nor does Amtrak do much to relieve congestion, cut ;oil use, reduce pollution or eliminate greenhouse gases.  Its traffic volumes are simply too small to matter.

Randal O’Toole, scholar of rail transportation, weighs in himself:

President Obama’s high-speed-rail proposal will, over the course of six years, pour $53 million of taxpayer money into a megaproject that produces little value for the vast majority of Americans. It uses the classic pork-barrel strategy of starting a program small and then expanding it after Congress, prodded by special-interest groups, is fully committed.

Former Congressman Ernest Istook chaired the Transportation Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee:

President Obama’s proposed $53-billion more for “high-speed rail” (on top of a previous $10-billion) is a testimony to the power of adjectives.

If it were labeled “plain old rail travel” it would lack the pizazz but would be far more accurate.  Understating costs, overstating benefits, and lots of supersonic rhetoric are the selling points for high-speed rail.

The “high speed” adjective invokes thoughts of bullet trains speeding at 150 mph, 200 mph or more.  The reality of Obama’s plan is—at best—the 85 mph that is the average speed of America’s fastest train, the Amtrak-run Accela.

When Obama claims his trains would reach 100 mph and more, he’s talking about peak speed reached only for short stretches, not the average.

Always compliant media reports emphasized the disappointment of Transportation Secretary LaHood, and whatever negative comments they could find from those who mourned the lack of temporary jobs, which would not appear for several years.  Projects have to be designed, engineered, land must be acquired, environmental objections overcome — often in court, it could be years before a single tie is laid.

For me, this is sad.  I am a rail buff.  I grew up right beside the Union Pacific, and all kinds of rail traffic passed by our house each day. Everything from speeders to the B-Car to snowplows and the longest cattle train ever to travel by rail.  I’ve ridden in sleepers, dined in a white tablecloth dining car, ridden the steam train to Durango, and had a work train parked on our siding.  I have a model railroad.  I’ve been to model railroaders’ conventions. I love trains.  Our city is planning to tear up half the town to install light rail that nobody will ride. Trains go from fixed station to fixed station.  Cars go where you need to go.  You can’t go home again.

5 Comments so far
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Scott is right. It’s not just the construction costs for HSR that states have to worry about; it’s the operational expenses once the system is built, and they will be considerable. Scott is also right to spend that money on upgrading existing infrastructure.
I hope California’s Governor Brown will the next governor who understands that HSR is not a free lunch.


Comment by Atlanta Roofing

Orlando to Tampa? To compete with the turnpike no doubt. That leaves a lot of the SW part of the state without the much vaunted, sacred rail system anyway.

Extending car train service all the way to Ft. Myers/Naples, on our side of the state and extending it to Miami on the other side would, and creating car train service from the Midwest for all of the Snowbirds might make better sense.


Comment by zeusiswatching

Nowhere in the world does high speed rail make economic sense. It is not cost effective. Japan has very dense population and mostly along the coast, far more suited to rail transportation than the US, yet their trains are still heavily subsidized. If you are curious, go to Cato and read Randal O’Toole’s work. He’s been studying transportation for years. Wendell Cox is another expert. We have a partly built light rail in Seattle, built because Seattle needed to be a “world class city”, and everyone thought it would be neat for other people to ride the train. Ridership for the most part just isn’t there, and just takes riders from the buses which are cheaper to run and more flexible — their routes can be adjusted.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Win the future.

We already have political support for high speed
rail in this country , we now need to build
public support……@00:51 in the video.

prepare to be bombarded with P.R


Comment by Ron spins

Hi speed rail is one of those holy grail issues. Again, instead of rail that works we are being asked to buy into something that doesn’t work for anybody.

We need to maintain and possibly improve upon our freight transportation system, and freight transportation doesn’t need high speed rail. High speed freight goes by air.

Trains to carry tourists, like the car train to Florida make good since in places where a sales pitch to avoid very, very long drives is actually sensible, and the tourist want to go there. Even then, that is a freight and passenger trip. The passengers are riding with their not inconsiderable freight.

High speed rail doesn’t work for daily commuters, if we are going to pay for rail, and manage our urban-suburban areas in a way that makes rail a viable method of commuting, high speed rail would at best provide an impossibly expensive way to encourage urban sprawl. It is just not sensible.


Comment by zeusiswatching

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