American Elephants

Obama’s High Speed Rail Boondoggle by The Elephant's Child

When Barack Obama was elected to office, he seems to have been little interested in fixing problems, but rather in the really big accomplishments that would crown his presidency. Health care, such as it is, was one. Another was a network of high speed railroads connecting America’s major cities. It is apparent how little Obama was interested in the financial crisis that was wreaking havoc on the economy. That was Bush’s fault, and Obama was irritated to have to devote energy to cope with it.

Die-hard Keynesians don’t care how government spends money to boost the economy as long as it gets spent. With the stimulus, it was assumed that was taken care of, and the government could get on with more important things.


Here is Obama’s vision, a 1970’s era technological marvel on which we would spend all sorts of money, curing the economy in Keynesian fashion, and creating a suitable monument to the Obama presidency in the process.  Not going to happen.

Florida’s Governor Rick Scott said that the only thing high-speed about what Obama envisioned for his state was the guaranteed rate of cost overruns that Florida would be stuck with. So, he declined. We’re now down to two corridors, the obvious Northeast one where anything beyond the slow pace of highways can be considered progress, and California.

California is the nation’s most populous state, where people have shown not the slightest interest in abandoning their cars. There are 22.7 million licensed drivers in California, but 32 million motor vehicles. Jay Leno accounts for some of the extras, but not all. I have lived in Los Angeles, and you can drive for nearly three hours in any one direction without leaving the city. That’s spread out. The original estimated cost was around $45 billion, but without a foot of track being built, the estimate is already up around $100 billion. They also estimated that about 10,000 people would ride the high-speed railroad between Fresno and Bakersfield every twenty-four hours.

Railroad enthusiasts boasted that the trains would go upwards of 200 miles an hour, which is half the speed of airline jets that travel the same transportation corridor, departing every few minutes from a number of airports at both ends of the state.

Here in Washington state, we got $800 million from the federal government to improve the track between Seattle and Portland. It has shortened the trip by 10 minutes. You can go cheaper and faster by Greyhound. The “high-speed”varies between 50 mph to 79 mph. It is my understanding that you cannot have a high speed train that operates at high speeds and a regular-speed freight train on the same track, but I’m not sure of that.

We are currently awaiting the enjoyment of having much of our streets torn up to accommodate light rail, which was vote in by large numbers of people who had no expectation of ever riding it themselves but thought it would be nice for the others. It’s gone to court over routing, but blasting through a well settled neighborhood too close to existing houses, won out over using a recently abandoned railroad grade that stands empty and does not affect existing neighborhoods.

The usual plaintive cry is something about “Don’t you want a twenty-first Century city?”

4 Comments so far
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Hmmm? What could possibly go wrong with a system for transporting “the masses” (which of course is why they call it mass transit) designed and demanded by a relatively few individuals that travel in limos?


Comment by Jim Yardley

It’s typical of leftist thinking. You have Mayor Bloomberg spending heavily on an anti gun campaign, yet traveling to Bermuda where guns are prohibited with an armed security guard. The Libs in Congress who devised the train-wreck we call ObamaCare, enjoy one of the most favorable health insurance plans in the country, have full blown medical clinics attached to each house in case of digestive upset during Congressional sessions, and excused themselves from any need ever to participate in ObamaCare. We need an amendment that forces all members of Congress to be full participants in the results of any legislation they pass. (Like that’s going to happen!)


Comment by The Elephant's Child

That rule regarding passenger and freight train speeds is true. Illinois forces Amtrack passenger trains down to lesser speeds, which increases travel times. They claim the new rail system will cure this, but we all know it’s a bold-faced lie.


Comment by javadewd

Thanks. I was pretty sure I had read that, but couldn’t find the reference. High-speed rail makes sense in Japan, if you look at a map of the country. It’s a long narrow country with mountains all down one side, but I understand only the link between Tokyo and Osaka pays for itself. China apparently put in a system that nobody can afford to ride, and the minister in charge was fired, (if not literally). Now we are talking about self-driving cars, and technology is changing all the time. Star Trek technology is becoming real in medicine, before our eyes. So how come the Left is so set on ideas from the early 20th Century? I’m beginning to think they just don’t keep up with the news because they are so engrossed in politics.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

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