American Elephants

Illinois’ Mythological Transportation Scheme by The Elephant's Child

If these deadbeat states are expecting the rest of the nation’s taxpayers to bail our the stupidity of their governments, they are going to be out of luck. California, dead broke and utterly unable to stop themselves from digging their hole even more deeply, cannot release its grip on the fantasy of a high speed railroad running from San Francisco to Los Angeles. They’re already in it for millions, nobody wants it, nobody would ride it, and unless they build new track all the way, it won’t be high speed.

Illinois, casting about for “good ideas,” has fixated on a super-fast, super-clean, super-cheap locomotive that has not yet been invented.  The sight of California slowly sinking in the West does not deter them. The Federal Railroad Administration has placed Illinois in charge of buying 35 new “next generation” locomotives to serve the to-be-built-someday high-speed rail lines in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, California and Washington, even though the locomotives do not exist.

“Currently these are not being manufactured,” said Joe Schacter, high-speed rail point man for the Illinois Department of Transportation. “We are fully confident that such a locomotive can be manufactured and will be manufactured.”

Illinois has $175 million to spend. $5 million per locomotive. “It may end up being more expensive, Schacter added.The $175 million comes from federal grants, but Illinois will end-up owning the high-speed trains when they are delivered. Kristina Rasmussen of the Illinois Policy Institute said that should worry anyone who knows anything about Illinois and its current fiscal state.( $9 billion in unpaid bills). If anything, they should be selling off assets.

High Speed Rail

Both the Republican governors of Ohio and Wisconsin have opted out of wasting any more taxpayer money on high speed rail boondoggles. The Obama administration announced they would take those dollars and give them to California, where even Democrat legislators have dubbed the project a Super Train to Nowhere. Some have compared it to chasing Unicorns. I prefer another mythological beast from the Norse Eddas: Odin’s horse Sleipner.

sllepnir 2
This portrait of Odin’s stallion — “the best horse among gods and men:”— is attributed to John Bauer, 1911. You will notice that he has eight legs, and a rather remarkable mane. Like Obama’s high-speed rail network, entirely mythological.


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Using the idea that new technology always costs more to purchase, I think the idea that, even with a bulk order discount, they’re going to get 35 new passenger locomotives for $5 mil a pop is more evidence of someone in government not knowing the market. A new passenger locomotive runs somewhere in the $6mil range. Amtrak recently ordered 70 Siemens ACS-64 electric locomtives at a cost of $6.66 million per unit. These are the diesel/electric ones that are in use today. The TGV-designed highspeed trains used in Europe go for around $27mil new. A new locomotive with new technology (a new type of power plant or drive system) would undoubtedly drive the cost up. So the question is do they purchase fewer new locomotives, buy refurbished ones (which can cost slightly more than half the price of a new one), or do they beg for more money?

(the correct answer, of course, is “C”)

And the statement about the new trains that “Currently these are not being manufactured”, is a little inaccurate. Currently, there is no DESIGN that has been settled on. No prototype has been built, much less tested.

I think we’re back to the “pig in a poke” story again.


Comment by Lon Mead

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