High-Speed Rail is Not Pork

Now that the stimulus bill has been passed by the House and Senate, Republicans focus on their new target: the legislation’s $8 billion for high-speed rail

Seemingly added at the last minute, the $8 billion for high-speed rail in the economic stimulus bill will provide a new opportunity in the United States to rebuild our existing infrastructure and enhance it with speedy train connections. Already, politicians and state officials in New York, Texas, and California (which is planning to ask for $2 billion) are looking to take advantage of the funds to advance their respective projects. The stimulus bill in no way specifies where the funds will be spent, and instead will allow the Department of Transportation to determine, through a competitive grant process, which rail projects will benefit from the money. But Republicans are already pointing at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for his push for the inclusion of funds for high-speed rail because of his desire to see a Los Angeles-Las Vegas line get built.

This morning, the Washington Post published an article entitled “Despite Pledges, Packages Has Some Pork,” and specifically mentioned the high-speed rail component:

“The deal provides $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, for example, including money that could benefit a controversial proposal for a magnetic-levitation rail line between Disneyland, in California, and Las Vegas, a project favored by  Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). The 311-mph train could make the trip from Sin City to Tomorrowland in less than two hours, according to backers.”

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was quoted in the Los Angeles Times:

“Tell me how spending $8 billion in this bill to have a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is going to help the construction worker in my district.”

The problem is, the bill has literally no mention of any Los Angeles-Las Vegas rail line. Though such a project would be considered along with every other rail project, the $8 billion would go directly to a federal grant program and decision-makers in the Transportation Department would consider such a line along with the many others that are likely to submit applications. What Mr. Boehner clearly does not realize is that the Midwest High-Speed Rail project, which will serve his district, is likely to receive some of the funding, so in fact the high-speed rail funds will likely serve a construction worker he represents.

So let’s be straight here: the economic stimulus bill provided no such “earmark” or “pork” for any specific high-speed rail project. It simply funds a new federal program whose appropriations, just like highways funds, will be distributed to meritorious projects throughout the nation not based on the needs of any specific senator but rather based on the role such a line would contribute to the creation of a nationwide rail network.

13 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • AF

    In fact, LA-LV does not appear on the federal map of designated HSR corridors, making it even less likely that any of the $8 billion will be spent there.

  • borg

    We have to kill LA-LV before it even gains traction. Harry Reid’s local fantasy train will give HSR investment a bad name. He already got dozens of millions for a maglev study of that line. The lines farthest along the political/planning/funding/engineering stages [in your ranking] should get priority, most prominently California.

  • jon

    Boehner is a whackjob.

    Liberal Media my ass, the media is labeling HSR as pork solely because the repubs called it that. CBS news called it out too last night.

    I agree about the LV-LA maglev thats a pie in the sky joke but HSR is one of the best uses of stimulus funds.

    It is worth noting John Mica the republican of Florida applauded the inclusion of HSR money. I had thought a few years ago he was one of the most anti-rail politicans, did he have a change of heart or was he always pro-rail?

  • JP

    More likely than LA-LV would be LA-SF, which already has secured partial funding from California due to Prop 1A. As others have pointed out, LA-LV isn’t even listed as a HSR corridor, so isn’t currently eligible for any of the stimulus funding.

  • Avi

    John Mica is pro-rail, anti-Amtrak. In his ideal world the country would be covered by HSR all profitably run by private companies.

  • If the HSR process is handled correctly and the Midwest Corridor begins work soon, the State of Ohio could vote out House Minority Leader John Boehner due to his voting record and we would all be better off

    It has always struck me as strange, that companies could start up new airlines but not a HSR project, or that the Feds will subsidize airports and highways but not rail in any form

  • Arline bailouts notwithstanding, I could see Federal funding for rail infrastructure as appropriate, but not for operations. That puts it on par with the highways (not sure if Greyhound is subsidized, but the trucking companies themselves aren’t), and the airlines, as the Feds (though to be fair, via ticket fees) fund airport improvements (again, bailouts notwithstanding).

  • Froggie –
    I think you’re right, for true high-speed rail, which has proven profitable in other countries. Regional rail will probably continue to need operating assistance. This doesn’t mean, however, that private companies should run the trains, whether profitable or not… there’s no reason that the government shouldn’t take in a little profit on high-speed rail.

    The government is going to have to take the leadership role and the financial burden on the construction of rail lines, of course.

  • jack maverick

    “The problem is, the bill has literally no mention of any Los Angeles-Las Vegas rail line. Though such a project would be considered along with every other rail project, the $8 billion would go directly to a federal grant program and decision-makers in the Transportation Department would consider such a line along with the many others that are likely to submit applications.”

    And you don’t think those “decision makers in the Transportation Department” are in Harry Reid’s pocket? Grow up and join the real world. In Vegas terms, I’ll bet you dimes to dollars that $8 billion does indeed get committed to build the pony express from L.A. to Vegas. What?, you think Reid HAND-WROTE that provision into the bill because he cares about NATIONWIDE high-speed rail? – Don’t make me laugh.

  • davartne

    HSR might be needed buy it’s not stimulus, as a Republican and I can tell you way Repub’s don’t want it …. HARRY REID. Period.

    WE could use HSR between population centers like Washington and NYC or Chicago and St Louis something that made sense.

    But Disneyland and Vegas is just pork and you know it.

  • Jack and Davartne –
    I’m not sure what about “the bill has literally no mention of any Los Angeles-Las Vegas rail line” you don’t get. The Department of Transportation is an executive agency, not a legislative one. Harry Reid does not control the Department, Ray LaHood, a Republican, working under President Obama, does.

  • My2010Vote

    Florida SCUM-RAIL is nothing but pork. Floridians have voted it down, but the political RINOs (impersonating conservatives) are giving CSX free tracks – this is political corruption at its best. The studies prove the ridership will not be adequate to justify this pork project. Congressman John Mica has a close alliances with CSX and Gov Crist has always been a RINO. These so-called conservatives believe in creating jobs by increasing the size of government and increasing taxes. This is what the GOP stands for…….what a bunch of hypocritical SCUM-RAILERS. They will not be re-elected.

  • OceanRailroader

    I remember hearing on several websites that he is now behind Desert Xpress vs the maglv idea.

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