U.K. Government Confirms High-Speed Plans

» Country’s second high-speed rail line would speed commuters from London to Birmingham in 49 minutes; extensions to Manchester and Leeds are planned.

After seven months in power, the United Kingdom’s Conservative-led government has endorsed the previous Labour Government’s plans for a high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham, a connection that will reduce running times between the country’s two largest metropolitan areas from 1h20 to less than fifty minutes. In addition, the Department for Transport, led by Phillip Hammond, has recommended the eventual extension of the route northeast towards Leeds and northwest towards Manchester in a 335-mile Y-shaped corridor to cost upwards of £30 billion ($46 billion) to construct.

The Conservative Government’s endorsement of this HS2 route confirms practically universal political support for the high-speed project in Britain and indicates that construction will get underway in 2016. Upon entering power, the Conservatives sent mixed messages about their interest in devoting a huge percentage of the country’s budget to this project; this week’s news demonstrates significant political support from the right-wing for the program.

The route is to be designed to allow trains to travel at speeds up to 250 mph and significantly relieve the West Coast Main Line, which carries 75 million passengers a year and which is expected to reach capacity by 2024, despite having been recently reconstructed at a cost of £13 billion. The new line will include a link to the existing HS1, which connects London to the Channel Tunnel. At completion, HS2 will allow 3h30 travel times between London and Glasgow or Edinburgh in Scotland and 3h00 trips between Paris and Birmingham.

Up to 15 trains per hour will terminate at a 10-track station added to the existing London Euston, carrying up to 16,500 passengers per direction per rush hour. A spur to Heathrow Airport is planned.

Though the primary purpose of the new rail link will be to reduce travel times throughout Great Britain, the Department for Transport has argued that it would also allow commuters to live in places like Coventry and Milton Keynes and work in London. Those cities are respectively 100 and 50 miles from the capital. It is worth questioning whether it makes sense to encourage such long-distance commuting, no matter how quickly it can be done. Indeed, though one of the stated goals of the high-speed train project is to reduce carbon emissions by reducing the number of automobile and airplane trips, long-distance work commutes are energy intensive no matter the mode used.

HS2 is also likely to see mounting criticism from communities along the line that will be affected by the construction of the project and the operation of the trains. The expansion of Euston Station will force several hundred families to move away from their homes in London; meanwhile, as the trains travel across the Chilterns and Warwickshire, they are likely to produce an uncomfortable increase in noise for up to 50,000 people. Though Mr. Hammond has reworked half of the route in response to citizen concerns and argued that the project will be attractively designed when built, he may face mounting criticism from within his own party if the project moves ahead as planned.

Nonetheless, the British high-speed rail project is likely to be a successful enterprise. HS1, which was completed in late 2007, has far fewer riders than HS2 is expected to carry but the services that use it (Eurostar and Southeastern High-Speed) are operationally profitable. Its huge £5 billion construction cost (including the £800 million renovation of London St. Pancras Station) has been partially paid off through the £2.1 billion 30-year concession announced last month — and new development expected around the London terminus, Stratford International, and other stations will add to the benefits. Similar or better results can be expected for the new line.

The government’s assertion of the importance of a link between HS1 and HS2 will add to value of both lines. By allowing direct service between central England and Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, or other continental cities, this connection — to be tunneled under north London — will encourage more air travelers from outside of London to switch to the train.

Moving tens of thousands of daily travelers to the new line will allow the West Coast Main Line to be freed for local, regional, and freight services. The creation of new terminals in London, Birmingham, and the other cities served will encourage more downtown development. The government recognizes the economic benefits of increased spending on mobility infrastructure.

To put the United Kingdom’s project in perspective, the government is planning to spend more than $40 billion on a rail line that will connect four metropolitan areas — London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds — whose collective population amounts to about 22 million. California’s similarly priced fast train will in its first phase link five metropolitan areas — Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Bakersfield, and Fresno — whose inhabitants number about 21 million. Future phases to Stockton, Sacramento, Riverside, and San Diego will add another 10 million to the service area.

If a Conservative government in the United Kingdom is willing to fund its project, in spite of massive cuts to the rest of the public budget, it’s hard to understand why bipartisan agreement in favor of investment in U.S. infrastructure in the form of high-speed rail cannot be assembled.

Image above: Trains at London’s Euston Station, from Flickr user Matt Buck (cc)

77 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Peter Laws

    It’s easy to understand why the so-called conservatives in the USA aren’t on the infrastructure bandwagon: It annoys the so-called liberals. That’s the only reason. Policies are no longer pursued or rejected on their merits only on whether they can score points on the chat shows. Sad but true.

    • t1ewis

      agree. another thing i find annoying is that when the Liberals have a chance to add real transportation funding (and not the pentance they did the last time) they didn’t do it. instead they focused all their energy on pushing for healthcare.

      • Mike S.

        Well, health care is a whole other issue, although I think it’s an important one. On the other hand, there’s no reason why Congress can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I don’t think the Democrats expected the extreme level of Republican obstructionism (bad even by their standards) that they encountered, and I think they expected that their various bills would go through Congress faster than they did, and didn’t see the trouncing they got in November coming. Apparently today, non defense-related bills go through Congress at glacial speeds, which historically was not true.

        Keep in mind even if the Dems passed some bill equivalent to the Interstate Highway Act for HSR, it would still have to be funded annually, and denying funding is the typical way that the Republicans kill off things they can’t get rid of legislatively (in fact, watch for them to do this with the new Health Care Legislation…there won’t be a penny to spare for it, but they’ll be billions for tax cuts for the wealthy, and billions and billions more for the military).

        • t1ewis

          w/e the case we’re screwed.

        • Nathanael

          “I don’t think the Democrats expected the extreme level of Republican obstructionism (bad even by their standards) that they encountered,”

          You’re probably right — on the other hand, they *should* have expected it. The national-level Republican Party has been run by nuts intent on destroying our entire governmental system for at least 10 years. It’s time national-level Democrats *noticed*. The appropriate place for a bunch of the Republicans in Congress — like the ones who tried to filibuster the New START Treaty — is in prison, not in Congress.

  • Daniel Krause

    I believe that having a direct connection to HS1 to allow for through-service to Continental Europe and the connection to Heathrow will improve the project immensely over the original proposal. Allowing passengers flying into Heathrow from overseas locations to have a direct connection to HSR shoud reduce the need for numerous connecting flights to other cities in the U.K. and elsewhere. Through-service will also likely reduce short-haul fights between the U.K. and France, etc.

  • Sean

    The Conservative Party in the UK isn’t bats**t insane unlike the “conservatives” in the U.S., who have an almost religious aversion to any sort of non-military government spending.

  • David

    Are you sure about the top design speed of 250mph? The current HS1 and European high speed networks operate 300 km/h, or 186 mph. I’m assuming the track will be designed for faster speeds, perhaps 400km/h (250mph)but I doubt trains will actually run that fast, at least initially.

    The trains in the picture are Class 390 Pendolinos – they are tilting trainsets capable running at 140mph (225km/h), but are limited to 125 mph (200km/h) due to static block signalling on the West Coast Main Line. Those trains are beautiful to ride on.

    • Drewski

      If they do mean 250 mph service, would it most likely be tilting trainsets? What kind of curve radius would that speed require?

      • Max Wyss

        Of course, at the current level of planning, nothing is decided about rolling stock yet.

        Also as of current state of the art, the “classic” tilting train based on the Fiat concepts is not set up for the really high speeds (maximum speed 220 to 250 km/h); that’s about what the stability of the trucks can provide. So, if some kind of tilting system would be used, we might expect something in the line of “active suspension” which may tilt by 2 or so degrees, but still provide the stability for the high speed.

      • As Max says, trains with heavy tilting are limited to about 250 km/h. Sweden is seeking tilting trains with a top speed of 350 km/h in order to reduce the cost of HSR, but nobody else is.

  • Rational Plan

    A large number already commute from Milton Keynes to London. While plenty of people commute further than Coventry to London,it tends to be from smaller cities. It would be a major chore for most people in Coventry to get to their central station and then commute to London. However London is not the only major commuter destination on the West Coast mainline. Birmingham will be the main destination for people in the Coventry area.

    While you may have qualms about long distance commuting how do you propose to forbid it. The release of capacity on the main line for more local and semi-fast services will inevitably attract commuters. The train companies get high fares, and their profits from longer distance commuters.

    • FG

      I thought I read somewhere that when the Intercity 125’s were introduced, house prices shot up in places like Bristol because they were now within commuting distance of London. The same could happen with this.

  • Andrew

    At least the British still have the energy to actually do a project like this.
    Hopefully this will reduce the number of “splatterings” over CO2 emissions.

  • Ocean Railroader

    I can see why this would be a good idea I heard from people I know that the West Coast Mainline is packed and this would helpl take pressure off of it by having a whole new path for people to move north and south. It would be like adding a new Interstate 95 or NEC in the North East of the US in that it would take a jammed old main line and give it a modern bypass.

  • The interesting part of this story is that the new government is moving ahead with the previous governments proposals. Out here in the colonies (Canada) every time a new government comes into power they cancel their predecessor’s plans and try to come up with their own solution. The only way to get a project implemented is to keep the government in power for six terms.

    • Mike S.

      It’s the same in the U.S. New Jersey Governor Christie canceled a rail tunnel that had been planned for 20 years and was scheduled to begin construction (in order to funnel the money toward suburban road construction–no surprise, his brother is the state’s biggest suburban real estate developer). Ohio and Wisconsin scrapped their HSR proposals, luckily in those cases, the Federal funds are being rerouted to states more receptive to HSR.

      A national Infrastructure bank would help quite a bit. Projects could be somewhat more immune from the back-and-forth shifts of U.S. politics. But nothing’s really going to change until the Republicans stop being so incredibly hostile to public transportation. In many cases, they seem to enjoy scuttling these public transportation schemes merely because they can. Just another symptom of modern toxic American politics.

      It’s kind of funny we Yanks look to the U.K. with envy for your rail projects, because my British friends think their rail transit (excluding London) is vastly underdeveloped compared with continental Europe (Germany’s held up as the gold standard).

      • That reminds me of the way that most international students at the Newcastle Graduate Business School (Newcastle NSW, not Newcastle UK) from East Asia thought the NSW Cityrail system was terrible, while most international students from the US thought it was good.

      • Nathanael

        Nothing’s going to change until the Republican Party is eliminated as a serious political party, relegated to the status of the Whigs. The leadership has already made it clear that they won’t tolerate sane people taking control of the party again.

        With the Republicans eliminated, a new, competent second party could arise; until they are eliminated, Duverger’s Law prevents it.

        At this point, nobody in their right mind should vote for Republicans at the national or state levels, and I have my doubts about the local level. Unfortuately a lot of people haven’t caught up, and grew up back when the Republican Party was a legitimate political party rather than a mix of end-timers, nihilist, and looters.

        • Wad

          Nathanael, the Democratic Party will be the first party eliminated.

          The Republicans play to win. The Republicans are ideologically aligned with the donor class (the Fourth Branch of government). The Republicans unseat more high-ranking Democrats in elections than the other way around. When Democrats eke out a high-profile win, they depend on opponents to stumble in their campaigns (see: “macaca moment”).

          Also, as George Will pointed out in a column a few years ago, the Republicans have only two factions that make up their base: the “fiscals” and the “culturals”. They also can craft policies that are mutually beneficial to both factions. They also have a larger base of loyal, dependale voters.

          The Democrats, on the other hand, are a collection of seven small tribal bases: gays, blacks, Hispanics (except Cubans), Asians, union members, feminists and environmentalists. The only thing that unites them is a mutual defense against Republican policies. Otherwise, policy initiatives are mutually exclusive; one faction’s policy plank alienates another faction.

          Gay marriage and abortion, for instance, sees a backlash among black, Hispanic and Asian households. Environmentalist policies erode union jobs. Minority identity politics measures alienate whites in the various other factions (see: Reagan Democrats).

          Democrats are easier to divide and conquer. Also, the Citizens United ruling opened the door for an influence-peddling arms race that will drag Democrats rightward whether they’d like it or not.

          Nathanael, the only hope and change available in America is one that can be obtained with a passport and work visa.

          • Nathanael

            Oh, your scenario is quite likely too. The Whigs collapsed before the slaver Democrats in the pre-Civil-War period. In the end both pre-Civil-War parties were basically gone forever, though.

  • Blayze

    This depresses me considering it takes roughly an hour and 30 (non-express) minutes to get from Trenton, New Jersey to New York City on commuter rail. A meager 68 miles compared to Birmingham’s 102 miles from London. Even with the express commuter trains, it still tops out to about an hour and five minutes. This is just unacceptable.

    I envy London.

  • David Oleesky

    The UK cannot afford this white elephant, given the dire state of its economy compared to those of even Germany or France. High Speed Rail is beneficial in other countries (mainland Europe, Japan) because distances between major cities are much greater and land is more easily available on which to build them. All major cities of the North of England are already less than 2.5 hours by fast rail service from London (if one can afford the exorbitant fares, e.g. over $400 for a second class return from Manchester to London); the Midlands are even nearer. There is considerable opposition to HS2, including from cabinet and other government ministers; even if approved, it will be many years (2025 at the earliest) before HS2 is built.
    If money is poured into this project, other rail developments in England outside London will be starved of funds, although the UK government has now finally approved (after 30 years of proposals) limited expenditure on electrifying a few routes in the North-West, including the first passenger railway in the world between Liverpool and Manchester. The UK is no longer a leader in rail development (e.g. nearly all new trains are imported) and has one of the lowest percentages of electrified lines in Europe.

    • John W

      You’re quoting the top fare for an ‘Anytime’ ticket (ie peak travel). Just had a quick look – you can buy a return leaving this afternoon, coming back tomorrow late morning, for £66 (just over $100), and midday travel in January for as low as £40 ($60) return.

    • Rational Plan

      There is not considerable cabinet opposition. There is some disquiet from MP’s along the route. The majority of rail spending already occurs inside London and the South East, witness the £6 billion Thameslink, £7 billion HS1, £15 billion crossrail.

      The problem is that many of the rail lines out of London are full or soon will be. They would not been building this just to get a high speed line. UK main lines already routinely exceed 100 mph, the reason for thus line is capacity. The argument for a new line was one after the upgrade of the West Coast mainline spiralled out of control to £8 billion and has only given us 10 years growth in traffic and the project still failed to give us the £140mph running speed it was supposed to.

      Traffic has already recovered to pre recession levels, much sooner than the industry expected.

      In fact the majority of the money will be spent outside London brand new stations in several Northern cities. This is a national project.

    • DBX

      The British can’t afford not to do it. The West Coast Main Line is full. The airports are full. The motorways are full. Where else is the traffic to go? Back to the canals?

  • Aaron Brown

    I’m not opposed to HSR per se, but shouldn’t transit advocates in the US be more worried about funding for intracity mass transit than for intercity HSR?

    Given the dire financial situations faced by most of the largest metropolitan transit operators (NYC, Chicago, DC, Boston, etc.), I worry that focusing on HSR neglects the more pressing issue. An American HSR system would be great, but right now I believe we’d do better to preserve (and expand) our mass transit systems. My biggest fear is that the cost of HSR continues to climb and conservatives use that fact as a reason to de-fund mass transit.

    If nothing else, improving our intracity mass transit is the first step toward a useful HSR network, since travelers need to get around once they arrive in a city.

    • In what way are they rival? The biggest challenge that the urban transit systems face is covering operating costs ~ the HSR won’t compete for operating subsidies, since they’ll run at an operating surplus.

      That is, in the best of all possible worlds on the capital grant side, the US could easily find urban transit projects to soak up $20b in funding per year for twenty years … but we wouldn’t have a way to fund operations the services when they were built.

      If anything, the two are complementary in terms of capital grants, since the biggest advance that urban transit systems need in capital grant funding is an infrastructure bank, while HSR means that districts that cannot expect to get any urban rail transit funds also have an interest in getting the infrastructure bank up, because the HSR would also benefit from an infrastructure bank.

      And the lure of HSR funding has already been used to increase state level commitments to transit projects ~ for example, Florida was made aware that their changes of getting HSR funding would be much lower if they did not proceed with the Orlando Sunrail system, while the $9b in California HSR state bond authority was accompanied by $900m in state bond authority for complementary rail systems.

    • Wad

      Aaron, pitting mass transit against high-speed rail is a false dilemma.

      Both can be funded at the same time, but they have to be funded differently. (You’ll never hear any politician dare suggest that we can have controlled access highways or local access roads, but not both because the funding pot is a zero-sum game.)

      Local transit is primarily a local concern whose benefit is primarily local. Most everyday users of a local transit system aren’t going to be making high-speed rail trips, so they need a network that serves these needs.

      Also, the big costs of transit are operational. Should the paymaster be at the federal level when the benefits of a transit system do not reach beyond the service area?

      High-speed rail connects multiple regions, and this is something that needs to be taken at a state or interstate (national) level. Because the service area is broader, the benefits accrue to multiple jurisdictions. Also, a far-reaching project is too important to be left to parochial and meddlesome local areas.

  • Chris

    “It’s easy to understand why the so-called conservatives in the USA aren’t on the infrastructure bandwagon: It annoys the so-called liberals. That’s the only reason.”

    And given the anti-right wing vitriol in comments to this article and others, why would Republicans want to cooperate with liberals?

    Keep in mind that in the UK, the Conservative Party is based in southern England: a wealthy, densely-populated area full of people who commute to London to work, similar to New Jersey and Connecticut, demographically. Those are frequent train travelers who are used to trains. Spending on rail benefits Conservative voters.

    Republicans in the US are based in places like Alabama and Montana- lightly-populated places with few rail options. They are used to the car culture, and spending on rail doesn’t benefit those Republican voters.

    If rail benefited Republican voters, there would be a lot more support for it; Republicans have no problem spending money on certain things.

    • Nathanael

      Rail *does* benefit Republican voters in places like Ohio and Indiana, and upstate New York. It *does* benefit Republican voters in New Jersey, most obviously. It would benefit Republican voters in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina, but they vote against it anyway. Hell, Montana has been pushing hard to get restored rail service, and Republicans have been preventing it.

      I don’t think it’s so much the Republican voters per se who are the problem. I think it’s the jackasses running the national-level party, who hijacked their party for their own purposes, and who are very good at spreading false propaganda. How many Republican voters voted for George W. Bush thinking “I want the US to kidnap and torture innocent people, and to invade two countries and occupy them indefinitely, one on false pretenses. Oh, and I want giant tax breaks for bank executives and stock speculators.”

      Seriously, I doubt that was really what people voted for, but that’s what they *got*.

      • We have a pay to play system in the US, for more than in any other industrialized democracy. The first place to look for an explanation is the money, and only when the money is tied is it necessary to look at ideology.

        The roadbuilding industry is in a squeeze, and its growing, because while over the past thirty years the cross-subsidy provided from urban to suburban and rural motorists has had a smaller share of the population providing subsidy, and a larger share requiring maintenance of existing subsidized highways. At the same time, after a decade of consuming improved engine efficiencies via more horsepower to haul around more metal, the recent oil price shock jolted consumers into turning to more fuel efficient vehicles, which undermines both the user fees and cross subsidies collected.

        They look on transport funding as a zero sum game, and want as much as possible for building new roads. More capital efficient ways of providing intercity transport threatens to undermine the flow of capital grants to road building.

        The oil lobby channels a smaller share of their funding into anti-rail propaganda, but their total funding is so large that a small share of it is still sufficient to keep a number of propagandists paid full time to arrive at the conclusion that any passenger rail is a always a bad investment.

        And of course, the oil lobby is one of the major funding sources for the Republican Party, and is able to afford the professional marketing resources to create the primary political climate to make a given position dangerous for a Republican politician to hold ~ witness the wholesale abandonment of the originally Republican preferred policy of cap and trade for addressing the climate crisis, once the Oil Lobby came out firmly against it.

        Objectively, a well chosen HSR corridor can offer substantial benefit to outer suburban and rural voters, but given the entrenched stereotype of trains being for large city commuter transport, its not a difficult task for the propaganda machines to spread the focus-grouped talking points to undermine support for the system among many of its potential beneficiaries.

      • jim

        It remains true that upper-income voters tend Republican; lower-income, Democrat. There are regional variances in the degree of tendency and in the income level where support switches over; still, rich=Republican, poor=Democrat is a good rough guide to US politics. Outside Manhattan, and maybe a couple of other central Northeastern cities, rich people don’t ride transit. Outside the Northeast, rich people don’t ride passenger rail. Even within the Northeast, only Acela clearly has a predominantly upper-income clientele. When a Republican says people don’t ride trains, he means people like him don’t ride trains and he’s basically correct.

        We can hope that HSR will break this pattern. True HSR should attract an upper-income clientele. Acela, after all, does. But Amtrak was careful to position it as a premium product. It’s not clear that CAHSR or FLHSR will do the same.

        • Nathanael

          Rich people sure do ride sleepers. (Though I suppose not the superrich with their private jets.)

          I don’t think the rich/poor divide covers it at all. There’s a cultural divide, and there’s also a rural/urban divide, but most of all there’s an ideological anti-train lobby.

      • Further on Nathanial, “Rail *does* benefit Republican voters in places like Ohio and Indiana, and upstate New York”:

        Because, unlike airplanes, the lost travel time for a stop at a level boarding platform is so small for a train, the optimal corridor design for HSR (any of the three tiers) provides far better outer suburban and rural access than the air transport system. The Ohio Hub station list includes such notable “big city” locations (where the station is generic, I pick the biggest town in the area) as: Warren; Hudson; Sandusky; Elyria; Bowling Green; Defiance; Lima; Findley; Kenton; Mansfield; Coshocton; Newark; Marysville; Springfield; and Middletown.

        Sure, it also includes Steubenville, Youngstown, Toledo, Dayton and several stations each for Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, but any suggestion that there is no service to be provided to predominantly Republican counties or suburbs would be a flat out lie.

    • Rick

      Rail would benefit people in those states you mentioned. It would give people options beyond the auto for mid- and long-range transportation.

      As for anti-right-wing rhetoric, it’s a natural reaction to the current insane Republican attitudes toward rail (i.e. Kasich screaming about how “passenger rail isn’t part of Ohio’s future” in his first press conference after being elected).

      The states you mentioned are both net recipients of Federal tax dollars (primarily from liberal, semi-urbanized “blue states” and Texas, the one large red state that is actually a donor state). If Democrats suggested defunding (purely for partisan reasons) the many programs that benefit these states you’d see an equally anti-liberal reaction from their side of the aisle.

      • Nathanael

        “As for anti-right-wing rhetoric, it’s a natural reaction to the current insane Republican attitudes toward rail”

        As a followup, note that people have been rather more positive towards the more old-school, less nutter-fanatic behavior of John Mica.

    • And given the anti-right wing vitriol in comments to this article and others, why would Republicans want to cooperate with liberals?

      Do get the timing right, here. Until recently, this was one area that it was possible in a number of areas to engage in bipartisan cooperation on, given the multiple benefits in terms of business development, property development, spillover to public transport, environment and national security.

      Of course, elements of the radical right wing have always opposed it, because a convenient nexus of ideology and funding ~ strident libertarian opposition to capital subsidies for rail being matched with near silence on the massive property taking in zoning parking requirements and either self-deception or deliberately misleading representations of the automobile system as being self funding.

      But more moderate center-right elements of the Republican Party seemed to be more willing to give it a hearing, until the Oil Lobby has jerked on the chain and the Republican Party was been brought to heel to do service the narrow private interests of own of its paymasters.

      • Nathanael

        “Do get the timing right here.”

        This.

        I’ve been watching the Republican Party being driven in the wrong direction for most of my life. It’s rather disturbing. On one issue after another, the most regressive, destructive attitudes have been winning out, and Republican politicians expressing better opinions have fled, or lately, been forced out.

        Don’t get me started on the Democratic Party, which has different severe problems — fundamentally a failure to follow through on its economic principles of giving everyone a fair chance to succeed.

        There’s a reason why registered independents are the fastest-growing political group, and now exceed registered Republicans (and heading upwards to exceed registered Democrats fast). We’re in for a party system shift such as has not been seen for 100 years, which will leave us with parties entirely different in behavior and probably also in name. And that’s the healthy option — if our system is less functional than that, much worse could happen.

  • Chris

    “Rail *does* benefit Republican voters in places like Ohio and Indiana, and upstate New York. It *does* benefit Republican voters in New Jersey, most obviously. It would benefit Republican voters in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina, but they vote against it anyway. Hell, Montana has been pushing hard to get restored rail service, and Republicans have been preventing it.”

    Only in NJ and maybe upstate NY does rail benefit enough Republican voters to make Republica politicians pay much attention to rail needs. South Carolina- are you kdding? The state has just 4 passenger trains each way that stop in the state, and even adding a few more trains would increase passenger rail’s market share there from negligible to pretty much negligible. It’s a car-oriented state, where most everyone drives but few people take trains, and GOP politicians (and local Democrats) pay attention to drivers, not rail passengers.

    • Wad

      The U.S.’s second-busiest rail corridor, LOSSAN, runs through conservative Orange and San Diego counties. Needless to say, Democrats don’t tilt the ridership overwhelmingly their way.

    • Nathanael

      My point is that *if* they paid to actually *have* trains which went on the correct *routes* to attract passengers (at a wild guess, Charlotte-Columbia-Charleston, or Columbia-Augusta-Atlanta) at appropriate *frequencies* and *speeds*, the trains *would* benefit South Carolina. Obviously not having the trains means the trains don’t benefit them.

      I’m wondering sometimes if many Republicans are slow, mentally. Unable to conceive of any possible reality other than exactly-like-the-present. This might explain how popular global warming denial is among Republicans.

      • Adirondacker12800

        It’s popular because they think it pisses off Al Gore and as a side benefit pisses off sundry dirty hippies. Even though the last hippie faded from view in 1979.

  • Chris

    “I’m wondering sometimes if many Republicans are slow, mentally.”

    If the kind of nasty language above would stop, then maybe Republicans would be more willing to work with Democrats to build better mass transit.

    I still think that it takes a NYC-style commuter rail system to convert a lot of voters into rail supporters, since large numbers of people take commuter trains every day vs. smaller numbers that take infrequent trips on Amtrak. North Carolina’s Charlotte-Raleigh trains do well, for example, but most people along the route still drive and the train doesn’t have mainstream cultural acceptance.

    • Adirondacker12800

      If the kind of nasty language above would stop, then maybe Republicans would be more willing to work with Democrats to build better mass transit.

      You never watch Fox News do you? Or the news in general….

      • Chris

        Actually, I read any and every news piece I can- from realclearpolitics.com, politico.com, the Drudge Report, Railway Age and more online, to Trains and the New York Times in print, etc. I don’t watch Fox News. Yes, there are plenty of Republicans who use venomous language, and they should cut it out, but Democrats should also cut out the kind of language I quoted if they want to build great transit, especially after the last election.

    • Tommy Samson

      Republicans today don’t want to work with Democrats. See using the filibuster an unprecedented 89 times in a two-year span. The moderate Republicans of the Eisenhower era are a thing of the past.

      Maybe Dems need to become more like them; block everything they want purely for political gain, and spin the other party and their voting bloc as un-American moochers. It’d give them a taste of their own medicine. Too bad it’d be horrible for the country.

      • Chris

        Many Republicans do- check out Sen. Murkowski of Alaska voting for the DREAM Act, Sen. Burr of NC voting to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Sen. Snowe of Maine voting for Obamacare, etc.

        If you want to drive even those types away from any bipartisanship, keep up the nasty anti-Republican rhetoric, and in the process kill any chance of building good mass transit. Remember who will run the House of Representatives once the newly-elected members are seated?

        • Nathanael

          Murkowski’s being attacked full-bore by the right-wing of the Republican Party, Burr is ancient and likely to retire soon enough, and Snowe is very *VERY* out of place in the modern Republican party. She’d probably be happier as an independent. Despite which she’s been pulled more and more to crazy party-line right-wing voting by the Republican party whipping.

          Count the number of Republican votes for New START, and you have the number of potentially-sane Republicans left in the Senate. *It’s less than half of the party caucus*. Really, the party’s been taken over by nutters. I’ve been watching the sane people be driven out one by one.

          I was a big fan of Charlie Crist. Look what happened to him.

    • Henry

      They started it first. Remember Nixon, Watergate, and spying on the Democrats?
      If Watergate had never happened, then politics wouldn’t be as vicious (and the media would stop coming up with stupid names that rhyme with “Watergate”).
      I personally believe that neither Democrats or Republicans have the real solution to anything. Nothing gets done unless one party has filibuster-proof majorities in both houses. The parties need to stop fighting over ideology AND GET THINGS DONE.

    • If the kind of nasty language above would stop, then maybe Republicans would be more willing to work with Democrats to build better mass transit.

      That kind of nasty language is actually being generous. My view is that the institutional Republican Party is betraying the national security interest in service of the narrow vested interests of its paymasters in the Oil industry.

      As far as the Republican electorate, they are as susceptible to a well-funded campaign to target their existing habits of thought as the Democratic electorate is. It requires a well-organized movement to push back in order to reduce vulnerability to the professional opinion makers, and instead the so-called Conservative Movement as well as the more recent Tea Party rent-a-crowds have been organized and funded by the same people who are manipulating the opinions of the Republican electorate.

      • Chris

        Please read “Mad as He**” by Rasmussen and Schoen about the Tea Party; I’m not a member, but it’s not “rent-a-crowd”.

        I’m a Republican who is very very very strongly in favor of investments in HSR and mass transit, and I’ve been in government before (and frequently voted with liberal Democrats against my own GOP). With the language above, maybe I was a sucker and did the wrong thing with those votes.

        • Adirondacker12800

          If your delicate sensibilities are are so easily offended why aren’t you offended by the things that come out of elected Republican’s mouths on a fairly frequent basis?

        • I’ve read a blurb about it, I didn’t see any indication that they had followed the money invested into channeling that sentiment. And, indeed, Rasmussen would have a strong disincentive in following the money invested into channeling that sentiment.

        • The framing is absurd. The Republican party cannot be called on its willful obstructionism and blatant hypocrisy because doing so will drive Republicans away from doing what, precisely??

          Its your party, if you don’t like it being called on betraying national security in the interest of the profits of American Oil Companies and the wealth of Saudi Oil Princes, then its the Republican Party you’ve got to address.

          • Chris

            Totally fine if Democrats want to object to Republican policies and methods; that’s politics. What I’m objecting to is the nasty, incorrect and hateful language I see on this board. And now that the GOP will be controlling the House (and plenty of state governments), you’re only hurting your own party’s hopes of getting things done by using such language.

            • Nathanael

              1 — you haven’t given an example of “incorrect” language. If you find calling the nutters out on their nuttiness offensive, sorry you get the vapors, but it needs to be done.

              Perhaps you are simply confusing attacks on the current Republican leadership with attacks on all Republicans. I agree that there is an honorable tradition within the Republican Party. I believe such people are being forced out, one by one.

              2 — How do you think that this sort of language is going to “hurt our efforts”? People like Kasich and Walker, and indeed McConnell and Boehner, *don’t care* what sort of language they use. They have a (deranged) agenda, and they’re going to push it.

              If you mean that certain people who identify themselves as Republicans will get the vapors because their co-party-members have been rightly called out for their behavior, and will vote against the country’s best interests in a fit of pique — well, you could be right, but I like to think better of honorable people like LaHood and Mica.

    • On the contrary: NYC-style commuter rail is expensive and pointless in cities that are much smaller and less congested than New York. As a conservative, you should appreciate the large gains in cost cutting that could be achieved by cutting red tape (i.e. the FRA) and changing old-time operating practices and regulations (Buy American, ticket punchers, peak hour-oriented scheduling).

      • Chris

        I’m all in favor of commuter rail (and I have been on a local transit board that was considering commuter rail, and I strongly supported it). I’m saying that a few Amtrak trains don’t have enough ridership to cause a strong impact on voting patterns; you also need commuter rail, with high day-to-day ridership, in order to have enough ridership of voters to cause politicians to pay enough attention to rail issues.

        • Adirondacker12800

          High ridership barely has an impact in New York City, it’s not going to help much elsewhere.

        • Chris, you’re absolutely right that regions need commuter rail in order to increase support for transit. But the problem is that commuter rail, as done in North America today, is completely infeasible outside very large cities. The cost of restoring service to an existing line in the US is on the same order of the cost of building greenfield high-speed rail in the cheaper European countries.

          German railfan Hajo Zierke explains both the problems of American regulations and how low-cost commuter rail could be achieved using better regulations here. He gives a concrete example of a regional line in Medford, Oregon; you could construct similar plans in most other parts of the US using the same ideas.

  • Henry

    Even as the Brits painfully cut back their budgets, they’re properly investing in their infrastructure.
    Whereas, the American government is spending its ass off on everything else, and is turning an actual policy debate into some sort of sideshow. “Death panels” is the nightmare of 2009 – “wasteful” spending on HSR and maintence of roads and rails will be the nightmare of 2010.
    What is wrong with America these days?

    • Wad

      What is wrong with America these days?

      Two words: Dark Age.

      • We are one of the top oil producers in the world, which means that our Oil Producers have a lot of money to spend buying politicians. And we have the most corrupt political system in the industrial world, which means that its a lot easier to buy policy by buying politicians in the US than elsewhere in the high income nations of the world.

        As the biggest imported oil addict in the world, and given peak oil, the national interest runs directly counter to the vested interest of the Oil Companies. And it is very difficulty to convince someone that a position is in the right when their salary depends upon it being wrong.

  • Tim E

    Everything is political and will always be political. Does it hurt not having a huge influx of fed dollars (we committ more to build modern weapon systems then transportation), funding source that doesn’t at least keep up with Inflation (think gas US tax) or at least getting another multi year transportation or FAA or waterways bill finalized? Yes, But I put enough blame on both parties. However, transit is succeeding in the US where good arguments are being made to fund operations at the stae and local level.

    My biggest US HSR concern is getting shovels in the ground for Florida and California no later then 2012. Delays in those projets will have a very negative impact. Unfortunately, delays will have lot more to do with state/local infighting – think San Fran nimbyism if you want a good reason why the Feds & California are starting in the central valley or Florida incoming governor saving some face. I believe Mica will support those projects in due time and has already stated as such for the NE Corridor because they provide a transportation option that support large population centers while having the best chance of securing private funds, clientele that can pay a higher ticket fee as well as broad xsection of ridership to support first, business & coach class ridership. All very important when oil tops $120 a barrel in a couple of years. At the same time, he won’t support another a long distance Amtak train across Montana. I think this is exactly where US priorities should be at the moment.

  • Chris

    I think that support may be lacking for the additional Amtrak train across Montana due to the hundreds of millions of dollars that the host railroad, BNSF, would require the government to spend for additional sidings and the like so that the railroad will have enough capacity to host the train.

    I’m all in favor of spending hundreds of millions of dollars (and more) on Amtrak, but I’d rather spend it on the Northeast Corridor or another corridor with high ridership. Hundreds of millions for just a few hundred riders (at most) per day (for an Amtrak train in Montana) is a poor investment compared to hundreds of millions for thousands of riders per day (on the NE Corridor).

    • DBX

      Problems like this demonstrate the need for the United States to consider an open-access system for rail infrastructure. The rail companies would be relieved of the maintenance, capital burden and property taxes that go with owning the infrastructure; in return they’d be expected to bid for slots in an open-access arrangement, using infrastructure that’s owned by the federal government and state departments of transportation in much the same way as the interstate highway system. We’d get rid of the arbitrary political and administrative distinction between rail and other forms of transport at a stroke.

      There would be challenges; there always are. In Montana, a capacity problem has existed ever since the Milwaukee Road’s decision to abandon the MT/ID/WA portion of the Pacific Extension in 1979 despite having led all carriers in market share and speed to Seattle. The restoration of that lost capacity is a pressing issue no matter whether passenger operators use that track or not, and no matter whether they widen the Burlington’s routes or reopen the more direct Milwaukee route. The state of Washington is already taking matters into its own hands, working with BNSF towards reopening a portion of the Milwaukee.

      • Chris

        Interesting thought. Just playing devil’s advocate:

        * The freight railroads would have to be compensated for their tracks that the government would take

        * Most freight-only routes are fully built by private companies (although some get government help, admittedly); if the concern is ensuring adequate funding for passenger rail infrastructure, would we need to buy all rail lines, or just ones on which passenger trains operate?

        * How would we ensure that government spending on rail infrastructure is as efficient as that of freight railroads today, and immune from politics? Freight railroads have pretty strict return on investment formulae used to determine whether or not to invest in track upgrades.

        * Why would freight railroads go for this? They value their ability to run trains when they want to, on their own tracks. They’d have to be paid more than the tracks are worth to make it worthwhile.

        Personally, I’d rather that government just build separate tracks for passenger trains and leave freight railroads alone.

  • Chris

    Just wanted to add: Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, going around doling out HSR grants and more, is a Republican.

    • Nathanael

      And we love him. But are you sure he’s still a Republican? I would bet money he will never run for office as a Republican again.

      • And if he tried, he’d get smacked. At least until he came to his senses.

        After the Democratic coalition fell apart in the 1960s, it took nearly three decades for the party to come out of the woods. The current behavior of the GOP reminds me of the Democrats in 1970 (or possibly 1982)–a group, fresh off a major defeat, that rose a wave of enthusiasm during troubled times to a midterm election victory, not noticing that they were busily turning off the middle of the electorate.

        Of course, I could be wrong, and the center (and left) might abandon the Dems in 2012. But at this point, the contenders for the GOP nomination appear to be sorted into disjoint camps: Those who could beat Obama (Romney), and those who could win the GOP nomination (Palin, perhaps Huck). And plenty of guys who don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hawaii of doing either (Pawlenty, Gingrich), and a few guys that nobody even heard of outside of local politics a few months ago (Christie).

        The GOP now has to govern–and nowadays has a pissed-off base making demands. We know how well that turned out last time they tried.

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