The White House Stakes Its Political Capital on a Massive Intercity Rail Plan

» $53 billion proposed for investments over the next six years. The President wants to “Win the Future,” but will his Republican opponents relax their opposition to rail spending?

Vice President Joe Biden spoke in Philadelphia this morning to announce that the Obama Administration intends to request from Congress $8 billion in federal funds for the advancement of a national high-speed rail system as part of a six-year transportation reauthorization bill.

The White House’s commitment to fast trains has been evident throughout the Administration’s two-year lifespan, beginning with the addition of $8 billion for the mode in the 2009 stimulus bill and continued with $2.5 billion included in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget. Yet this new funding, which would add up to $53 billion over the six-year period, is remarkable for its ambition. It is clear that President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, already being framed in terms of “winning the future,” will hinge partially on whether voters agree with his assessment of the importance of investing in the nation’s rail transport infrastructure.

In his speech, Mr. Biden argued that American wealth was founded on “out-building” the competition. Infrastructure, he noted, is the “veins and the arteries of commerce.” The President and his team will be making this case to the American people the next two years, hoping that the public comes to endorse this message of national advancement through construction.

Whether the proposal — to be laid out in more detail with next week’s introduction the President’s full proposed FY 2012 budget — has any chance of success is undoubtedly worth questioning. Republicans have campaigned wholeheartedly against rail improvement projects in Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin; even Florida’s project, which would require no operating subsidies once in service, hangs in the balance. But as part of the larger transportation reauthorization legislation, which is apparently slated to move forward by this summer, a real expansion in high-speed rail funding seems possible, especially if Mr. Obama pressures the Democratic-controlled Senate to push hard for it.

Of course, as has become typical whenever anyone has announced new transportation investments, it is not yet clear what specific revenue sources would fund high-speed rail.

The $53 billion down-payment on intercity rail would be the first step in the White House’s goal to connect 80% of the country’s population to the mode in 25 years. Funding would be allocated through two accounts: One would essentially be a New Starts capital expansion fund that would construct new lines and stations; the other would renew the existing system to bring it within a state of good repair. Importantly, the latter fund would also “provide temporary operating support to crucial state corridors while the full system is being built and developed.” This implies that the Obama Administration believes that states will continue to be skeptical of funding train operations — so the federal government must step in until self-financing high-speed lines can pay for themselves.

The plan does not specify which corridors would receive funds if the money were awarded. This implies that spending would be distributed in the same manner that have been the U.S. DOT’s grants over the past year: Through merit-based awards ultimately allocated by the Secretary of Transportation.

Big projects — such as California’s High-Speed Rail line and Amtrak’s just-announced Gateway Tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan — would undoubtedly move forward, but Mr. Biden sketched out a vision of a high-speed network that is “modern, efficient, environmentally friendly, and truly national.” This suggests that the Administration will seek to invest in rail infrastructure across the country, not just in the densest areas.

This stance is likely to attract some Republican support, especially from people representing rural districts that rely on even once-daily trains: It is worth remembering that despite being put on the chopping block year after year by the Bush Administration, Amtrak managed to hang on to its federal support even when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate between 2002 and 2007.

Nonetheless, the Republicans at the helm of the House’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Railroads, John Mica (R-FL) and Bill Shuster (R-PA), respectively, immediately denounced the plan, suggesting that the Administration was supporting “snail-speed trains to nowhere.” It is not clear to me whether most Republican Party House members will feel this way about needed infrastructure investments in their districts, however, especially if they are combined with the highway funding also to be included in the six-year reauthorization bill.

Mr. Mica and Mr. Shuster latched on to their free-market contention that Amtrak is a “Soviet-style train system [that is a] failed… monopoly” and that only the private sector is capable of developing high-speed rail, a sentiment that may be appealing to their right-wing compatriots but is unrealistic considering that almost every train improvement project in the world has at least partially been aided by government investments.

They also repeated the now-familiar contention that the Obama Administration had been remiss in not finding adequate funding for the Northeast Corridor, whose renovation now appears to have bipartisan support. This could, as Benjamin Kabak and Jeremy Steinemann have written, be good news for projects such as the Gateway Tunnel. One can imagine a compromise in which Congressional Republicans agree to some funding for intercity rail in the transportation bill, as long as the majority of dollars go towards the Northeast Corridor.

Whatever the immediate success of the President’s proposal, Mr. Obama is making evident his plan to promote himself as the candidate for a renewed America, one in which the future is won through public investment in essential infrastructure. This represents a very real contrast to the political posturing of his Republican opponents, who have been staking their political cause on being opposed to government spending of almost any type. Mr. Biden concluded his speech with the following:

“If we do not take this step now, if we do not seize the future, you tell me how America is going to have the opportunity to lead the world economy in the 21st Century like we did in the 20th. We cannot settle. We are determined to lead again. And this is the beginning of our effort to, once again, lead the future.”

* The map at the top of this article represents my interpretation of what connecting 80% of America to the intercity rail network would mean; it is not based on any government publication.

150 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Mad Park

    Wake me up when there are 61 sponsors in the Senate and more than 220 in the House.

  • Glen

    Outstanding.. too bad Oberstar is gone and Mica is in charge and already complaining..to think we could have already had this funding with his bill

  • t1ewis

    yeah lets let the GOP have there way in there complete ousting of anything that is for peasants in there eyes.

  • Where is the map coming from? Is it from Biden’s speech, or is it your interpretation of what a map in the mold of what Biden’s proposing will look like?

    • Totally my interpretation. Excuse me if that’s confusing.

      • I honestly believe there has to be a coast to coast connection in there somewhere.

        But in general for the 53b plan this is far too many routes to start with.

        I would like to see the entire country covered of course, but getting CA up and running and getting VA and NC entirely into the NEC and the Pittsburgh extension of the Keystone is where I’d start.

        • Buckeyeman

          Yes, I’d start where you say you’d start too but don’t forget the Empire Corridor. We need to get that one extended to both Cleveland and Toronto. With the Keystone Corridor we need to look beyond Pittsburgh once service is extended there. there are many possibilities, especially considering the fact that One of the Chicago hub routes is proposed to run from Chicago to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and Detroit/Pontiac are all interesting possibilities.

      • Barry Gore

        I like this conceptual map graphic, in the subway style. It provides clarity on the corridors and cities to be connected. Thanks for keeping Madison in the mix. The quote on operating funds is also some good news, since opponents here in Wisconsin argue that $1.50 per person per year is too much (?), and Chicago to the Twin Cities has to be one of the ‘crucial corridors’. Not everything worth doing is ‘profitable.’ Let’s get over the bean counting and move our civilization forward.

        • While I understand the purpose behind the map, and and this suggestion goes beyond it–it might be nice if “ordinary” Amtrak services which aren’t scheduled for high-speed anytime soon, were overlaid on the map in some other color (and using a different line style).

  • BBnet3000

    I really don’t see many of these corridors taking off. Remember, we had passenger rail until the 60s in much of the country, but the subsidies just couldn’t continue. Sure, the demand will build for rail again as gas prices rise through the next few decades, but thats going to be local mass-transit first, before intercity rail.

    I’m with Mica in saying that we have to build where its most effective first. That means NEC and California. Im not even fully sold on California, and I live here.

    • “Im not even fully sold on California, and I live here”

      You’ve got to be kidding. If California had this system yesterday, it would be packed to the rafters. Too many people are pissed off flying between LA-SF Bay Area.And nobody in their right mind wants to drive I-5, I-15 or 99 during a holiday or bad weather.

      Add extensions to San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix and you’re going to see a maga-success.

      • Andrew

        Well how about Texas? We’re pretty annoyed with traveling on the NAFTA superhighway (aka I-35) between San Antonio and the Metroplex. I’d want to say Texas is 3rd in the market for High Speed Rail (tied with the midwest). At least our dictator (er… Rick Perry) isn’t getting federal funds for his mansion…
        At the very least, TxDOT needs to come up with a real plan on the routes and the level of improvements required (improved rail, pre-Acela NEC, true HSR?).

        • Texas isn’t on the list until their local politicians get involved and start spending money on rail themselves instead of just on highways.

          I’m against what the administration did for Florida too.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Florida has invested in HSR, they reserved space along I-4 for it. The right of way is already there, ready for trains. There won’t be any land acquisition costs.

        • Texas is behind California and the Midwest by any traffic-merit criteria. Florida jumped ahead of Texas, Pacific Northwest and the DC-Atlanta corridor in terms of funding because of foresight, geography, corporate partnership and timing.

          First, earlier Florida governors set aside Freeway median space to lower the cost for HSR. Second, the 82 miles between Tampa and Orlando can be built quickly at a demonstration cost ~$2.6B and the 232-mile Orlando-Miami segment can be built for $7B more, if Florida HSR uses the turnpike median to Ft. Lauderdale. Third, Walt Disney World committed to build its own HSR station — politicians always like to see that. Fourth, the timing was right for Obama to choose a project that would come online quickest (2015 in Florida) to couple with a longer more expensive project (2019 and later for California).

          At the end of the day, governor votes matter.

        • BruceMcF

          Texas doesn’t even have an alignment selected, let alone any preliminary planning done.

          Texas plus a Houston / DFW plan would definitely be in the top four … Texas without a plan of any sort is just not in a position to ask, and for project based capital grants, if a state doesn’t ask for the funds, the DoT can’t grant it.

    • Ocean Railroader

      I wouldn’t worry to much about gas prices jumping up to help gain supurt I would bet 100 bucks that gas prices will jump about $3.00 by this May and by next year will be above $3.50 a gallon and $4.00 the year after that.

      I hope they spend this money in the places that give them least compants first so that they can get high speed rail moving in Vriginia and Pennsyvinia.

    • Anon256

      There was widespread unsubsidised passenger rail in the US until the 60s; it mostly shut down because of subsidised competition in the form of freeways. Either shifting funds from freeways to rail, or even just sufficient rising gas prices, could easily make it viable again.

    • Glen

      There are almost 200 flights a day between NorCal and LA airports and 28 million people in these counties..at just the right distance apart and open land between..ITs going to be a major upgrade to travel and full and profitable

  • D. Rock

    BBnet3000: One of the most-used and reliable lines is the Hiawatha shuttle between Chicago and Milwaukee. Outside the Acela between NYC and DC, the fastest stretch of track is a segment between Chicago and Detroit. Rail is already effective in Chicago — as it has been for over 100 years. And it wasn’t purely market forces that killed rail: it was speed and safety regulations that were onerous yet necessary for mixing passenger and freight traffic.

    High-speed rail may not work for California, but it works in the NEC and it works in and around Chicago. Chicago’s rail hub will gladly accept any dollars Californians cannot use effectively.

    • “High-speed rail may not work for California”. You make a false argument.

      Amtrak Pacific Surfliner already operates at a profit and Capitol Corridor service is not far behind it and thats with less than 15 daily trains running at 79 mph top speed. Upgrades are coming to improve them.

      • Spokker

        “Amtrak Pacific Surfliner already operates at a profit”

        Not quite. Last I heard the San Diego-LA-Santa Barbara runs have a 70% farebox recovery ratio.

        Overall, the route achieves a 58% farebox recovery, slightly better than commuter rail.

        If you can get LA-SD down to two hours, I think the farebox recovery could hit 80%.

        • Spokker, you may be right today.

          But I’m certain that I read on Amtrak’s website nearly two years ago that Pacific Surfliner had achieved profitability. If I’m wrong then someone posted false info on their website.

          • The total operating costs, including allocated costs like station upkeep, have always been higher than revenue. Maybe what you read is that the route is profitable considering only avoidable costs?

          • orulz

            From what I’ve seen, Amtrak counts revenues received from states under the 403(b) plan towards their recovery ratios. So from a federal perspective, the recovery ratio is 100%.

            • Yes, and since I don’t have a single source of what those payments are from each state split into a per corridor basis, I have trouble getting an overall sense of what the operating ratios are on the regional corridors, some of which receive those state payments and some of which do not.

              AFAIR, its available for California in some detail, courtesy Amtrak-California, but harder to track down for other states.

              Of course, there is no doubt that the Hoosier will still look miserable, even with that information taken into account and the state-subsidized rail corridors showing much less impressive operating ratios.

          • “Maybe what you read is that the route is profitable considering only avoidable costs?”

            It is possible that I was mislead by the fine detail of how Amtrak reports accounting on its website. But I’m certain of the following point based on my visits to train stations in LA and SD, talking to Metrolink train commuters and my many frustrating drives along US-101 and I-5.

            If Santa Barbara-Oxnard-LA-Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego ran at 110 mph top speed, 80 mph average speed and 15 trains daily each way and 80% on-time performance, Surfliner operating revenue would be over 100% farebox recovery. Furthermore, if/when complimentary LA Metrolink & San Diego Coaster commuter trains are upgraded to 90 mph and half hour daily frequency, I-5 & 101 Freeway congestion would significantly reduce.

            Of course the anti-HSR and Rapid Transit forces don’t want that degree of Pacific Surfliner, Metrolink and Coaster upgrades. Instead, they want transportation funding for useless I-5 lane expansion in San Diego County that they mislabel as “Congestion Relief” .

            • That assessment, I don’t think I can disagree with. If anything, 80 mph average speed would lead to much more demand than could be provided by 15 tpd: the LA-SD time would be not much higher than projected for HSR, which will detour through the Inland Empire.

              The main problem, besides the FRA, is the coastal NIMBYs, who don’t want electrification to ruin their view. The anti-rail crowd isn’t really part of this game. A possibly even worse problem is that the single-track portion of the line can’t be expanded to two tracks easily, because it’s constrained by coastal bluffs.

              • Henry

                I remember reading somewhere that British DMUs can hit 140mph if the signalling infrastructure is there, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
                Honestly, I don’t understand why America doesn’t use DMUs more widely. They’re (relatively) cheaper to run, and it’s not like they have any major design flaws.

              • A portion of tracks in Northern San Diego COunty already have a 2nd track under construction. With about $300M more, SB-LA-SD can be two track, a few more overpasses/underpasses installed and 110 mph would be possible in some segments despite NIMBYs in some places.

              • @Henry, a lot of the benefit of DMU’s comes from being able to run out into the general rail network … but AFAIU, when you have to build the trains like tanks to run onto the general rail network, much of the benefit of the DMU’s from the ability to build lighter trains with distributed traction is lost.

                @Alon, on that point, is there a particular existing UIC crash standard that you’d accept as “good enough” for a PTC passenger rail with no heavy freight?

              • Bruce, the standard UIC rules should be good, period. But the FRA should think and look beyond and accept unmodified Japanese trains, for roughly the same reason it should mandate ETCS and not any of the national standards it’s replacing.

                Henry, British DMUs do not hit 140 mph. British electric trains do – though in practice they’re limited to 125 mph because of trackside signaling.

        • Ocean Railroader

          If it’s around 70% that is not to bad in that they could find away to add more passangers pur train or raise ticket prices three or four dollars as a whole to get up to 100% but I think if they added a few extra cars pur train they could get it to 100%.

          • BBnet3000

            Assuming that the Pacific Surfliner is like the Capitol Corridor, im going to guess that its way overstaffed.

            Seriously, how many people work on those trains? It seems way excessive especially seeing as they really dont need to check everyones ticket as fast as they do, because theres not that many stops outside of the East Bay flatlands.

            The other thing is, it would help a lot of they could get DMUs, to save money on fuel and even speed up service somewhat. Alon Levy rightly mentions FRA regulations often, because they are holding us back terribly on many important corridors.

            • BBnet3000, the overstaffing issue is mostly doe to the trains not running fast and frequent enough to draw enough patrons to make the numbers pencil out. I like your suggestion for DMUs too.

          • BruceMcF

            Get the speed up to Emerging HSR speeds and the transit speed better than many drivers, and the staffing cost per mile drop. At the same time, the demand increases.

            • Spokker

              Just based on my memory, I recall seeing two or three conductors and a cafe car attendant on each train.

              Metrolink trains get by with one conductor.

              • Yes, while cafe cars take space, they save staffing costs, since you only need one cafe car attendant instead of two or three people going through with carts.

                You of course need essentially a conductor allocated to first class conductor, of course, since first class passengers do not pay the extra money to wait for a conductor to walk up from the cheap seats. Whether that is a single person or different conductors swapping off is a matter for the operator to sort out which is more effective.

                Whether you need one or two conductors for the balance, I don’t know. It’d partly depend on the length of the train.

              • aw

                If you didn’t have a cafe car, you wouldn’t need a cafe car attendant, and you could add a car with revenue seats for those cart pushers to sell to.

                For a relatively short corridor, it makes sense to maximize the revenue space and the revenue opportunities.

              • Makes even more sense to maximize revenue than to maximize revenue opportunities.

                Once the corridor is pushing up against capacity, you may want to give up the cafe car for more seats, but in the first five years of introducing the upgraded quality of service, you want to grow the patronage as quickly as you can, and having the cafe car helps do that.

              • Bruce, nothing you propose is so complicated that it couldn’t be done with a single conductor per train, with occasional random ticket inspections. Works wonders in parts of the world that have progressed beyond ticket punching.

              • The question that was raised was regarding staffing.

                You can’t have a two hour plus trip without food and drinks available without cutting into patronage, and it take more staff to take carts around than it does to staff a baggage car.

              • First, Metro-North comes close to two hours without food.

                Second, I’m not complaining about cafe cars – not here. If the line’s traffic and seat occupancy aren’t at the point that it’s more efficient to lose the cafe car and put more seats, everything I said on CAHSR Blog is irrelevant.

                Third, when the trains are relatively short, one person with a cart should be enough. I think there’s just one person with a cart on Israeli trains, though you should not quote me on that.

              • For the California HSR, for example, it will be in patronage building mode for at least the first five years of operation.

                In that circumstance, the freedom to go to the cafe car rather than waiting for a cart to come your way is a competitive advantage over air travel.

                And its a minimum of two carts, since first class would require its own.

              • I really don’t want to restart that particular debate – especially not more than 80 comments into a thread. I’m just saying, high-speed rail and what is essentially a regional service have different cost issues to deal with. On CAHSR, they can expect around 800 passengers per train, and the cost of an employee is on the order of 2-3 tickets, depending on whether he’s a conductor (more) or a cart pusher (less). On the Surfliner, the corresponding numbers are around 100 and 6-10.

              • Max Wyss

                To BruceMcF: Why should first class have a differently stocked cart than second class?

                Also, how many passengers should be served in total by a cart?

              • Adirondacker12800

                Select Metro North trains still have bar cars. Rumor has it that they make money on them. But they are serving New Yorkers who don’t blink at the prices I’m sure they charge.

                There’s no reason why the person pushing the cart or staffing the cafe car has to be an employee of the railroad. Might be wise for safety reasons, they can assist in evaucuations etc. But there’s no reason why the operator of the train has to be the one to lose money on the food service.
                … and they probably will lose money on it. Everyone whines about there not being food service except when there is. They then whine about the high prices. Or worse, don’t patronize it at all which makes it lose even more money.

              • Max Wyss

                Actually, it is not very common that the restauration or minibar (that’s how the “cart” is very often called) is operated by the railroad, but by a railroad restauration company.

                In some cases, the minibar is even operated by a local restaurant. And I know of one place where the café car was operated by a group of railroader’s wifes.

                On the other hand, bar cars may be on the decline, because of the relatively high prices (caused by high investments/leases). It might become time to establish a bento / ekiben culture…

              • @Max Wyss, its not necessarily stocking, its service expectation ~ the first class passenger who has just boarded the train will not want to wait on getting served because the cart happens to be at the opposite end of the train.

              • Max Wyss

                If it is service expectation, have them pay for this service (via fare). Sounds simple and fair enough for a “premium” product.

              • Yes, that is the expectation. The greater the demand for the first class fares, the less need there will be in revenue management to offer first class discounts for off-peak first class fares.

                The better the first class QOS meets the expectations of prospective first class passengers, the greater the demand for first class fares will be.

            • Don

              Yes. The faster the speed, the more turns you can get out of the equipment and employees. Also, the value of the service goes up so you can collect more revenue per pass-mile.

    • Eric G

      “High-speed rail may not work for California”

      Actually, California is perfect for HSR. Given the amount of flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay or Sacramento, and add the fact that these are reasonable distances to make HSR an attractive alternative to flying…HSR in California makes a lot of sense.

      • Wad

        There’s also another reason HSR is perfect.

        No airline is willing to do LAX-Bakersfield-Fresno-SFO flights. HSR allows for more station pairs, which allow for more ridership.

        The business case of HSR doesn’t have to rely on LAX-SFO trips alone.

      • D. Rock

        I wasn’t saying I did not think it would work; rather, I reserved judgement. Amazing: do any of you guys argue for work? I do, and rule #1 is not to take a position on an issue you are not addressing. I was taking a position on HSR in and around Chicago — and nothing else.

    • FG

      I’d love for Chicago-Milwaukee to get a bit more love; Metra extension to Milwaukee and dramatically higher speeds on the Hiawatha proper (and more departures and lower fares)- it can’t be that hard to achieve.

      I think another thing that killed rail was too much competition (like the multiple Bronx subway lines or some London Underground lines at a metro scale) – there were only so many passengers and they would’ve kept one line busy but were too few for many lines.

      • In the next round of funding, I hope that the proposed 200-220 mph St. Louis-Chicago line extends to Milwaukee.

        As I recall the Wisconsin governor did not complain about Hiawatha and I think he’s savvy enough to welcome nearly $1 billion to enhance 40-ish miles between Milwaukee and Illinois state line for such a project. Heck, he might welcome it as a lifesaver to voters by saying I held our the real HSR project that Wisconsin needed.

        Such a line makes sense because it help the USDOT and IDOT justify the huge expense to build the underground electric train station connecting the Oglive Transit Center and Union Station. Future 200-220 mph electric train extensions would go from Milwaukee to Minneapolis and from Chicago to Indy, to Detroit and eventually to Cleveland.

  • Aaron Z.

    I’m still very wary about Mica and co. arguing for investment only in the NEC region. Let’s not forget that John McCain used to argue for getting rid of all non-NEC service. Arguing that all investment should be centralized in the NEC is just another way of trying to have Amtrak’s national route network slowly die out. Without expansion or service improvement, other routes will continue to languish and any new routes would necessarily be somehow linked to the NEC.

    The biggest problem for an national route system right now is that we’re not built for it. Major investments will be needed in capacity expansion and station upgrades. Just as the NYC subway is difficult because of its legacy in three different operators, so too is the national rail network. A good example is Chicago’s Union Station (though the ARC/Gateway Tunnel is another good case). These sorts of projects are difficult because they rarely directly impact more than one or two congressional districts. But in reality, they are probably more important than many corridor improvement projects. Consider this: Even if trip times on the Chicago-St. Louis route improve to 4 hours flat (40 minutes below current estimates), CUS is at full capacity, which would mean no new trains on the route.

    • Avi

      Aaron, you assume we should have a national network. The long distance routes that make up a national network will never be competitive in speed or cost with airlines. You don’t see European HSR routes running from London to Istanbul, so why should the US run lines from Chicago to Portland(both roughly 2k miles).

      Those long distance lines are for leisure travel, and subsidies for rural residents. They should be funded accordingly and not funded from the same pool as import infrastructure like the corridor routes mentioned throughout the comments.

      • Loren Petrich

        However, some long-distance routes can be interpreted as concatenations of HSR-friendly corridors. Europe now has a route that’s mostly HSR line: London – Paris – Lyon – Montpellier – Barcelona – Madrid – Sevilla. It’s 1700 mi / 2800 km. Extending the ends to Glasgow and Cadiz gives another 500 mi / 800 km, to 2200 mi / 3600 km.

        Looking at various US HSR propsals, one can assemble various proposed HSR lines into lines with similar length in the eastern half of the US (east of Minneapolis – San Antonio). It’s hard to justify extending them much further west, however, because of the extremely thin population.

      • Avi,

        You raise an important issue for debate, “Long distance rural lines should be not funded from the same pool as important infrastructure.”

        This gets at one of the major flaws of the Obama-Biden announcement. They keep limping 90 mph rural upgrades in with 110 mph Emerging HSR and 150-220 mph Express HSR lines. Those rural 90 mph lines should never be lumped in with the 110-220 mph lines, since the former don’t provide huge national benefits.

        I believe that a non-partisan National Infrastructure Bank would award there projects 50% or less federal funding.

      • Of course they will never be competitive with airlines: they don’t compete with flying. Their average trip distance is 600 miles, and many of their origins or destinations do not have an airport.

        People see a line on a map and think the service is to connect the ends with each other, when the service being provided is primarily overlapping trips along the way.

        • Serious question (not just being argumentative here): if you exclude corridor-style trips at the ends of the Empire Builder, i.e. trips that don’t go west of St. Paul and east of Spokane, then what’s the average trip distance? It would have to be somewhat higher, since Chicago-St. Paul is the busiest city pair on the line and is shorter than 600 miles, but I don’t know how much higher.

          • First, what is the point of taking off the highest demand trips, with respect to the point that its not the end to end trips that are in highest demand?

            Is it salient to the point of competition of the Empire Builder in particular with airlines? The flagstops in North Dakota and Montana are still not primarily competing against air travel.

            And I seriously doubt that taking one trip pair on one long-haul corridor will do much to shift an average across all long-haul routes.

            • Yes, it is actually salient – it would mean that the Empire Builder consists of 1-2 corridor segments in which investment is good, and a long segment in the middle that wouldn’t be competitive with anything, ever.

              • Yes, the middle segments would be uncompetitive with other modes on the outer ends.

                However they aren’t competing with other modes on the outer ends, they are competing with the more limited range of options available in the middle segments.

                The middle segment is, of course, where a service like the Empire Builder comes closest to competing effectively with air transport ~ given the choice between driving a hundred miles or more to a regional airport with a limited range of alternatives or flying out of a local airport that has very few and very high priced connectors to a hub.

              • You keep using the phrase “of course” to exalt a service with a mode share in the single digits.

              • “You keep using the phrase “of course” to exalt a service with a mode share in the single digits.”

                I see two usages up there. The first one agrees with Avi that the long haul routes do not compete with airlines, and should be judged by the parts of the market they do serve, rather than by the parts of the market that they do not serve.

                Of course, since air travel is not the sole inter-metropolitan transport mode, the fact that long haul conventional rail is not typically in competition with air travel does not imply that it is only rural and leisure travel being served.

                However it is certainly true that for most of its patronage, its competing with driving and the doggie for trips of 600 miles on average.

                The second one notes the obvious point that the importance of each service area to Amtrak patronage on a particular long-haul route is not the same as the importance of the Amtrak long haul route to each service area. The Amtrak service is more important to the North Dakota and Montana communities served than it is to the Chicago to Saint Paul corridor, even though there is more patronage in the latter.

                For an electrified Rapid Freight Rail network, where a national network is justified under current conditions, and the case only becomes stronger when we take into account crude oil prices above $3/gallon, the option of long haul 110mph Rapid Passenger Rail service as an option is a side effect of the network quality of service requirements to capture half the long haul truck freight market.

                But for those corridors, the selection of alignments is by freight demand, and the Empire Builder would be third in line behind a Gadsen Purchase alignment from LA to DFW and points east and a SLC alignment from SF and the Pacific Northwest to Denver and St. Louis and points east.

      • I think this frames the issues it touches on as a false dichotomy.

        First, the question is competing against status quo intercity transport modes, not competing against air travel alone. For example, while the Express HSR Madrid/Barcelona route has sliced a massive share of previous airplane transport … about as many of its passengers are those who would have previously driven as those who would have previously flown.

        In appropriate corridors for each, Express HSR and Regional HSR will both take out substantial intercity transport market share. If a funding slice is to be provided for “real HSR”, Regional HSR should be qualified for some part of that slice. They both compete against both driving and flying, though the Express HSR takes in routes where flying has larger shares of the market, so a larger portion of their passengers will be those who would otherwise fly.

        Second, I’m perfectly fine with calling the “Emerging HSR” tier “Rapid Rali”, if this helps undermine the efforts to ignore the Regional HSR tier. This tier draws almost exclusively from road transport, whether car or bus, from conventional rail, and from those previously excluded from traveling through lack of viable alternatives … indeed, in its strongest corridors, the cities being served are so close together that intercity bus mode share is often greater than rail mode share.

        But suggesting suggesting that Amtrak only caters to rural and leisure travel needs, and also setting everything that is not Express HSR as being in this category, is a shell game: these corridors will primarily cater to intra-regional intercity transport, though they will of course also provide a substantial improvement to rural transport options in the rural areas that they pass through between cities.

        So while, yes, we do need to have distinct pools of funding for “real HSR” and for preserving rural transport options, framing it in that way suggests that this covers the whole range of needs, which ignores a big chunk of the intra-regional intercity task.

  • “I’m still very wary about Mica and co. arguing for investment only in the NEC region. Let’s not forget that John McCain used to argue for getting rid of all non-NEC service. Arguing that all investment should be centralized in the NEC is just another way of trying to have Amtrak’s national route network slowly die out.”

    You raise valid caution about Mica.

    Good Mica makes a few good points that anyone can reasonably support or debate For example, Amtrak should offload autotrain to freight train companies, ditch low traffic corridors, and focus only Express HSR routes.

    Bad Mica engages in selective amnesia about why Amtrak HAD to support low traffic corridors to curry enough political support to survive Republican onslaught from President Bush and his anti-HSR cronies. Nor does Bad Mica acknowledge that Amtrak, prior to President Obama, was never funded to build multiple Express HSR lines that could operate at a profit.

    Though NEC should receive the highest funding amount, I question why Mica remains fixated only on that corridor, when intercity passenger rail has proven demand with lackluster 79 mph lines for Chicago hub, California and Pacific Northwest.

    Most of all, Bad Mica doesn’t have the balls to stand up to his party and tell them there is real demand to invest $90B/6 years to build/upgrade these Phase 1Express HSR corridors:

    Boston-New Haven-NYC-Philly-Baltimore-DC-Richmond-Raleigh-Charlotte-Atlanta
    Milwaukee-Chicago-St. Louis
    Chicago-Detroit
    Vancouver-Seattle-Portland-Eugene
    Tampa-Orlando-Ft. Lauderdale-Miami
    SF-LA
    LA-Las Vegas

    • Ocean Railroader

      I don’t think we should put all of our eggs in one basket on the NEC. They should instead go after several major bottle necks on the NEC such as the double track bridges across the Potamic River and the Susahanna Rivers and replace them with four track bridges and dig new tunnels in Baltomore and that tunnel in New Jersey they could most likely do these major bottle neck removal projects for say 25 billion and leave it at that for now. But they should alos consder extending the NEC high speed rail and catenary down from Washington to Richmond and Norfolk for the time being for maybe five billion.

  • Dexter

    The president has said that High-Speed Rail is necessary for the future, but will the GOP listen? Or will they continue to drone,”It’s too expensive, no one will ride it, everyone drives a car.” The roads in many suburban areas are already clogged during peak periods and the cost of gasoline is rising.

    • Buckeyeman

      In an answer to your question, the answer is HELL NO! The right wing owns the Republican Party as never before and these Teabaggers run the show now. they want things the way they want them and that’s all there is to it.

      • Jason

        Sadly, I think you’re right. I think there are probably some Republicans who support rail, quite a few actually, but they’ll vote the way their party does, which is generally opposed to spending any money on transit that doesn’t go to highways or airports.

      • Last time I checked, the President and Senate are controlled by Democrats. That means no Transportation funding authorization will be extended without compromise by both parties.

        The new Tea Party Congresspersons are about to get an age-old lesson in Washington Budget Politics: They must give something (Transit & HSR funding) they don’t want) in order to Get something (Highway and Airport funding) they do want.

        If Tea Party folks from VA, NC, SC, GA, TN, AL, IN, KY and MI have half a brain, they should support HSR for high-traffic projects in their state that connect with DC, Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta. Thats what savvy PA Repubs are doing. If more of them don’t, when gas at the pump hits $5 gallon in 2012-13, they will be on the hot seat. Heck, even Fox News has that bet covered with its tepid support of HSR.

        • Buckeyeman

          Well, Thomas D, those Tea Party folks you’ve mentioned don’t have half a brain then. Those small minds of theirs are simply way too determined to take this country backwards to see any other viewpoint but their own. And just you wait until the 2012 elections. Amrak,HSR and transit will be history because the Republicans will be taking control of the Senate, the White House and gaining even more seats in the House. The tea Party will be going after control over our Federal and state governments with a vengeance. I sure hope I’m wrong but unforunately I wasn’t about the 2010 elections.

          • 2010 was a midterm election, at which lots of people who aren’t old, rich, and white don’t bother to vote.

            At this point, and its way too early to tell, really, the election is Obama’s to lose. The Senate could tip, as most of the seats in play are held by Democrats. The House? Who knows–it could easily swing back to the Dems.

            • The House can not easily swing back to the Dems, but it will certainly swing back toward the Dems.

              • Avi

                Bruce, the house can always swing back since every seat is always up for election. Compare that with the Senate where only 1/3rd are up for any given election. It would have taken a clean sweep for the Republicans to win the Senate last time. While the Democrats can lose a bunch of seats and still retake the house next election.

    • Galls

      Does the fact that suburban and urban roads a clogged have anything to do with intercity rail? No, it only supports urban and suburban transit. Intercity transit is such a damn tiny portion of the US transportation profile that I have not idea why it is always seen as the first form of transit to invest in.

      • If you don’t get the need for HSR in America, you need to travel abroad to Asia and Europe. And do you think its wise to amplify modes of transportation that ARE pushing Americas dependency on Foreign Oil past 90%?

    • Ocean Railroader

      A lot of the Tea party people think that we can keep living like in the 1950′s and 1960′s and that is not transport alone things are far different then they where back then our county has two to three times more people living in it then back then. I find it comical how they compain every time they want to a building project that will imporve life to move traffic along. I kind of suspect that they are getting large amounts of funding form the oil companies trying ot keep the dying way off life going.

      • Galls

        If oil skyrockets in price 5 years from now and electric cars do not replace oil dependent cars in current use patterns, then where would this $53 billion be best spent? Intercity or intracity?

        -The clear answer is intracity by a large margin. Making this a bad investment.

        • Beta Magellan

          I’m sympathetic to the argument that we should be putting prioritizing urban transit over intercity rail, but the only place I’ve heard an argument about this was in Chicago, right after the stimulus passed. In reality, the debate isn’t investment in urban transportation vs. investment in HSR, but HSR versus roads, runways and Ryan.

          • To put a more accurate point on it …

            The debate isn’t investment in Transit vs. HSR. Nor is maintaining Highways & Airports vs. Transit & HSR. If more politicians were honest (like Obama is trying to be on this subject), we are under-investing in Transit and HSR relative to our global economic competitors.

            Instead of getting $9-$10B/year, Transit should be getting $20B/year investment. HSR should be get $10B/year in 2011 and ramp to $15B/year by 2015 and $20B/year by 2020.

            There should be debate to better focus the current $42B/year spent on Highways to improving traffic flow of EXISTING lanes and transitioning those lanes to better encourage electric cars, CNG/biofuel/ buses and trucks.

            The debate should include, why despite spending $16B/year on aviation, many airport runways have fallen into disrepair and we’re moving at a snails pace implementing the NextGen Air Traffic Control System.

            We have the federal and state taxes to do it, but its a matter of priorities. We can continue wasting an extra $20-30B/year on defense or invest that $20-$30B sustainable domestic energy powered Transit and HSR that:

            1. Helps eliminate trade deficits caused by importing oil.
            2. Helps eliminate oil dependency from transportation.
            3. Significantly lowers carbon dioxide emissions contributing to climate change.
            4. Significantly lowers nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic and particulate pollution to improve air quality and public health.
            5. Produces hundreds of thousands of jobs operating Transit and HSR that can never be outsourced to other nations.
            6. Reduces auto traffic to avoid adding freeway/tollway lanes in our Top 100 Metro Areas that cost way more to build and maintain per passenger-mile.
            7. Reduce regional flights in large airports, open airport capacity for longer flights and minimize taking land for airport expansion.

            If we don’t do these things faster, we will Lose the Future!

            • Wad

              ThomasD, add No. 8:

              HSR will catalyze new economic transactions that it won’t necessarily collect.

              HSR will influence property prices, leisure travel, and even commute patterns corresponding to its speed advantage.

              It would also help comparative advantage between HSR cities. HSR hubs will be very high-cost cities. A 500-mile end-to-end trip still makes it possible to complete a round trip in a single day. Some activities in the high-cost city would shift to a lower-cost metro area, while a lower cost metro area can gain easy access to a high-value market.

        • Eric G

          Galls,

          The problem is, that you’re arguing on a logical fallacy here.

          So, because intercity travel is a small part of the budget, as you claim (without any support), I don’t see why it doesn’t merit attention and investment. Are you saying that intercity transit should be completely neglected then? So, you don’t support maintaining airoports and interstate highways either?

          BTW, are you aware that many US airports, like JFK, EWR, ORD, LAX, and DFW are overcrowded and face long flight delays? Are you aware that the vast majority of our intercity travel in this country is DOMESTIC? Are you aware that many airlines have reduced -or even eliminated- their service in smaller cities? Clearly, there’s a gap that neither automobile travel nor airline travel can fill, but passenger rail CAN if it’s done right: if it’s fast and independent of freight rail.

          While I wouldn’t endorse EVERY line in the map presented above, HSR is an excellent mode of transport that should be seen as a COMPLEMENT to road, air travel, intraurban transit, etc, and not as a competitor.

          • Galls

            Look, the air travel system is for the vast majority of the country still below capacity, a dollar invested in the air system for most of that 80% still yields much more economic value than the an investment in the rail system.

            As for the NEC and perhaps even cali, I would argue that that is pretty much Intraurban rail and it is at that margin that rail investment is a better economic value than air.

            • aw

              But how viable will the aviation system be as the price of fuel increases? Rail becomes more attractive with increasing fuel prices, due to its higher efficiency.

            • That is ignoring the economic risks faced by the nation.

              Aside from the risk of another financial crisis, because we refused to take out the trash after the last one, the other big risk is an oil price shock.

              Additional subsidy for air transport encourage reliance on the transport sector that is most exposed to oil price shocks.

        • Thing is, if we set up the argument that way, it means we are either condemned to an obsolete oil-dependent local transport system or an obsolete oil-dependent intercity transport system.

          Instead, the question ought to be, for local transport, how should it best be spent?

          And for intercity transport, how should it best be spent?

        • Wad

          Galls, you’re not looking at it as intercity vs. intracity — you’re looking at it as capital costs vs. operating costs.

          Only deeply impoverished societies are forced to make this choice. And wouldn’t you know it, they are still stuck in poverty.

          If you don’t think intercity connections are as important, look at closed societies vs. interconnected societies. Closed societies, more often than not, are the most economically stultified.

          One hallmark of a closed society is the operating vs. capital divide. Operating costs eat the lunch of capital costs.

          In the case of intracity transport, operating costs are the budget busters. One characteristic of operating costs is that they are for goods, services and labor already rendered. You cannot recover operating costs that already have been spent.

          Now, if you want to fund intracity transit, and knowing the costs will go to operations, do you then put your money into growth (cities with poor transit service to make them good) or value (cities with mature, built-up systems and proven ridership)? A growth in intracity transport is capital-intensive. A value system is operations-intensive.

  • NikolasM

    As Daniel Burnham once said, “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”:

    http://img694.imageshack.us/img694/8036/hsrmapv2.jpg

  • eldondre

    we need targeted investment that proves rail ridership. in my mind, the nec is first and foremost as well as the branches off of it (montreal, virginia, pittsburgh, buffalo, etc). outside that, chicago-st louis-milwaukee, chicago-detroit, out west, start with LA-San diego so the train is at least faster than driving. improve trip times along portland-seattle-vancouver such that there are at least four trips a day to vancouver. in texas it’s more problematic because they don’t have enough built but clearly the city pair to beat there is dallas-houston. put the rest on a second rung..if ridership jumps significantly on those routes as they improve, you will see more support.

  • Woody

    Get real, Galls. Intercity rail is the LAST form of transit to be invested in. Spending on highways and air travel is always on Automatic, the High setting. Maybe you don’t see discussion of the tens of billions lavished on those forms of transport, but there it is, every year.

    It’s the old definition of news: Dog bites man, not news. Man bites dog, that’s news. So, we regularly, automatically spend $50 billion or $100 billion year after year on highway and air travel — not news. Consider possibly investing $5 billion or $10 billion a year on a faster, cleaner, better way to travel between cities — hey, that’s news!

  • TomA

    The thing is that the feds have a relatively clear role in high speed rail, which is usually interstate, whereas their role in intracity is not as clear.

    In other words – it makes alot more sense for the Feds to worry about this than to stick their nose in local transport issues beyond making relatively low cost loans available.

    Yes, $50 billion would be better spent upgrading intracity systems, but that is for the cities and states to come up with, not the federal government.

    • So why not force the rural counties to pay their far share of taxes for more Highway maintenance? Today they poach off urban neighbors pay far more in per capita taxes than ruralists in the same state.

      Okay thats not the answer either because it divides rural vs urban. And of course Congress and governors will lean towards their district or state constituency, not a national constituency like our global economic competitors.

      Thats why we need a non-partisan, professional National Infrastructure Bank to fund the Transportation, Energy, Water and Sewage projects based on total merit (not just short term financial costs) to our national interests, not just some Republican or Democrat who likes to pose at freeway ribbon cuttings.

    • Brandi

      Seriously it seems like everybody’s favorite word nowadays is boondoggle.

      • Brandi

        Meant to put that on the comment below here about the snail trains to nowhere.

      • Jason

        Boondoggle means “I don’t care for this program”.

        • Boondoggle means, “I am fighting for funding for my preferred status quo boondoggle, and if everything if viewed as a boondoggle, it improves my chances of keeping the gravy train running”.

      • Wad

        My thinking on why boondoggle is popular, especially among rail haters, is the “oo” sound.

        You’ll hear the same people call trains “choo choos” — with that distinctive “oo”.

        Why do those two words appeal? It’s baby talk — the same as “goo goo gaa gaa”.

        It’s an adult’s desire to regress to the simple brain processing power of infancy.

  • Eric G

    “snail-speed trains to nowhere.”

    Clearly John Mica (R-FL) and Bill Shuster (R-PA) don’t actually *believe* this when the say it.

    They’re just trying to rally their base of voters, the vast majority of whom have never taken a HSR train in Europe or East Asia, and therefore have an outdated impression of rail travel..that’s it’s slow.

    The “nowhere” is the part that really says it all. HSR connects major cities, like say Boston and DC to NYC. I don’t think most people would regard New York City as a “nowhere”.

    I just love how Republicans have turned the “bridge to nowhere” around to criticize EVERYTHING Democrats propose. Somehow, connecting, say, tens of millions of people by HSR in the Northest, or California, or the Chicago region…or connecting 5 million residents in northeast NJ to Manhattan with the ARC/Gateway tunnel…somehow these projects are comparable to the bridge proposal in Alaska that would have connected just a few thousand people in Ketchikan to 50 people on Gravina island and an airport with a handful of flights per day.

    Republicans never cease to amuse.

    • You misunderstand their criticism of the plan. They don’t think HSR is snail-speed trains to nowhere; they actually support HSR, especially in the Northeast. What they’re posturing against is the insistence of the FRA and the administration on branding 90 mph Amtrak-plus service as a type of HSR. And they’re completely right on that point. Where they’re wrong is that non-HSR service could be successful, as long as it’s run the way express trains are run in Central Europe and not the way Amtrak and the FRA are used to.

      • Alon,
        I want to believe that Mica and Shuster are pro 180-220 mph HSR. But I’ve not heard either one offer support beyond the NEC, even though we know:

        California
        Milwaukee-Chicago-St-Louis
        DC-Atlanta
        LA-Las Vegas
        Eugene-Portland-Seattle-Vancouver

        are also 180-220 mph successes just waiting to open.

  • TomA

    I think what Mica is saying is that instead of throwing money away in Madison or Tampa (which I guess is nowhere to him) we SHOULD be putting in in Cali or NYC.

  • Brandi

    Mica is only interested in grandstanding and getting attention for himself. His comments are downright ignorant. For example “soviet style” train, I guess he has never heard of the Moscow to Saint Petersburg line. His trains to nowhere comments are just offensive to place as well. Let me translate what he is saying “yea we’re all for high speed rail as long as the government doesn’t pay a dime and it is paid for by private companies.” Which it is why it is not surprising that Republicans cut all funding for HSR in their proposed budget.

    • Brandi,
      Mica knows that not a single HSR line can be built with only private funds. Since he doesn’t have the kahunas to tell his party that, he issues disparaging remarks about or ignores other lines. Yet he wants to claim credit for being a HSR supporter.

      Though he openly promotes enhancing NEC HSR, he won’t make a stand for 185-220 mph California, Florida or Illinois (coming) projects, even though they fit the definition of world-class HSR. At the end of the day, Mica’s a slippery eel who doesn’t want to be pinned down further than the NEC, in case his party steals (oops, I meant wins) another Presidential election. He can always say “I supported a profitable HSR line” in the largest corridor.

      • OTOH, he was a co-sponsor of Oberstar’s bill.

        I expect he’s making an ambit claim: against the White House ambit claim of $8b/yr, he’s making an ambit claim of nothing outside the NEC, to strengthen his hand in bargaining with Sen. Boxer.

        • ” … he’s making an ambit claim of nothing outside the NEC, to strengthen his hand in bargaining with Sen. Boxer”

          Perhaps. But if Mica really wants to strengthen Republicans cards, he shouldn’t waste political the biggest cat (California) that he can’t win.

          If he’s Machiavellian in HSR Phase 1, Mica could maintain his national HSR credibility, support Repub job creation claims in 3 swing states, and put the squeeze on further Midwest and Pacific Northwest HSR funding. To do so, Mica only needs to support 180-220 mph NEC, California, DC-Charlotte and Orlando-Miami projects. Significant miestones can be achieved with $53B of federal funds + $11B of local match. Then Mica gets to claim he’s the Consigliere who only supported true HSR lines he knew would be profitable, while kissing off 110 mph starter lines everywhere else.

          I don’t want to see Mica screw the rest of the Northeast, Midwest, LA-Vegas and Pacific Northwest. Nor do I think Obama and Reid would let him get away with it. But it might be Mica’s opening gambit in negotiation.

          • If its an ambit claim, there’s no guarantee he intends to win on that point ~ if he’s perfectly happy to see California funded but wants to kill off the Regional HSR and Rapid Rail projects most likely to succeed, to prevent those projects from taking off, he wouldn’t say he’s happy to see California funded … he’d make HSR supporters expend political capital defending California HSR to leave them in a weaker position to defense Regional HSR and the Rapid Rail projects that threaten to lay the foundation for Regional HSR.

          • Also, I see no evidence that Mica is more interested in strengthening the Republicans cards than he is in strengthening Mica’s card individually.

        • ” … he’s making an ambit claim of nothing outside the NEC, to strengthen his hand in bargaining with Sen. Boxer”

          Perhaps. But if Mica really wants to strengthen Republicans cards, he shouldn’t waste political the biggest cat (California) that he can’t win.

          If he’s Machiavellian in HSR Phase 1, Mica could maintain his national HSR credibility, support Repub job creation claims in 3 swing states, and put the squeeze on further Midwest and Pacific Northwest HSR funding. To do so, Mica only needs to support 180-220 mph NEC, California, DC-Charlotte and Orlando-Miami projects. Significant milestones can be achieved with $53B of federal funds + $11B of local match. Then Mica gets to claim he’s the Consigliere who only supported true HSR lines he knew would be profitable, while kissing off 110 mph starter lines everywhere else.

          I don’t want to see Mica screw the rest of the Northeast, Midwest, LA-Vegas and Pacific Northwest. Nor do I think Obama and Reid would let him get away with it. But it might be Mica’s opening gambit in negotiation.

  • Tim E

    The politics alone on this will be fascinating enough the next coming months.

    I think Mica, like all good politicians, sees as an opening for good old horse trading. Something that a few sly politicians still do well. First, FL got the Orlando/Tampa line in the bag. It is going happen as soon as they strike a deal with the builder/operator who offers the best up front deal at the fare box. Second, any multiyear deal is going to include a share for Orlando/Ft. Lauderdale/Miami line. In other words, he is going to deliver big for FL without one word about his home state.

    Some of the questions on my mind, will Midwest and the Richmond/Raliegh/Charolette/Atlanta corridor get a meaningful investment out of the proposal or will they fight for the scraps? Will you see a bulge of grants for a given area for a given transportation modes? In other words – Texas seeing the bulk of any new airport grants? Highway state funds formula tweaked to give more money to rural hwys while reducing coastal states/urban share? Will transit new starts take a plunge? Will small airport subsidies stay in place while Amtrak long distance trains are slashed?

    • Highway funds “tweaked” to increase the already disproportionate rural highway funding?

      More like a fight to retain the present gravy train for rural highway funding.

    • Tim E,

      Since Texas is late getting their act together, maybe DC-Richmond-Raleigh-Greensboro-Charlette-Greenville-Atlanta corridor will get an extra helping.

      The dreamer in me would love to see the latter corridor designated for 180-200 mph service, but the realist in me anticipates 110 mph service in Phase 1 funding.

      • Don

        For Charlotte to Atlanta to happen, somebody would have to convince South Carolina that it’s the 20th century now. (telling them it’s the 21st century might just be more than they can handle.) And, somebody would have to wake the governor of Georgia up. Eight years of snoozing by the last gov. looks like it’ll be followed by 4 more years by the current guy.

  • carless in pdx

    What? Gas prices on the west coast are already $3.30/gallon – they haven’t been below $3 for about a year. We need driving alternatives years ago!

    • Spokker

      It’s $3.39 where I live, North Orange County, CA.

      This is where they cut bus service and abandon plans for a rapid bus network. The money for the rapid bus network came from a clean air grant and they diverted it to signal synchronization.

  • Henry

    Why don’t we just reform the FRA regulations on weight and speed limits? In the 50s trains were perfectly capable of 90+, even 100+ mph service, so I see no reason why that isn’t feasible now. It’s also a lot cheaper than straightening the alignments of existing lines (and “upgrading” them to speeds that were achieved 50 years ago).

    • Henry,
      FRA regulation reform would be a significant plus, but there’s a larger question to address. Why invest big to achieve 150+ mph rather than cheap for 110 mph achieved years ago?

      But when the French and Japanese speeded corridors from 124-155 mph to 168 mph and higher average speeds, they became even much profitable by enabling more sub-3 business hour trips in 500 mile corridors. They also saved big on highway and airport construction and oil imports. Now Asia and Europe are building more 168-224 mph corridors throughout their networks by 2020-25. They are seizing the big carrots, while certain politicians hinder progress on these shores.

      • Why invest in 125mph+ RATHER THAN up to 110mph?

        No reason. They serve distinctive transport markets in and are complementary, investing in the best corridors for both provides more benefit to each dollar invested in each than investing in one or the other.

    • Don

      The FRA. Hmmmm. Their boss is LaHood. I don’t think he really understands what the issues are here, so I wouldn’t get my hopes up. When he says things like the investment in HSR may include a few segments of “nowhere to nowhere” to start ala the interstate highway network’s start, does he not understand the interstate network was inter-operable with the existing network? HSR links only work if there is interoperability and his folks down at the FRA don’t seem to willing to smooth the way.

      Why can’t we have the 90-100 mph service of the 1950s?

      Simply put, a lot of the RR they ran on is not there. Sure most of the routes are there, but the curves have been flattened and extra tracks removed. Redundant routes have been torn up and traffic has been concentrated on remaining routes. Freight trains are generally operating with less HP/ton than in the 1950s – which is why the ton-miles per gallon fuel economy is so high – but lowers avg speeds. All these added up = there just isn’t the capacity many places that there used to be.

    • Michael Schaeffer

      I’m all for that. How difficult and how long would it be to enact regulation reform so that our standards mirror the TSI’s?

      • Don

        Hard. Long. Very difficult. You’d be fighting deeply entrenched bureaucracies and the result would be getting them to admit they’ve been wrong or stupid or both for a long time. People generally don’t like to admit either.

  • Off-topic, but relevant in case anyone expects Amtrak to do a good job: Amtrak derailed outside Penn Station four days ago, on a line shared with the LIRR. The MTA response was “It doesn’t become a problem for us until rush hour.” I’m pretty sure the MTA didn’t mean to say it’s fine for trains to derail off-peak, but still…

  • The branch from Boston to Montreal would likely pass through Portland, ME and not branch directly off Boston. These plans are already in the works.

  • MilesJ

    As a Denver resident, I dont much care for the Cheyenne to El Paso route. To me I’d like to see a route from Denver to Kansas City instead. Cut that 9 hour drive in half and connect with the eastern half of the country at the same time. Just my .02.

    • Would it be OK if it only cut the drive by 25%?

      I’m asking because based on the long haul truck freight density maps, that’d an option for a leg on a mid-national East/West transcontinental electric Rapid Freight Rail corridor, and with effective planning that could well be designed to also cater to 125mph passenger rail.

  • Woody

    Galls, In one important sense, the air travel system is for the vast majority of the people of this country already far above needed capacity.

    Something like half of all Americans have never been on an airplane, and they tell pollsters that they never intend to.

    We can guess a few reasons: They are claustrophobes, people with a fear of flying, the obese who find those 19-inch seats painful and humiliating, the moderately handicapped and their traveling companions, and countless others. Though these non-fliers include the famous like Aretha Franklin and John Madden, most of the tens of millions are citizens of modest means.

    While airlines operate with the most explicit rank system (of First Class, Business Class, and commoners class) since Marie Antoinette, the trains carry disproportionately large numbers of the elderly and people of color. I’m proud of Amtrak for providing this public service. And obviously people who take long distance trains are willing to pay what they can — if not in money, then almost always in their time. They are citizens and they deserve the respect of social spending that gives them true mobility options in their lives.

    The country’s zillionaires and the Ayn Rand cultists seem to think that the millions of ordinary people who will not fly, and will not or cannot drive, but do want to ride trains, are somehow unworthy parasites on our society.

    This while the burden of taxes is being shifted ever more firmly onto those who can least carry the burden. Then our taxes go to support air travel, an ‘essential’ service largely for the ruling classes of bankers, businessmen, lawyers, lobbyists, and government officials of a certain rank — and offered at a tax-deductible price. Hey, you don’t think that a tax deduction is anything like a subsidy, do you?

    Meanwhile every airport must give equal treatment to the corporate jet with only one or two or three big shots aboard as it gives to an airbus with hundreds of commoners. Other subsidies to the flying rich and the airlines include the sprawling air traffic control system, the safety regulators, and even the military spending on aviation that helps bring better airplanes to civilian service.

    Most glaringly, hundreds of millions of dollars is spent each year subsidizing “Essential Air Service” to places that cannot economically justify air service. Isn’t that because such air service is used by many businessmen, but we don’t want to spend on trains because they are used by so many poor? I hope you have not fallen victim to that ugly view.

  • You guys pinning your hopes on rising gas taxes are naive fools – when gas hits $4/gallon again, the same thing will happen that happened last time – the nutjobs running the Republican party will cry that the problem is we’re not drilling enough. Or that we’re taxing fuel at all.

    At $6/gallon, expect cries for direct federal subsidies to lower the cost of gasoline.

    To say nothing of the damage to the economy. Sure, with 12% unemployment, you’ll get suburbanites to agree to a massive public works project. In your dreams.

    When oil was cheap, we could afford to build rail. When oil is expensive, we’re already too late.

    • that should read “pinning your hopes on rising gas PRICES”, not taxes.

      • I think America saw enough of the Drill Baby Drill culture in the Gulf last year.

        And if Gas prices hit $5/gallon by October 2012, Obama and he Demos can finally say to Americans and have it stick, we’re importing over 90% of our oil. In the best case scenario, Drill Bay Drill won’t change that percentage, so we better commit more resources to electric-powered transportation.

        • Wad

          Drill, baby, drill also doesn’t change the fact that after crude oil is pulled from the ground, it goes to market … to the holder of a contract.

          Notably, there are a lot more bidders for oil contracts. Not only from China, India and other emerging nations, but also speculators who effectively add a tax on oil without ever intending to take delivery.

        • Don

          If gas hits $5 a gallon by Oct 2012 and stays there, the voters will blame Obama and he will be out.

          I doubt gas can sustain $5 a gallon without a huge increase in the gasoline tax. A few things will happen first.

          Coal gasification becomes economical.

          Ethanol from multiple sources becomes economical.

          Hybrid/electric cars become economical and will attract mainstream car buyers.

          Reformation of natural gas becomes economical.

          Petroleum is still too cheap. If were considerably more expensive or it’s supply unreliable, there would be investment into production of hydrocarbons from other sources. Once you have a supply of hydrocarbon, you can always crack, reform and blend your way to happiness. (i.e. liquid hydrocarbon fuel suitable for transportation application)

          • Maybe. But the odds say its going to depend more on unemployment dipping below 7.5% by October 2012. If that occurs, Americans will forgive and blame OPEC for oil increases.

            • Don

              Can you have unemployment below 7.5% with oil close to $200/bbl? The oil price shocks have always come with recession and/or stag-flation. Remember one term – wonders, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford?

    • “the same thing will happen that happened last time – the nutjobs running the Republican party will cry that the problem is we’re not drilling enough. Or that we’re taxing fuel at all.”

      Also, the Republican Party lost the White House, the Democrats gained a big House majority and a 20 seat majority in the Senate. So getting their paid shills in the Republican party to bay Drill Baby Drill did not do Big Oil all that much good.

    • BBnet3000

      M1EK voiced my continuing worry precisely, that when gas prices get too high (and his quote of $6/gallon is probably right) they’ll just start subsidizing it. People will continue to complain about high taxes as more and more of it goes to energy and subsidizing inefficient living.

      • Ocean Railroader

        That could be a possible thing that could happen but at least for now Amtrak is slowly gaining new riders and the existing riders are riding it over over again. Amtrak only had 28 million people ride it last year out of a nation of 300 million people so it is very possible that if this steady growth in ridership keeps up it could go up to 50 million in a few years and that is something Amtrak should set as a common goal to reatch for. Now it could go up to a hunderd million a year say if they where able to get a 100 million people out of the US to take a trip once a year on it or if you had say 20 million people take two or three trips on it in a year.

        I plan to ride it this year onece. But say if this one new Amtrak route gets going I could end up riding it two or even three times a year. Now if Amtrak is able to get this to happen across the system getting existing riders and some new riders to ride the system two times or three times a year that could really raise the ridership on it.

  • Anthony

    Good luck on getting funding for this pipe dream – LOL

    Does he even know the majority of Americans are against spending money on HSR now ?

    http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/february_2011/41_favor_high_speed_rail_plan_46_oppose

  • WILLIAM

    CONNECT THE WHOLE COUNTRY WITH MASS TRANSIT. HIGH SPEED. EVERY AIRPORT. AND THEN WE CAN BECOME ENERGY INDEPENDENT AND CREATE MILLIONS OF JOBS. LOOK AT EUROPE AS AN EXAMPLE. LOOK AT GERMANY, SWITZERLAND ETC

  • politicaljules

    I do not see it happening here in Texas and I do not see Perry pushing it. Special interest groups are pushing it only because Texas is huge and they will make money while raping tax payers for something we dont want. Today’s economic climate make it not very prudent, and Perry is smart enough to know that. Besides the fact that Texas based Southwest Airlines has alot of clout and shot down the last attempt along with American Airlines. Good for them. No one in their right mind is going to use high speed rail, except maybe illegals.

    Have we learned nothing from the failure that was Amtrak?

    PS The roads going between cities like Houston/Austin/DFW/San Antonio are NOT congested. I do not know what kind of funny cigarettes you progressives are smoking, but you are Lying liars who are full of cr@p.

  • I thought this quote was very fitting “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” – Thomas Jefferson

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