Deciphering Conservative Objections to the Obama Administration’s High-Speed Rail Program

» Countering opposition to the intercity rail development project.

Members of the House and Senate expect to consider — and hopefully pass — a transportation reauthorization bill this year that will dedicate federal funding to the United States’ transport networks for the next several years. While spending on both highways and transit is virtually assured, one wildcard is high-speed rail, which has significant support from members of the Democratic Party and very little from the Republicans. While President Obama has made it one of his signature initiatives, promoting a plan to spend $53 billion on intercity rail lines over the next six years, GOP leadership has rejected funding offered to states like Florida and argued that the country should not be investing in such infrastructure.

The baseline explanation for the limited Republican support for such investments is relatively easy to pinpoint: Their electors live in areas that would benefit only indirectly from such projects. Their constituents, primarily living in sprawling suburbs, do not see the value of government spending on anything other than roads.

Yet as commentator Reihan Salam rightfully pointed out earlier this week, the viewpoint many conservatives hold on the matter is more nuanced than that. Specifically, “I think that many… can see the logic behind public investment in passenger rail in the Northeast, provided that there are strong accountability mechanisms in place,” Salam wrote.

I will return to Mr. Salam’s point, but it is worth first delving into the specific rationales many conservatives give for opposing the Obama Administration’s rail project, both to understand those positions but also to highlight reasons why those arguments are problematic. In order to be successful in the U.S., intercity railway programs must be able to attract bipartisan support, so finding ways to counter the growing anti-rail sentiment should be a priority.

From my view, there are two views, not necessarily in accord, held by conservatives to explain their opposition to rail:

  1. Intercity rail, at least as a government program, constitutes inappropriate involvement of the public sector in something that should be determined by the market. Moreover, rail requires subsidies for construction and, in some cases, operations, and subsidies are bad because they represent government’s intrusion into decisions that should be made by individuals.
  2. Intercity rail investments as proposed by the Administration, including billions of dollars distributed to states to complete incremental improvements, did not go far enough. In the act of spreading the money around too thinly, the government was in essence preventing the development of one true high-speed system. High-speed rail could work, just not in the places where funds have been allocated so far.

The first argument — which suggests that the government should simply get its hands out of the rail game — is founded on an understanding of the way transportation funding works that ignores private costs and completely sidelines externalities. It is true that investments in rail often look less promising than a highway on the taxpayer’s expense list: While the latter can often pay for its own construction through the collection of tolls or fuel taxes*, high-speed rail needs significant up-front public investments to pay for construction that are usually not paid off. Moreover, slower-speed railways, as we all know from Amtrak’s record, require operations subsidies, though high-speed lines do not.

Yet when total costs are put into play, rail does not look so poor especially compared to car drivers since the train riders are not paying for fuel, maintenance, and insurance if they are substituting their car travel with train use. Perhaps just as important, if rail replaces journeys that would have otherwise been taken on another mode, it is reducing carbon emissions, congestion, and deaths-by-accident; in the long term, rail can spur revitalization in center cities, attracting jobs and residents to downtown cores, rather than to sprawling locales served by cars alone.

Meanwhile, while it may sound appealing to reject public sector decision-making about travel, the fact is that the U.S. government has spent 60 years funding highway projects across the country; to suggest that now is the time to cut off government support for transport, after the culture is entirely automobile-dependent, would be short-sighted.

The second, more compelling argument, the one that suggests that good rail investments are possible — just that the wrong decisions have been made by this White House — is generally held by Mr. Salam. I have questioned some of the Administration’s choices in rail funding selection myself.

Atlantic columnist Megan McArdle wrote a screed on the issue this week, arguing against the Administration’s decision to concentrate spending on the Florida project and the first stage of the California project (to run through the Central Valley). Ms. McArdle claimed that “To make it work, we need to get away from demonstration projects, and start with the projects that make good economic sense.” The problem with this logic, of course, is that the government did not have enough money to build those projects that “make good economic sense,” because they would have cost more than the $10.5 billion that has been allocated for this purpose by the Congress so far.

Mr. Salam signaled a similar approach to this issue, arguing that if only the right route had been picked, Tea Party members might not have referred to such projects as “trains to nowhere.” At a hearing last week, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-FL) played the same rhetorical game, suggesting that the Administration had done the wrong thing with its funds.

Do Ms. McArdle, Mr. Salam, or Mr. Mica in fact want more money for rail? Would any of them be willing to set aside the $117 billion Amtrak needs to upgrade the Northeast Corridor?

I would be the first to admit that the Northeast Corridor is the best place for high-speed rail in the country and that it deserves funding — I, for one, would love to be able to get from my perch in Boston down to Washington in just three hours. But conservatives were fighting against the rail program before the Department of Transportation made its selections! Is it honest to suggest that conservatives would have been supportive of more — far more – funding for intercity rail if they knew that funding was going to the “right” lines?

But what are those “right” lines? Singled out by the aforementioned commentators was the California project, which as framed by Ms. McArdle is particularly “ridiculous” because “there aren’t any, like, passengers.” “Could it be that Tea Party members have been referring to trains to nowhere because the first leg of the unviable California HSR effort link two cities with a combined population of 25,000?,” Mr. Salam advanced.

The story is more complex. The first section of the California project will connect Fresno and Bakersfield, stopping near Hanford on the way. Together, the three metropolitan areas this line would serve constitute the primary residence for more than two million people. More importantly, while the funding is not yet fully committed, California is well on the way to being able to connect this core segment with extensions to San Francisco and Los Angeles — the Central Valley, after all, lies between them. Northeast Corridor or not, no one should deny the national importance of connecting those two metropolitan areas. The state rail authority’s announcement today that it has received 1,100 expressions of interest in being involved financially in the project from private groups like Alstom and Virgin should provide evidence that this is not in any way a hopeless cause.

Yet even if we were to take the stand that the California project were not good enough — if only the Northeast is appropriate for federal rail investment — there would be no way to articulate a national transportation strategy that ignored the rest of the states given the political realities of representation in the U.S. Congress. In that case, not only would you have a problem achieving bipartisan consensus, but you would isolate rail supporters to just one section of the country. Yet this is in effect the course suggested in the arguments made by those conservatives who claim to support rail.

The fact of the matter is that we must have a nationwide investment in intercity rail; it would be very difficult to produce support for federal government spending for just one region. The alternative is no investment at all.

* For the sake of this argument, let’s ignore the fact that user fees do not actually cover the full costs of roads.

146 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Both lines are of argument by Mr. Salam are rightwing political dogma to delay HSR and funnel more money to oil-based transportation. Its particularly insidious when they make soundbite arguments based on a lack of homework or outright lies. The average Joe or Jane listening to their radio stations hears that HSR loses money. Nonsense.

    The Northeast Corridor runs at a profit with a mediocre Regional HSR system that averages only 83 mph and 28 daily trains in its fastest segment with cheap gasoline at the pump.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Probably could fill more trains, even at an average speed of 83 MPH, if the multiple capacity restraints were resolved.

      • Ocean Railroader

        I’m very happy when I’m on the Amtrak train going though Washingtion DC and am moving pasted the people stopped on the beltway and Interstate 95 going at 30 to 40 miles on hour on the Amtrak train. If the people are stuck in traffic not moving or only going 10 or 20 miles on hour on the highway and you are going 30 to 40 miles on hour on the train then that speed should in scale be like going 120 miles on hour while the people are going 70 miles on hour on a highway.

    • Danny

      Saying that it runs a profit is only a half truth and obscures a huge amount of information that requires more accountability. If it were covering maintenance and depreciation on the tracks as well as its rolling stock, then we could give it more leeway in terms of accountability.

      Of course, part of the problem is that everybody in government, and in Amtrak in particular, seems to think that the path to the future is a higher top speed. Nobody cares about average speed, nor do they care about capacity…which in the end are the only investments that could let Amtrak cover all of its costs. Why would we let them invest money to increase top speeds if their investment decisions won’t lead to greater fiscal responsibility? Salam is correct to ask for greater accountability in the NE Corridor.

      • Woody

        If Amtrak is only interested in top speeds, and not about capacity, why is it working to lengthen the Acela trainsets from 6 passenger cars to 8, gaining a 1/3rd increase in capacity?

        If Amtrak is only interested in top speeds, and not about capacity, why is it proposing to spend $13 Billion or so on new tunnels into/out of Penn Station NYC to allow for more trains per hour where capacity is now severely limited?

        If Amtrak is only interested in top speeds, and not average speeds, why were Amtrak’s C.E.O. and his predecessor already talking about eliminating the slow speeds in the Baltimore tunnels long before Obama-Biden-LaHood came along?

        If Amtrak and everyone in all of the government are only interested in top speeds, why did so much of the stimulus funding go to one-off projects to eliminate bottlenecks and to otherwise improve the existing Amtrak system, such as,
        Extending the Downeaster line Boston-Portland on to Brunswick, Maine,
        Building or restoring a shortcut from Springfield, Mass, up to Vermont,
        Doubletracking a short segment west of Albany,
        Removing grade crossings on the Keystone Corridor,
        Doubletracking, smoothing curves, etc, a section Raleigh-Greensboro,
        Financing an all-new ‘Amtrak-speed’ line from Cleveland to Cincinnati — (oh, hey, didn’t the tag team of train haters denounce this project because the top speeds and the average speeds were ‘too low’ they said, as if a Second Phase upgrade to faster speeds for any rail project was simply inconceivable to their highway-loving minds?)
        Building new stations in a couple of small Michigan cities,
        Paying UP to fix and upgrade tracks in NE Indiana to increase speeds from, iirc, the low 40s mph to the high 40s mph, to improve on-time performace for the five daily trains to Michigan and the l.d. trains to Boston, NYC, and D.C.,
        Tweaking the tracks on the Hiawatha line,
        Fixing a major grade crossing of rail lines in Iowa,
        Build a wider bridge and new bypasses for the River Runner in Missouri,
        Installing signaling in the Texas portion of the route of the Heartland Flyer,
        Commit over half a billion to upgrades on the Cascades route mostly to reduce delays and improve on-time arrivals,
        Invest in improvements to the Portland station, and quake-resistant features to the Seattle station,
        and
        Bringing over 100 Amtrak network stations into full ADA compliance.
        (List in formation, that is, off the top of my aged and foggy mind.)
        And note that the then Gov of California, a Republican, instructed his transpo officials not to ask for any upgrades on other routes, but to go whole hog with the HSR application. Somehow that decision cannot be not Amtrak’s fault, because it may not even operate the CaliHSR. Of course, I know that in some quarters everything is Obama’s fault.

      • Of course, part of the problem is that everybody in government, and in Amtrak in particular, seems to think that the path to the future is a higher top speed. Nobody cares about average speed, nor do they care about capacity

        This is easy to say, but there is no evidence that it is true. The focus of the NEC improvements program is on capital investment in support of improved reliability, transit speed and increasing the length of the Acelas.

        And the Express HSR proposal lays out substantial improvements in transit speeds, and by getting around the trains per day limit in the NEC through Connecticut offers dramatic increases in capacity.

      • Danny wrote:

        “part of the problem is that everybody in government, and in Amtrak in particular, seems to think that the path to the future is a higher top speed. Nobody cares about average speed, nor do they care about capacity…which in the end are the only investments that could let Amtrak cover all of its costs.”

        Newsflash: Both of the major planning documents Amtrak has released concerning the NEC speak to the same. California HSR docs also address high average speeds, passengers per train and trains per hour. All the Midwest and Pacific Northwest planning docs i’ve seen address the same things.

        In this forum on many posts and comments we have dissected improvements to increase average speed, passengers per train and trains per hour. Increasing top speeds are only the front-bumper items.

        And you can best that the Amtrak, USDOT-FRA, California HSR, Midwest HSR, Pacific Northwest HSR, Cato, Reason and Heritage read this forum.

        • I’m still somewhat skeptical that Amtrak really cares about the Next-Gen HSR proposal. It cares about the usual incremental upgrades, plus things that enhance capacity at maximum cost.

          • Alon,

            Amtrak really would like 220 mph NEC service, but its hard for them to go out on a limb for $117B until the $14B NEC state-of-good-repair upgrade is funded. As we know, the $14B would only provide:

            * catenaries & interlockings enabling to trains to run 160-165 mph top speed
            * new throat capacity in NJ approaching NYC
            * capacity upgrades from Philly-NYC-New Haven
            * speed upgrades to 110 mph in NYC-New Haven
            * Moynihan Station in NYC

            If the Wilmington Bypass project is included, average speed for the NYC-Washington segment would be over 100 mph.

            Towards that first goal, only Obama-Biden have been solid HSR supporters in the Whitehouse. Congress has only been a shaky supporter until recently. Why did it take this long to form a bicameral HSR Caucus in Congress?

  • Mason Hicks

    . Yonah,
    I suggest we (in fact, in honesty, I guess that I actually mean you…) conduct a historical study into the early debates of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which lead to the development of what we now know as the Interstate Highway system. It, of course, was not designed and built all overnight, nor was it built all at once. For example, the first segment of I-10, in Florida opened as what I believe to have been a ten mile stretch from Sanderson, Florida, to just short of the then marginally populated area to the west of Jacksonville. In the Wisconsin region, I-94, which now connects Chicago, thru Milwaukee, then to Madison, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and points beyond started as a very rural, twelve mile stretch between Jamestown and Valley City, North Dakota. Here also rail projects that would have eventually relieved major congestion in the more populated sections was canceled due to short-sightedness on the part of a newly elected Governor.
    The birth of the Interstate highway system started all over the country as very short segments in some of the most rural areas of the country very much like the ones listed above. It also built on elements already in place, such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the New Jersey Turnpike and others. But were these rural stretches labeled “Highways to Nowhere” at the time? I would love to read an historical analysis on this as compared to the present day dogma.
    Imagine if such diatribes had prevailed in the early fifties…

    • Matt

      I think there’s one fair difference between how the Interstate Highway System developed and how HSR could develop. Vehicles work on gravel roads and interstates alike, so it is possible to build the network as a patchwork of small disjointed projects. Building HSR does not afford us this luxury, since trains can only go where specific types of tracks exist. This means that we need to have a vision of the network (similar to what we had for the IHS) but we also need to have a well-engineered phasing and funding approach to build a usable network.
      Do we even have consistent engineering standards for HSR? Something that would ensure ease of rolling stock acquisition and interoperability on systems across the continent?

      • Steven

        @Matt

        Existing Amtrak trains will be perfectly capable of running on the Central Valley portion of the California HSR when it is built. They won’t be able to run at 220 mph but they will be able to run at the maximum speed their locomotives can run at.

        • That remains to be seen. The track standards call for a maximum axle load of 17 tons, versus about 33 for Amtrak diesel locomotives. Beefing up the tracks to allow tank locomotives to run is an option, but would add to the cost.

          • Yes, meeting the independent utility requirement added to the cost of the original segment bid, and if they can go back down from 30t to 17t, or even 22.5t, that ought to save some money.

          • John W

            Wouldn’t the more obvious solution be to run the lighter high-speed trains on the existing track (assuming they can get an FRA exemption), in the same manner that the German and French networks do?

            • John W

              At speeds limited by the track infrastructure of the existing line segments, I should add. So max 90mph or whatever from LA to the CV, 220mph across the CV, and then back down to 90mph for the final northern legs. It’s too late at night for me to be doing maths, but I think that works out at close to 4 hours SF-LA nonstop.

              • LA-CV is impossible on existing track – the Tehachapi Loop is at capacity, and has no room even for Amtrak trains, let alone trains that run on the steep grade faster than a bicycle.

                CV-Bay Area can be done on Altamont Pass but not Pacheco, but UP flat out refuses to share track, and to get from that area to SF would require going over the closed Dumbarton Bridge.

                And on top of it, doing 220 mph in the CV requires electric trains, which would require all connecting lines to be electrified.

              • If the segment can reach Palmdale (I have no idea if the money turned back by Florida is sufficient for that) ~ maybe, but it would not be 220mph, it would be more like 125mph or 150mph. Talgo makes lightweight diesels that AFAIR can run 125mph. It would have to be an upgrade of the San Jaoquin route, since that’s the route that has the right to run on the existing rail corridor to the Bay area.

                Whether those diesels can get FRA Heavy Rail certified without going overweight is something an engineer would have to work out, but I’d be skeptical that it could until the FRA certification was granted. I also don’t know how much capacity there would be on the existing Metrolink Antelope Valley line to LA.

              • If they can reach Palmdale then it’s workable, but the trains might still be too slow in the canyon leading to LA – the curves are very tight and the slow freight train speed precludes high superelevation.

                Hajo Zierke’s plan argues that it’s possible to come up with an FRA-compliant Talgo loco that can do high cant deficiency. But it would have to be constructed from scratch, since the off-the-shelf version is at the upper limit of axle load weight, and the FRA weight penalty would put it over.

                But even under the semi-reasonable assumptions that they have ~200 million dollars to electrify, and that the FRA could be browbeaten into accepting an off-the-shelf Pendolino (for maximum tilting) or Talgo 350 or E6 (for maximum speed and some tilting), there might be a capacity problem.

              • Why worry about new Talgo or Pendolino trains for 125 mph? Use existing 79-90 mph Amtrak Central Valley trains until the SF-San Jose-LA-Anaheim HSR segment is ready.

                Focus all available funds building rail capable of supporting 220 mph trains in Hanford-Fresno-Bakersfiled-Palmdale segment. California HSR hasn’t indicated what that would cost, but we know cost savings occur when they can plan a longer project and insert catenaries at the same time.

                Correct me If I’m mistaken, but California has $4.4B in USDOT funds committed thus far. If they receive $1.6-1.8B more from the Florida HSR money, thats totals $6.0-$6.2B that California HSR can add $2B from the state HSR bond. If seems to me that $8B should be enough to build the Hanford-Fresno-Bakersfiled-Palmdale segment.

                Unlike some, I’m optimistic that HSR will be included in Surface Transportation Reauthorization. I have reason to be optimistic because a lot of Congressional vote-rich states are tax donors that have big metro areas who want more funding for HSR, Transit and freeway/bridge maintenance, NOT new freeway lanes or airport runways. Thus, additional HSR building will occur once the negotiation between the President, Senate and House of Representatives completes.

                After the negotiation, the Northeast, California, Illinois, Pacific Northwest, VA & NC will be the Phase 1 big winners for the next 6 years. California HSR will then determine whether its best to build the Hanford-Gilroy-San Jose segment or Palmale-Slymar-Burbank segment next. Ideally, both should be built simultaneously to connect the two big metro areas.

              • I wouldn’t ~ medium weight diesel locomotives that allow loco hauled to 110mph with the HSR trainset coupling, crank it up Palmdale to Merced then couple locos on that side. The Antelope Valley line is single track in any event, so the locos going up to Palmdale with one HSR then pulling another back makes more sense. The upgrade to the Antelope Valley line would be the sidings to allow the express to overtake the local.

                Similarly on the Merced side.

                Then any improvements on conventional rail bottlenecks in support of more efficient transit for the preliminary service are a direct benefit to the complementary conventional rail.

              • My bad: Hanford lies between Fresno and Bakersfield.

              • Oh, there are a lot of reasons not to use 79-90 mph FRA-compliant tanks:

                1. The operating costs are much higher than those of HSR run at the same speed.
                2. The axle load is very high, requiring beefing up the viaducts and raising track maintenance costs.
                3. An upgraded San Joaquins service isn’t going to get much more ridership than the existing San Joaquins.
                4. The operators that are competent enough to be trusted to run HSR might not even know what to do with Amtrak trains.
                5. Existing Amtrak trains are more expensive, and will have no resale value by about 2020 – and if they do, chances are the same reasons making them usable on US tracks will also kill CAHSR.

                Conversely, the cost of electrifying the LA-Palmdale legacy line and running trains through is low. The top speed there doesn’t matter too much, as the line is hobbled by numerous tight curves. What matters is being able to run at high superelevation and high cant deficiency.

  • Andrew

    Both roads and mass transit/HSR are subsidized by the government worldwide, because it is unreasonable for infrastructure projects to pay for their full costs of construction themselves. We need a balanced investment in both similar to Europe/Asia, not a government policy which massively invests in roads to the detriment of anything else. Republicans need to abandon this ridiculous double standard.

  • Loren Petrich

    Let’s not forget George Will’s recent column, which seemed to me to be coming out of a grove of John Birch trees. He claimed that HSR was part of an effort by liberal social engineers to deprive people of freedom by taking away their cars. Michele Bachmann has claimed similar things, like how liberals want to force everybody into crowded tenements and force people to take the local trains to work. A recent Republican candidate for Colorado governor claimed that John Hickenlooper’s pro-bike efforts were part of a UN-takeover effort.

  • Andrew Lynch

    If tonight Obama proposed to fund the conservation of the American buffalo, tomorrow the Republicans would pass a bill calling for their slaughter.

    This is a case of we are against it because you are for it.

    • jim

      Yes. I think Yonah is overthinking this. For whatever reason, HSR has become a blue/red issue. Obama is for it, therefore Republicans are against it. There are two ways one can be against something: You’re Doing It Wrong or You Shouldn’t Be Doing It At All. McArdle, Salam and Mica are in the You’re Doing It Wrong camp; Walker, Scott and Kasich are in the You Shouldn’t Be Doing It At All camp. The You’re Doing It Wrong camp can have differences in the alternatives they propose simply because those alternatives aren’t being proposed seriously. It’s therefore a mistake to take them seriously.

      • HSR has become a Blue/Red issue because part of the “Red” political funding base is Big Oil, and they realize that HSR is a strategic “thin edge of the wedge” change in the transportation system that, once it is experienced by enough Americans, will attract broad based support from across the political spectrum and that will in several ways also serve pave the way for establishment of oil-independent local transport, particularly in the intermediate and outer suburbs that are presently the electoral core for support for oil addiction transport policy.

        The “argument” that will be advanced is whatever argument is best suited to serve that end.

        (1) Propose an incremental starter line that can be operated on less than the State DOT budget for mowing, and can be upgraded in a series of modest upgrades to a very cost effective corridor generating an operating surplus? Its “too slow, should have gone for High Speed upfront.” (Ohio 3C Quickstart).

        (2) Proposed a starter segment between two cities starved of transport alternatives that can be extended to a corridor of close to ideal length? Its “too short and everybody there drives”. (Tampa/Orlando)

        (3) Proposed a starter segment between two massive population centers about 3 hours apart by Express HSR through a series of intermediate sized cities that will offer one to two hour trips to intermediate cities starved of transport alternatives? Its “a train to nowhere”.

        But (4) Propose a system of Express HSR along key corridors scattered across the nation, with the funding levels to allow it to happen? Its “far too much money to risk on untried systems”. (This one is the Heritage/Cato/Reason propaganda output in response to basically every national plan that has been advanced by various advocacy groups over the past four years).

        You can’t win for losing because finding a pretext for rejecting what has been proposed is the purpose of the exercise.

        • Woody

          HSR has become a Blue/Red issue simply because Obama is “a ni@@er in the White House”. They just can’t stand it, and it’s just driven them insane. We’d be seeing so a tenth as much frothing at the mouth if the winning ticket had been Biden-Obama.

          Perhaps it’s because I grew up 50 years ago in the (former?) Confederacy, that I feel I have a clear insight into the cesspools of hatred that swirl inside so many minds of white Southerners and their ‘Copperhead’ sympathizers.

          • I was referring to the people spending the money and you are referring to the message that they have created to direct at the people that the money is being spent on.

            The people spending the money can well afford professional opinion makers to find out where the vulnerability is, and that’s the segment of the population that is easiest to rile up for the benefit of their objectives.

          • Chris

            That comment- making HSR opposition tied to Obama’s ethnicity- is false, period. George W. Bush kept wanting to shut down Amtrak. So did Ronald Reagan. Even Richard Nixon, in setting up Amtrak (in part to help alleviate Penn Central’s financial problems) wanted to shut it down after a few years. Opposition by some Republicans to intercity passenger rail predates Obama by decades.

            Were Democrats in FAVOR of passenger rail because Reagan and Bush were white? Of course not; that argument is the same as the one posted above and is equally ludicrous.

            • Clinton and Carter both cut funding to Amtrak. The question that should be asked is not why Republicans are anti-rail; the GOP position is to defend what was a bipartisan status quo until Obama was elected. Rather, the question is why since Obama’s election the Democrats have done a 180 and supported transit and urbanism.

              • Chris

                True, although in Clinton’s ’92 campaign, he strongly supported HSR; Google “Clinton high speed rail” and there were even promises of 200 mph trains perhaps as soon as 1998. Carter also slashed some Amtrak routes. Reagan and Bush II, however, wanted to completely shut down Amtrak, and plenty of Republican leaders (such as John McCain and a few others) eagerly went along with it. It’s been that way for decades, with some Republican leaders against Amtrak/HSR, period; some Republican leaders in favor; and more Democrat leaders in favor, by comparison to Republicans.

              • I Googled, and this is the only reference I found – a general speech about investing in the future and attacking George Bush for not doing so, mentioning among other things 300 mph trains with 500,000 daily riders. Not only was nothing of that sort done subsequently, but also this wasn’t to my knowledge politically emphasized the way Obama and supportive pundits talk about HSR as the future. Obama admitted to envying European bullet trains; when do US leaders ever express envy of anything European?

              • Interestingly, I wrote about Clinton’s 1992 campaign in December 2008, comparing Obama negatively to it, arguing that it was unlikely that Obama would press forward with intercity rail investments:

                http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2008/12/10/reality-check-clinton-92/

                I was clearly wrong.

            • Woody

              Chris, Let me introduce you to my uncle, a lifetime resident of the (former?) Confederacy. He keeps Faux News tuned in 24 hours a day. Well, he needs a distraction because he can’t get much sleep, stressing all night and day about “the ni@@er in the White House”. In his 80s and heretofore indifferent to trains one way or the other, he now HATES all HSR, Amtrak, commuter rail, transit — and anything else favored by that “the ni@@er in the White House”.

              If you haven’t met a voter like him, you need to get out more. And if you can’t get an appointment to talk with a Senator from Oklahoma or South Carolina, most any Tea Bagger at a rally should do.

              Granted, it used to be mainstream Repub policy to prevent Amtrak from being in any way successful, because the cultists need for it to fail. They need its failure year after year as ‘evidence’ to support their dogma that, “Government can’t do anything right, see for example, Amtrak.”

              But back in that seemingly innocent Reagun era, there used to be some mainstream Republican conservatives who could do the math and find plenty of cases where investing in passenger rail made good sense. Those days are gone. Any Repub who deviates from the hate-Obama-all-the-time line will be challenged in the primary by a Tea Bagging Copperhead.

              Congressman Mica, for example, is spinning like a dervish nowadays. A long-time booster of high-speed on the NEC, he supported the HSR funds in the stimulus. Meanwhile in his home state, he specifically favored TriRail, Sunrail, and the proposed new Amtrak service on the Florida East Coast line. Conspicuously he supported the first Tampa-Orlando segment of HSR to Miami. And he got bitch-slapped in front of the world by the new Tea-Bagger Gov.

              Now fan-dancing to try to cover his longtime support for HSR in the NEC, Mica is calling Amtrak “Soviet-style” and proposing the involvement of private capital, suggesting that Amtrak should not operate a service it has continually improved over 40 years, and generally trying to be for HSR in theory while being against it in the dollars that matter.

              • Glen

                Very true Woody .. and thankfully a lot of these people are the age they will not be around much longer .. we just have to put up with them a few more years. About the time the California high-speed rail opens in 2020 a lot of these people will be gone and the nation will see what true high-speed rail can do for their region and our nation.

              • Chris

                Unfortunate about your racist uncle, but you should not generalize and view all Southerners or all non-Obama fans the same way. (I hope that you don’t lump Hillary Clinton in with them, with some of her attacks on Obama during the primaries.)

                I’d encourage you to read “Mad as Hel#” by Schoen and Rasmussen (Schoen is a Democrat). They show that there is no evidence that Tea Party opposition to Obama is based on his race.

                If you want Obama’s policies to succeed- and some of them are good and deserve support- you’ll need to explain why they deserve support, not by simply engaging ad hominem attacks on Tea Party members. (I am a Republican but am definitely not a Tea Party type.)

              • Chris

                And, Woody- I am heavily involved in politics and spent most weekends last fall campaigning (as a volunteer), meeting plenty of voters.

                I would not generalize and stereotype an entire group of voters based on your racist 80 year old uncle, from another generation in which offensive views were more acceptable.

                My 92-year old grandmother in South Carolina certainly does not think like your uncle does, and she’s of the same generation (and voted for McCain in the primary and Jim DeMint AND Obama).

              • Chris

                Also, Woody- I would recommend that you look at the Republican slate of elected officials in South Carolina now. It includes Governor Nikki Haley and Rep. Tim Scott. Ms. Haley is Indian-American and Mr. Scott is African-American. Both were heavily backed by the Tea Party and defeated well-known white men in primaries, at least in part because the white men weren’t conservative enough.

                Looks like your racist uncle is the exception rather than the rule.

              • Woody,
                I certainly agree that there are lot of voters like your uncle and I feel you and your family. I’m also pleased to know that much the South has changed fro the better.

                I however, am more concerned about younger media leaders who promote hate-politics over good governance for the nation. And they do so to fatten their wallets while leading hate-filled/feeble-minded people to vote against their best interests.

                Sadly, I suspect media hate-politics will slow our pace of Transportation advancement until 2020. By then, gasoline prices will be sky-high and freeways will be more congested. Even old codgers will demand the projects Obama-Biden-LaHood are proposing in 2011.

              • Woody

                Chris, In my mis-spent youth I voted for Republicans several times. I was proud to be a supporter of John Lindsey, the liberal Repub Mayor of NYC. I may have voted more than once for Gov Nelson Rockefeller and Sen Jacob Javits, depending on how objectionable their Democratic machine opponents were.

                You may have heard about how Nelson Rockefeller was booed at the Repub Convention that nominated Barry Goldwater. Rockefeller’s party is dead and gone. Earl Warren and Henry Cabot Lodge would not be able to serve in the current Repub party. Heck, even the Governator found himself no longer tolerated by the wingers when he kept trying to actually govern a state instead of blaming all problems on others.

                True that some of the energy of the reichtwing Repubs is fueled by their propaganda networks of TV and radio. But the tremendous surge in energy of the Tea Partiers in the past 26 months or so has “coincidentally” — do you think — emerged since a black man moved into the Oval Office. At the same time there’s been policies put forth that burden both blacks and poor people, and there’s also been a long string of racist slips of the tongue that reveal the racial hatred that is where this stuff is coming from.

                And please, Rassmussen is the kind of girl who will give you what you want: hand job, blow job, ’round the world, polls showing Repub candidates leading Democrats in the most unlikely districts. I can find you other evidence that Tea Partiers are racist, but I’m not going looking for links now, I’m tired. (Evidence that Rasmussen will give you the poll results that you are paying for is easy to find, at fivethirtyeight and at dailyKos, among other sites.)

                Of course, in today’s America, everyone knows it’s bad form to admit to being a racist oneself. Unfortunately it’s also considered bad form for a white person to point out the racial prejudice in the actions of other white people.

                To me, that on-going cover-up by white people of the slightly repressed racial hatred of other whites is a huge obstacle to getting past our racial issues.

                But back to our topic. You are correct that in the past neither party was much of a supporter of Amtrak in particular or passenger rail in general. Support has come from individual Members of Congress and some Govs.

                But as I said, since Obama was elected, all issues are viewed in Black and White, all issues are either/or.

                And in their simplest terms, the people who hate the fact that there is “a ni@@er in the White House” are united in opposing every thing he tries to do. No compromise, late and minimal confirmations of appointees, no effort to share the responsibility of governing, and forget the tiresome facts.

                Come on Chris, Everett Dirksen has been dead for decades. His successor from the Party of No said his priority was to see Obama fail and become a one term President. If Americans are deprived or suffer or die due to Repub obstructionism, their petty problems are not as important to the Repubs as destroying the administration of the first black President.

                Today the party line of the Repubs is to oppose everything that Obama supports. If Obama supports greater efforts to increase employment, the Repubs will do what they can to sabotage those efforts, as they are doing with their budget cutting fakery..

                And the party line is to oppose passenger rail in every form, and especially HSR. It is not a coincidence that the Repub Govs of Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, and even little ole Iowa are united in following the party line. (Stand by for the Gov of Michigan to deep six future fast trains Chicago-Detroit. He too will follow the party line.)

                Nice of you to be a dissident to your party’s line, and you are welcome here. But I’d advise you not to try calling in to hate-talk radio to say you support better trains; you could get your feelings hurt there.

              • Adirondacker12800

                It could just be a coincidence that the last sane republican left the party in 2006 and it just seems that other things are going on. It doesn’t really matter who is in office the tea baggers use the same techniques on every one, The Democrat running in my Congessional district was DINO on some issues. The radio and television ads that the other side ran made him out to be the love child of Karl Marx and Margeret Sanger. The stopped just short of calling Nancy Pelosi a she devil. … what Nancy Pelosi has to do with an election in Upstate New York I was never able to figure out…

          • Chris

            Woody, it’s Doug Schoen who’s the Democrat and who co-wrote “Mad as He(#” with Rasmussen. There is a mountain of data in the book showing that Tea Party opposition to Obama’s programs is not based on race.

            Are there a few Tea Party members who are racist? Sure, like your uncle. Just as there are a few conservative Democrats who voted for Hillary instead of Obama for racial reasons. But most aren’t, and opposition to HSR, except in rare cases like your uncle, is not based on race.

            • Don’t kid yourself Chris. More than a few Tea Party members are racist and use codeword conversation. And some are blatant.

              I’ll never forget a “few of them” them spitting on black Congressmen headed to the Capitol, but the Tea Party as a whole called for the condemnation of such disrespectful action.

              • Chris

                Not buying it. There is a story I found about Rep. Cleaver being spat upon by 1 person. While reprehensible, it’s an allegation that 1 person did it. Windows in a GOP office in Washington were also recently shot out. Should I use that incident to create images of “more than a few” Democrats? Of course not.

                Again, see Democrat Doug Schoen’s book, and there is a mountain of evidence about the motives of Tea Party members and again, apart from rare exceptions, they do not oppose Obama or his policies due to race. (I will not say anything about the motives of white Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries.)

              • Chris,
                We’ll have to agree to disagree on this point about the Tea Pparty. Meanwhile on to other transportation subjects.

  • Kathy

    But the problem is besides the small fact there is no money to build it and not enough ridership to sustain it, the California state law forbids any operational subsidy. Regardless of what is done worldwide, unless a new proposition is put before the people to change AB 3034, it cannot be built unless that is reasonably proven or it will be legally challenged. Even if they keep avoiding reality and keep chugging along, there are construction and segment requirements by state law. The California High Speed Rail Athority doesn’t have the money to build even the first segment by law. Specifically it has to be made High Speed Rail ready including electrification and many other requirements. So though the Authority keeps pretending everything is all right, nothing is further from the truth.

    • If Stage 1 is built, there will be no need for any operational subsidy. If a sufficiently long portion of Stage 1 is built, there will be no need for any operational subsidy, though the frequency and ridership may be far less than for the full Stage 1 at the outset, until Stage 1 is finally completed.

      For some governance models ~ which, as noted by the external advisory panel, is the most important thing to work out at this point in time ~ they could indeed tender the option to operate a minimum of eight unsubsidized services each way on the completed segment as a pre-requisite for being allowed to bid on a fix period operating franchise in the case that Stage 1 is completed, and expect to get multiple tenders, if that is what is needed to settle the “subsidy free HSR operation” from Prop1A(2008) bond funding for the first few segments to be completed.

      So the notion that the “subsidy free operation” requirement of Prop1A(2008) bond funding is some kind of requirement to get financing for the entire Stage 1 to be completed before any substantial Prop1A(2008) bond funding can be released seems mostly like a combination of people who like to play lawyer on the internet and confirmed HSR opponents looking for talking points.

    • Kathy,

      The $9.9 billion state bond along and the $4+ billion received from USDOT thus far are real money. You also don’t know or ignore the facts, if you think California doesn’t have enough ridership for a 2 hour 38 minute SF-LA trip time that can’t be accomplished flying + ground transfer.

      As I’ve detailed in my California HSR homework many times before on various thetransportpolitic.com and http://soulofamerica.com/interact/soulofamerica-travel-blog/interstate-acela-network-part-5/, the Anaheim-LA-SF HSR line is going to get built and succeed.

      The next ingredient towards that success will be a chunk of reallocated Florida HSR money to extend from Bakersfield to Palmdale. From then on, naysayers will be eating their words because it enables Amtrak routes (Sacrmento-LA and Oakland-LA) to have independent utility until the 220 mph SF-LA-Anaheim HSR line completes.

      Before you make false soundbites like “there is no money to build it and not enough ridership to sustain it”, do your homework!

      • Kelly

        ThomasD,

        Do you know what the cost of extending from Bakersfield to Palmdale will be? I’ve been curious if CA’s share of FL’s money (maybe a third of it?) would be enough.

        • Woody

          Kelly, In another comment thread, Alon pointed out that Bakersfield-Palmdale will NOT be cheap, and that the spit-back funds from Florida likely won’t be enough to cover it.

          The short Central Valley portion at one end, and some desert at the other end, won’t cost much more per mile than the starter section Fresno-Bakersfield. However, getting up and over the Tehachapi Pass could be the costliest section outside the major metro areas.

          I’d be glad to send all the Florida spitback to Cali, but I’m concerned that this section is probably far from shovel-ready. The engineering and then the construction involved in crossing mountain passes near earthquake-prone faults is likely to be quite time consuming. At this point I’d send enough to build another 50 miles or so up toward Merced and then over toward San Jose.

        • Kathy,
          If I’m not mistaken, California HSR is already committed to receive $$4.4B in USDOT money. California HSR may get $1.6-2.0B from the Florida throwback money. The question becomes, what is required to build from Fresno-Bakersfield-Palmdale? If its $8B, then California HSR only needs $1.6B from the Florida money and California HSR would likely contribute $2B from the state bond.

          If it costs $9B to build that segment, then California needs $2B from Florida funds for the total of $6.4B in USDOT funds and California HSR must add $2.6B to total $9B.

          Without the initial geological studies, everyone’s only guessing the same way Caltrans did when it built I-5 Freeway through the Tehachapi Mountains.

          Bottom lines:
          1. Only California HSRA can answer the cost question from Freno-Bakersfield-Palmdale.
          2. California DOT has experience building through fault zones and the Tehachapi Mountains, so there should not be huge cost overruns
          3. The additional cost to reach Palmdale-Sylmar-Burbank should be within the amount California HSR is allocated after negotiation between President-Senate-Representatives for the U.S. Surface Transportation Reauthorization. See my earlier comment on this subject.

      • Danny

        You call that homework? Acela only has ridership of about 3 million per year, not 13 million. The rest of that ridership is on the considerably lower speed NE Regional or other slow intercity trains that happen to run in the same corridor as the higher speed Acela. Funny how you criticize Cato and Reason for publishing “biased one-dimensional soundbites based on distortions and half-truths”, and then proceed on with your own.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Considerably lower speed but still faster than flying, driving or taking the bus.

        • The advantage of loose adjective like “considerably” is that you can decide after the fact what it really means, to backfill the claim later to fit whatever the facts are. For example, DC to NYC, on the Acela, 2:52, on the Vermonter, 3:12. 11% slower. Is that “considerably”? Most NEC Regionals are 3:20 to 3:25, or 17% to 19% slower.

          Google maps figures around 4:20 by car in any event, and with a majority of the air/rail market, it must do OK versus the real transit time for air (including travel to and from airports and arrival in time for check in).

          And that air/rail market share is with capacity constraints rather than being the extent of demand ~ if there was more capacity on the Acela’s, they’d carry more passengers.

        • The Acela and Regional should really be thought of as one train, with separate brands for standard and premium service. It’s almost like economy and business/first class on airlines; you could even say that the speed difference is comparable to the time difference on airlines coming from business class’s priority at the check-in and security lines.

          • And Amtrak is quite explicit about that, with the two classes on the NEC Regionals as Coach and Business, and the two classes on the Acela as Business and First Class.

    • Glen

      Do you have no shame nimby??? Kathy is one of the main NIMBYS in MenloPark that speads lies about high speed rail because it run next to her house

      • If the Palo Alto-Menlo Park NIMBYs are concerned about trains running through the neighborhood, why aren’t they stopping Caltrain upgrades? Caltrain is going to electrify the line for 90 mph and increase from 96 daily trains to 110 daily trains by 2014. Without California HSR, they will still have many road crossings, people crossing tracks, low station platforms and plenty of train whistles at all time of day and night.

        With California HSR added, all the road crossings will be removed, people will not be permitted to walk across tracks and high platform stations for fast boarding, so the trains whistles would decrease by an order of magnitude and the safety would increase several orders of magnitude.

        Best of all, our Palo Alto-Menlo Park NIMBY friends would be able to enjoy a glass of vino and friees at the SF Giants baseball park and still be home by 10:30pm-11pm.

  • Brian Smith

    I don’t believe that there is a fundamental objection by conservatives to high speed rail. The real issue in creating a bi-partisan discussion and program is the question of the role of the private sector. We would go a much longer way to HSR or at least higher speed rail if we would put the infrastructure bank into existence and re-examine the 1970 law that founded Amtrak. The legislation, whose formal title escapes me at the moment, creates the prohibition for private firms to engage in intercity rail without a state franchise. Opening passenger rail on a more free market basis and inviting private investors to participate in the development of a national network would address most of the serious issues identified.

    • The real issue is creating broad based discussion among Independent and Democratic liberal progressives, moderate progressives and conservatives.

      “Bipartisan discussion” runs into the problem that its very hard to convince someone to admit that something is true when their paycheck depends on saying that it is false. “Bipartisan” requires the Republican Party, which is part-owned by Big Oil, to contradict one of their primary sources of fundings.

      That is no more likely than seeing a Hedge Fund Democratic presidential administration do a perp walk for the hundreds of Wall Street banksters guilty of the control fraud that led to the Panic of 2008.

      • Kelly,
        We don’t know the costs for Bakerfield-Palmdale segment yet because California HSRA is playing it close to vest. They want to preserve as much of the $9.9 billion bond to leverage more USDOT funds (like any state would).

        I guestimated that $1.6B Federal + $400M from the state bond should be sufficient. BUT, depending on how much tunneling vs. trench-cutting is required and other geology factors, I could be on the mark or underestimating by $1-1.5B.

        Even if the cost for that critical segment is $3-3.5B, its worth every penny because it is the critical link establish the independent utility between Norcal and SoCal on the route. Once Fresno-Bakersfield-Palmdale are locked for construction, California HSR momentum will overcome all the primary objections.
        .

    • Woody

      Brian, There’s one or more groups making a fairly serious effort to run ‘fun trains’ from Greater L.A. to Las Vegas, featuring singers, pianists, comedians, etc. to begin the entertainment long before passengers alight in Vegas.

      This would seem a great opportunity for Amtrak to stand back and let the private sector show what it can do. And Amtrak has not opposed these plans in any way, being very busy with better opportunities elsewhere. But the private sector ain’t doing squat.

      The Union Pacific, which hates passenger rail and makes life difficult for Amtrak at every turn, has so far made it impossible for any privately owned and operated fun train to run on its tracks.

      Don’t hold your breath for a change in policy and practice by any of the dominant freight lines. In theory, private capital would be a great help, and competition is always good. In the real world, with passenger rail, it ain’t gonna happen.

      • This is precisely why Desert Express backers would be wise to make their trains, speeds and practices compatible with California HSR for sub-2-hour LA-Las Vegas trips. As a private entity, they could include premium amenities in select cabins that cost extra.

  • Ms. McArdle claimed that “To make it work, we need to get away from demonstration projects, and start with the projects that make good economic sense.” The problem with this logic, of course, is that the government did not have enough money to build those projects that “make good economic sense,” because they would have cost more than the $10.5 billion that has been allocated for this purpose by the Congress so far.

    An even more substantial objection to Ms. McArdle’s screed is that it is based on a false premise. Orlando / Tampa may been among the minority of projects funded because it could be completed so quickly. Orlando / Tampa as designed may, indeed, have offered less transport benefit per route mile than either many other contenders or than it might have done if designed differently.

    But when you shift from making invidious comparisons to asking the simple question whether Orlando / Tampa makes economic sense ~ of course it makes economic sense. It offers less transport benefit per route mile on completion than many Express HSR corridors, but, in increasing order of importance, (1) because it can be completed so quickly, it can offer those benefits sooner and, even more fundamentally, (2) because it can be completed so quickly, it offers real world information on the choices of real world Americans making real world transport choices, and operating experience on actual Express HSR in an American setting, both of which presently requires “outside the sample” projections and, most importantly, (3) its project costs are substantially below rival Express HSR systems, precisely because it had a reserved alignment already in DOT possession, so its benefit/cost makes it a quite sensible way for government to invest our economy’s resources via their ability to finance the project.

    The hack job in the NYT that was the source for the screed was both in its framing and in the points it raised and points it ignored effectively taking dictation from the Oil-industry funded Reason / Heritage / Cato propaganda industry. It talked about factors reducing transport market share, and ignored the Airport/Disney patronage; it talked about the project being considered to be “too short” and ignored the relative cost savings of the existing highway alignment.

    The reality is that its a “demonstration corridor” that would be justified on a cold benefit/cost evaluation in any event ~ and certainly far more easily justified than spending a larger amount on highways between Tampa and Orlando ~ currently being pushed on the pretext of the project cancellation ~ to provide the same intercity transport capacity that is just exposed to the economic threat of Peak Oil as the existing transport capacity.

    When the fact is added in that it can in fact also serve as a demonstration corridor, with the additional nationwide economic benefit that this implies, its a slam dunk.

    • Well said BruceMcF. I responded to Ms. McArdle’s hack job too, though not as eloquently as you. Besides, these think nothing of wasting $5 billion on useless military programs, but have an issue with $2.4 billion for a great Demonstration project to critique with real data in only 4 years.

  • Jack Kinstlinger

    I find fault with both Addministaration and Republican positions. Administration, in an effort to spread the money included inceremetal projects that will have little travel impact or financial return was foolish.The position that ultimately we need a national high speed rail system also makes little sense. What is needed is to focus funds for perhaps 6 corridors where demand for high pspeed, frequent service, reliabilty and safety will gwenerate sufficien revenue to cover all O&M costs and a good portion of capital.The Northeast Corridor is prime candidate but please not under auspices of Amtrak.A public private venture could well come up with a viable financial plan.

    • It would have been foolish to pursue financial return. The purpose of government investment in infrastructure is economic benefit, and the projects funded offered ~ and those that are proceeding will provide ~ more than enough economic benefit to justify the financial cost of the projects.

      That is even before including the fact that this is stimulus spending and the alternative use of much of these labor and equipment resources is unemployment, so the economic cost of the investment is less than the financial cost

    • “Administration, in an effort to spread the money included inceremetal projects that will have little travel impact or financial return was foolish.”

      Technically, I agree that they spread the HSR money around thereby reducing the effectiveness of some projects. But politics are as much a factor as technical merit. So politically, Obama-LaHood spread the money around to show bi-partisanship.

      Now lets take the technical merit approach for a moment. Imagine if the $13B only went to the blue states of California, Illinois and most of the NEC. Repubs would howl that it was partisan dispersal of funds.

      “The position that ultimately we need a national high speed rail system also makes little sense. What is needed is to focus funds for perhaps 6 corridors where demand for high pspeed, frequent service, reliabilty and safety will gwenerate sufficien revenue to cover all O&M costs and a good portion of capital.”

      Absolutely disagree. Imagine America today without the complete Interstate Highway System. If we listened to a handful of luddites in 1955, we only needed a few freeways in a handful states. BTW, I was a big advocate of more freeways until the system completed in 2003 or so.

      Even if we ignore the environmental impacts of air pollution and CO2 contributing to global warming, the world is now in Peak Oil and America is the most oil-dependent nation on earth. Ten to fifteen years from now, when crude oil costs over $250-300/barrel, people aren’t going to be thrilled abut driving long distances for vacations. If we don’t a decent chunk of HSR in place by 2020-2025 driving will reduce and hurt the entire business travel & tourism industry. Hence, I care that HSR also runs from Kansas City to Denver to Albuquerque to Phoenix, albeit in later phases.

    • Woody

      The stimulus legislation, thanks to Congress in its wisdom or to Joe Biden working with a couple of guys in the Dept of Transportation, or both, whatever, actually included three tiers, three separate sections of the law, for funding passenger rail. The ARRA bill definitely included improvement to existing regular service, as well as for HSR.

      The spotlight was always on HSR, no doubt because it seems more fun and futuristic, maybe also because Amtrak has been so smeared by its opponents over the years. But when LaHood spread the money around the way he did, he was carrying out the law.

      Of course, if it had been limited to HSR, it wouldn’t have provided the desired stimulus of saving jobs and creating jobs that was supposed to be the main point. Remember that Obama ruefully observed that there actually weren’t many truly “shovel ready” projects. After all, who has detailed plans on the shelf and already assembled right-of-way for a multi-million dollar HSR line? Oh, well, who except for Florida?

  • I don’t think you should lump Mica, who’s an honest supporter of privatization and of NEC investment, together with McArdle and Will, who are clueless and listen to the wrong people. If McArdle supports NEC investment, it’s out of some internal tension between her Reason-libertarian hatred of all mass transit and her desire as a customer to shuttle from Washington to New York faster.

    • Adirondacker12800

      The basic problem is expecting McArdle to make coherent arguments. Or to make arguments.

      • She can be plenty coherent – she’s just clueless and wrong. Most of her arguments for why HSR couldn’t work in the US would also imply it couldn’t work in Europe; the map of the top 10 metro areas is priceless. The reason she can come off as semi-reasonable when she talks about doing the NEC first is that she’s trying to channel Glaeser.

  • EngineerScotty

    What ought to be done is that the administration ought to set a benchmark ratio for rail/highway spending, and stick to it–make it clear that HSR, transit and other non-road spending must be at least a certain fraction of the overall transportation budget.

    CW seems to be that the GOP will attempt to zero out non-roadway spending and that this will be offered up as a concession to get a broader budget passed. While Obama is shrewder than many progressives give him credit for, this is one part of the budget that remains politically at-risk. By attempting to fix the ratio–and by saying “if you cut rails, you must cut roads as well”, a stronger signal could be sent to retrograde politicians that the administration means business.

    And Yonah–you’ve neglected what I suspect is a big issue. Many in the GOP view the cities (and urban infrastructure, which generally includes HSR as it only stops in cities) with disdain. Our cities are full of people, after all, who aren’t “real Americans”–blacks, gays, white elitist liberals, and the like–and are the primary sources of moral and cultural decay. Or so goes a common narrative among many components of the GOP coalition–even if some parts of that narrative aren’t spoken aloud in polite company.

    Of course, fairness requires that many anti-rural attitudes, buttressed by portrayals of rural citizens as ignorant rednecks, seem to occasionally show up in urban policy discussions. And the net result of many urbanist arguments is that–right or wrong–cities should get a bigger slice of the pie. While cities may have a reasonable argument that they’ve been getting screwed over, an argument I agree with, from the rural perspective this is viewed as a threat. Thus we see various sources of rural sabre-rattling, ranging from support for demagogues such as Palin and Huckabee, to snarky remarks about “soviet style trains”, to Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack’s recent bizarre hissy-fit over Ezra Klein’s review of Malcolm Glazer’s The Triumph of the Cities–which Vilsack regarded as a “slam” on rural America, apparently because it didn’t genuflect to the heartland sufficiently.

    • Woody

      The big issue that was too hot for Yonah to touch is that Obama is a “ni@@er in the White House.” It drives them crazy. So if he’s for apple pie, they’re against it like black vs white.

      In a way this is the ALL CAPS version of your point about the cities being full of people “not like us” — blacks, gays, lib’ruls, feminists, high-income highly educated elites, trade unions, immigrants, Catholics, agnostics and other heretics, and how sweetly naive of you to forget to mention — Jews. The KKK’s enemies list, gathered together in the big cities.

      And now one of them, the worst of them, a highly educated, half immigrant, suspected heretic, and alleged lib’rul, a ni@@er from Chicago is in the White House, the white people’s white house, and they want their country back!

  • Look at the amount of campaign cash conservatives take in from the oil industry and you’ll learn all you need to know.

    • Woody

      It’s much harder to track, but I’m sure that the aggregate contributions from the sweetly-subsidized trucking industry are also huge amounts. They can hide in the grass, coming as many smaller campaign contributions to the wingers from the trucking company owners, top managers, and industry-group PACS in the various states, while tracking the dollars from Exxon or Shell is almost too easy.

      • Don’t forget the roadworks industry, which is a very high contributor to state level campaigns ~ a report I read was that once Scott Walker started lying that he could shift the rail funding into highway funding, road lobby funding in the Wisconsin governor’s race shifted 9:1 to the Republican side.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Big campaign contributers aren’t stupid. They can easily look at the legislation funding rail and see that it can’t willy-nilly be reallocated to roads. If they think that he could I want to run on reallocating all of Medicaid funding to roads.

      • I doubt it’s the trucking industry. The Teamsters support the Democrats, and the Republicans are much more opposed to urban transit and passenger rail, which if anything are good for trucking since they remove cars from the road, than to freight rail. Reason and Cato claim they support freight rail as a benefit of not having any significant mainline passenger rail, and the Economist writes paeans to Class I freight.

        • The Teamsters include rail locals, after all. And the rail section of their site includes HSR updates.

        • Woody

          Alon, Not for a minute was I thinking of the freight truck *drivers* as big campaign contributors, not Teamster members nor otherwise.

          I said, the money comes “from the trucking company owners, top managers, and industry-group PACs in the various states.”

          They are the ones constantly pressing for ever-longer, ever-heavier, ever-more damaging trucks to be allowed on the roads. Trucks already cause the need for far more frequent repaving and repairs than cars do.

          The company owners know that they are MASSIVELY subsidized in this way, because their user fees (fuel taxes etc) do not begin to cover their fair share of the publicly provided infrastructure costs.

          Of course, in public debate, the trucking company owners are happy to let the cars and their owners be the ones pitted against government spending on “subsidized” passenger rail.

  • RJH

    TTPolitic:”Their electors live in areas that would benefit only indirectly from such projects. Their constituents, primarily living in sprawling suburbs, do not see the value of government spending on anything other than roads.”

    If we really want to grab the attention of the average American, and garner support for HSR in the northeast we need to describe how it would benefit them directly. If I lived in an area that will probably never get HSR, I might not want my tax dollars to support it either. The missing component here is that nobody is talking about a total transportation systems approach. It always seems to degenerate in to a ‘let them drive’ or a ‘they can fly there’ debate. OK, so we aren’t building many more roads or runways, and people want economic growth (read: population growth). This of course leaves out any issues regarding oil supplies or emissions and assumes that highway and airport NIMBYs don’t exist.

    You don’t have to need, want or even be able to utilize passenger rail to benefit from the mobility improvements that it would provide. With 30% of all nationwide air delays resulting from congestion at New York area airports alone, shifting a significant share of travel in northeast (or other congested corridors for that matter) to rails would provide an air travel time savings benefit to millions of travelers. Now that is a tangible benefit that anyone in the nation can get behind.

  • The total cost of car ownership is a big trump card that hasn’t been played enough yet. Yonah mentioned it but didn’t put up any specific numbers — probably wise due to the extreme variability.

    Even a “free” hand-me-down car comes with a huge price tag on it. Fuel, maintenance, insurance, and licensing fees can easily top $3,000 in a year. Add in purchase cost, parking, and other miscellaneous fees, and there’s little wonder that the average yearly cost of car ownership is estimated around $7,500, with some regions seeing significantly higher numbers.

    That’s the “rolling stock” of the highway world, which normally gets ignored. Start multiplying those figures by the number of cars on a street or highway, and the values become staggering. It only takes about 130 cars to add up to $1 million each and every year. A major freeway ratchets up to hundreds of millions each year — even if you only count the induced demand of the highway system.

    Pedestrian, bicycle, and public transportation infrastructure has been extremely undervalued in comparison, along with the idea of rebuilding densely to make the best use of those modes. Towns, cities, and suburbs alike should be building in ways that promote a multi-modal lifestyle because they enhance the bank accounts of residents, improve the tax base, and make more efficient use of existing infrastructure.

  • Ben Zapruder

    Historically, virtually all transportation infrastructure has been developed and implemented initially to facilitate commerce (through the movement of freight or other goods, including mail) or, in the case of the Interstate system, for national defense purposes. F

    From post roads in colonial days, steamboats, canals, railroads, farm-to-market roads, airfields, even electric streetcars, the primary reason was commerce. That the infrastructure could also facilitate the movement of people was secondary.

    HSR turns that dynamic on its head. It is designed primarily for moving people, period. To be sure, movement of people can facilitate commerce, and if it could be demonstrated that a lack of labor force in Community A could only be addressed by the daily importation of labor from Community B and HSR was the most beneficial way to address that, it would change the parameters of the discussion. Or, if it could be demonstrated that the displacement of passenger cars on a particular highway thanks to HSR would facilitate X% improved capacity for trucks.

    The United States has a rail system that is the envy of the world. But most people don’t realize it because the system is focused almost exclusively on freight movement. And ironically, the current push to improve intercity passenger rail threatens the efficiency of that system.

    Finally, consensus and compromise — hallmarks of our governing process — don’t work particularly well when it comes to investments that rely on network connections to provide value. In other words, building 80% of a project because that’s all that you can afford doesn’t necessarily get you 80% of the benefit. Sometimes it’s 0%. So, building a particular, whether a HSR line or a highway, simply because it’s the best that can be afforded is a lousy approach. Always.

    • Andrew

      I don’t see how the development of HSR threatens the movement of freight in America. True HSR will require new tracks, which equals more capacity for the national system.

      • Woody

        Andrew, The freight railroads actually do view passenger trains as a threat to their operations.

        The ultimate, truly high-speed, dedicated track HSR lines are not a problem. But all the near-term proposals in the Midwest and most of those elsewhere are for High(er) Speed passenger trains doing up to 110 mph on upgraded freight lines. That’s the big problem.

        LaHood & team should be doing some horse trading right now. Tell the freights, “We’ll build a dedicated HSR line here and get all passenger trains off this set of tracks, but we’ll need to put some more train on those routes over there.”

        • Adirondacker12800

          They also have to be playing hardball on property taxes. If the railroads think their property is oh-so-valuable I’m sure the property tax assessors along the routes would be interested in knowing just how much the railroads claim their property is worth.

          • Woody

            Tough bargaining, do it! But seems they usually claim they need zillions to build new bridges, passing lanes etc. to prevent “interference” with their freights from the special-needs passenger trains. And they may be half right, claim $900 zillion to allow the Sunset Limited to go daily, but settle for $300 million?

            Here’s a question tho: When Illinois doubletracks the UP line St Louis-Chicago, or NY State builds a short segment near Rochester, who owns those new tracks? Do the local property taxes go up?

            • The passenger-only infrastructure is owned by the state. The fact that the freight railroads do not pay property tax on that infrastructure is part of the reason why they give permission to build it in their right of way.

              While obstructionism may grab the headlines, not all railroads are obstructionist on the 110mph mixed use upgrades. Different companies ~ both Class 1′s and short lines ~ have different approaches.

              And, for instance, CSX is fairly obstructionist on mixed use, but is willing to sell unused right of way for passenger rail, which is something UP tends to be adamantly against.

              • Adirondacker12800

                UP is adamantly against it in California where their property tax assessment is frozen in amber by Prop 13. They are a bit more flexible outside of California. Current market value of UP’s stock is roughly 50 billion ( if I did the calculations correctly ) It might be cheaper and easier to buy the company than buying real estate piecemeal.

              • CSX demanded a couple tens of feet of separation between the freight and passenger tracks in Upstate New York – I forget how much exactly. (45 ft?)

                UP said it’s willing to host FRA-compliant (i.e. unworkable) 110 mph trains on its tracks, but that was an olive branch to California after playing hardball on sharing ROW with noncompliant 220 mph trains.

              • Adirondacker12800

                I seem to remember 30 because there were places where a third track wouldn’t have been possible along the ROW that historically had 4 tracks.

                Various legislators made rude noises at CSX, The DOT had a little chat with them, They changed their minds.

              • The rail operators that the ORDC was talking to for the Ohio Hub were asking 25ft centerline ~ they designed for 28ft to allow for later placement of sidings on 14ft centerline.

              • Nathanael

                Oh God, Adirondacker, I never mentally connected Prop 13 with the fact that UP is particularly abusive in California. You’re right of course.

                Prop 13 has to go, it was never sane.

    • The “sopread too thinly” argument is an oversimplified talking point meant to attach the funding that went to the very capital-efficient Rapid Rail HSR systems that shared infrastructure with freight.

      For those systems, in making investments in assuring no negative impact on freight, that implies a net benefit to the freight operators. And if that model becomes firmly established as the complementary corridors to the Express HSR system ~ as provided in Europe by the Express Interurban network they already had ~ of course that implies likely acceleration of freight business off of trucks and onto rail freight.

      The complaint there is not really “spread too thinly”, but “spread too widely, doing too much good for too many different people, and so too difficult to stop if it gets going.” The threat is not that the HSR funds are being wasted, but rather the threat is that they are being spent well, and the corridors will succeed.

  • Chris

    My main problem with this sort of federal funding (for both roads and rail) is that there are almost no positive externalities of such construction that can’t easily be internalized. The overwhelming benefit of these projects go to the users of the project and to local property owners – which begs the question of why they aren’t asked to pay for it. If Republicans are making the point “why are Idaho taxpayers being asked to pay for Disney-serving infrastructure”, that’s a pretty good and obvious point to make.

    But given that we seem to be stuck in a handout culture – evidently intercity road passengers won’t be asked to pay their own way anytime soon – I’d say that mass transit, not HSR, should be our overwhelming focus. The users of mass transit at least tend to be poorer and more in need of a subsidy.

    • Andrew

      States like Idaho are net-subsidized states, while high-tax states like New Jersey have more money going out than coming in. Which is really ironic considering that argument.

      • Adirondacker12800

        The people who make claims like “Why should Idaho pay for…. ” forget that the places they are complaining about are filled with Federal taxpayer.
        Florida is usually in the middle of the pack so it would be Floridians paying Federal tax dollars for Federal tax dollars to be spent in Florida.

        • Chris

          Absolutely, which raises the question of why Democrats don’t make the reverse argument. Perhaps they’re just missing an obvious opportunity; perhaps they believe that although the money’s being spent in Idaho, the primary benefit of the subsidy is to consumers in the places being connected, e.g. Washington state and Chicago.

          Either way, we need to ask why our transportation funding scheme most closely resembles a money laundering operation. If Floridians want to spend money in Florida for the benefit of people who are in Flordia, why is the federal government taking such an active role?

          • Adirondacker12800

            They tried having Floridians spend money on Floridians. The conversation then changed to “Why should people in Fumbuck spend money on Miami” neglecting of course that the people in Miami pay Floridian taxes to support the leeches in Fumbuck.

          • Chris,
            Letting every state decide only builds silo railroads. Imagine the stupidity of building highways that way, instead of the interstate highway system.

            The answer is we’re the United States of America. Once it was determined that we need HSR, by extension must build a interstate HSR network in phases by corridors of highest merit, but always with the goal of connecting endpoints — eventually to the likes of Seattle-Spokane-Boise-Salt Lake City and Denver.

            • Adirondacker12800

              Letting every state decide resulted in a system of highways across the Northeast and Midwest that the Interstates were modeled on.

              • But the planned and end result is the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System in the Lower 48 states, plus Hawaii.

              • That end result isn’t really positive. The highways that attracted enough traffic to justify grade separation had already been built. What the Interstate network added was for the most part low-performing lines through the Interior West, and excessively wide corridors tearing through cities. Meanwhile, in Canada, where the federal government did not intervene in highway building, the freeways are for the most part not as obtrusive in urban areas, especially in Western Canada.

            • Chris

              I see the Interstate Highway System more as an example of what to avoid than a model to be emulated – a project that made no effort to recoup costs from beneficiaries and paid little attention to local interests or the ultimate economic viability or sustainability of the infrastructure being built. We should be doing the opposite; construction shouldn’t proceed if we don’t expect to be able to recover costs from the beneficiaries (which basically amounts to ensuring economic viability), and local interests should be paramount.

              • Chris,
                Of course there were many things to improve about the Interstate Highway System. If you are going to lock in on cost recovery from the recover costs from the beneficiaries, then you also have to provide benefits to the locals hurt by national transportation projects.

                I can cite a personal case of how an interstate highway destroyed several neighborhoods, didn’t hire local workers and didn’t purchase items from local small businesses. They never planted the trees and greenery that was supposed to absorb much of air pollutantsToday the neighborhood only gets extra smog from drive-by traffic to the suburbs and higher cases of asthma.

                Nevertheless I think as a whole, the IHS planners got it 80% right for our nation. Which of course means 20% are lessons learned that can be applied to an Interstate HSR Network.

                Fortunately, most of our major cities already have tracks to train stations. Interstate HSR would be electrified, so we generate the air pollution problems or destroy neighborhoods like IHS did. For each HSR route, special efforts should be made to hire local workers and purchase products from local small businesses.

              • Meant to say,

                “Interstate HSR would be electrified, so we DON’T generate the air pollution problems or destroy neighborhoods like IHS did. For each HSR route, special efforts should be made to hire local workers and purchase products from local small businesses.

      • Ocean Railroader

        Any large land area county most likely has this same thing happening such as Brazil,Russia and China have very dense built up areas paying all the taxes while they have very vast areas that have low numbers of people that still need roads and other things so there really is nothing wrong with this set up.

    • Wad

      Chris wrote:

      But given that we seem to be stuck in a handout culture … I’d say that mass transit, not HSR, should be our overwhelming focus. The users of mass transit at least tend to be poorer and more in need of a subsidy.

      I’m very familiar with this line of thinking. I’ve come to call it the Magpie Ploy.

      Opponents of a project, in this case HSR, camouflage their intent by suggesting their funding be diverted into a complementary project.

      These opponents emerge once money has been allocated for a project and has a plausible shot of being realized. If they succeed, they suddenly disappear or repeat the tactic for another diversion. (We shouldn’t fund HSR, we should fund mass transit. … Now that mass transit is funded, it’s clear it doesn’t work here and the funding should be diverted to schools or parks.)

      The ploy should be exposed for what it is:
      1. It is done to sow dissension among groups, unnecessarily pitting HSR advocates against transit advocates in a zero-sum game.
      2. It is insincere support for the complementary funding target. If there had been a need for mass transit, the advocate would have taken steps independent of HSR funding and have a track record of work before HSR funding was made available.
      3. Support can be easily exposed as weak. The focus is not finding an alternative, but stopping the opponent by any means necessary. What if you find yourself in the position to defend your alternative?

      For instance, how should mass transit money be allocated if you got what you wanted? How much would be allocated to capital, and how much to operating costs? Do you know the difference between capital and operating costs? What sort of measurable outcome are you trying to achieve?

      Otherwise, saying “Let’s give money to mass transit” is no better than taking the money and throwing it to transit agency heads like fish to circus seals.

  • Chris

    As a Republican, I’d like to point out that it is not correct to say that Republicans oppose transit. It is only a subset of Republicans who oppose a specific type of transit:

    * There are plenty of Republicans who are pro-transit. Amtrak President Boardman, Transportation Secretary LaHood and others are all Republicans.

    * Republican support of transit is mostly at the local and regional level. Commuter trains and local transit initiatives get plenty of Republican support.

    * If you look at polling data, average citizens who are Republicans are favorable to transit spending.

    * Republican elected officials from areas with high rail use (such as NY) are not against transit.

    Adding this all up, it is just particular Republican elected officials and other influential Republicans, all at the state and national levels, who are against spending on intercity passenger trains. Those people are from car-heavy areas, do not take Amtrak and do not have direct experience with Amtrak trains.

    Why do Republican elected officials at the state and national levels oppose the Obama HSR program? (1) because Obama proposed it and (2) it wasn’t structured in a way to get a good rate of return on investment. See John Mica’s argument- “spend money on the Northeast Corridor!”

    • So its (1) Obama proposed it and (2) it was precisely the kind of thing that government ought to be investing in, where the economic benefits are substantial but because of the way they are spread around, its hard for private business to capture the benefit and gain a positive return on investment.

      Of course, there are dedicated anti-rail ideologues who claim that the economic benefits themselves aren’t there, but they have a long track record of saying whatever is necessary to reach the anti-rail conclusion, so nobody serious would take them seriously when evaluating the economic benefit.

      • Chris

        I personally think that the economic benefits of rail transit are substantial, but the Obama administration’s HSR program didn’t seem to give out grants based on economic benefit.

        I was involved in government (at the local level), and the board I was on got federal funds for a transit project. There were strict financial and other criteria that we had to meet to get the funds. The HSR program, as far as I know, requires no such rate of return thresholds to be met.

        • Adirondacker12800

          They just threw all the applications in a hat and picked them out randomly, No consideration at all for things like cost effectiveness….. But then cost effectiveness wasn’t a primary consideration for the grants was it?

          • Chris

            I don’t think that they were picked out of a hat- projects that seemed to be somewhat along in the planning process, projects in swing states, etc. got funded.

            • Adirondacker12800

              So they had some sort of criteria, just not the ones you wanted them to use…..

              • Chris

                Sure. I’d want them to use criteria that require strict compliance with minimum documented financial benefits, like so many transit grants require.

          • Yet all of the ones that they picked out of the hat pass muster on a full economic benefit / full economic cost assessment.

        • Transit is, in any event, a different issue. HSR is not transit, it is intercity transportation. Its straighforward that the transport capacity available from the California HSR Stage 1 or the Tampa/Orlando system would cost more to be provided by roadwork, and that if the transport capacity is not provided by any other means, it will be provided by roadwork.

          Its also straighforward that the 110mph corridor investments funded in WA/OR, Chicago-STL, Wisconsin, Ohio and VA/NC were all justified on a benefit/cost basis, independent of whether new intercity transport capacity is required.

          Those finding that the cost were unjustified were primarily those who would have found that the costs were unjustified no matter what the costs and what the benefits actually were, because Reason/Cato/Heritage pays their transport authors to find ways to say that any given rail investment is a bad decision.

        • Chris,
          I salute Republicans like you who get it. Transit and HSR have real benefits to our society greater than the Alternatives of adding freeway lanes that don’t relieve congestion, airport expansion for regional flights, more imported foreign oil, more smog contributing to lung problems, more CO2 contributing to global warming, and more auto accidents.

          But I do have question for you concerning “structured in a way to get a good rate of return on investment”. Why don’t more Republicans include externalities for the Alternatives when they measure rate of return on investment? Aren’t cleaner air, fewer flight delays, less contribution to global warming, independence from foreign oil, and fewer auto accidents extremely valuable?

          Last time I checked, no decided whether to build a freeway based on good rate of return on investment.

    • Chris,

      Don’t believe Mica’s political tactics proclaiming “HSR spending is only justifiable in the Northeast.” I’m originally from the Northeast and my home town would receive a larger share of HSR funding. But I don’t want them to receive it under false pretense that sabotages deserving HSR corridors elsewhere.

      In AAA-heaven California, a mother-lode of analysis by auto-centric Caltrans (California DOT) concluded that HSR was the preferred option over freeway and airport expansion for more regional flights. The America 2050 HSR report (http://www.america2050.org/infrastructure.html concludes that California+Las Vegas+Phoenix has nearly a dozen city-pairs that score 16 or above (high)

      Illinois DOT transportation alternative studies reached a similar conclusion. Instead of building a third (unpopular) multi-billion dollar airport south of Chicago, they now want Chicago to be the Midwest HSR hub. The America 2050 HSR report also indicates that these Chicago corridors have high merit scores as well:

      Minneapolis-Madison-Milwuakee-Chicago-St. Louis
      Chicago-Detroit
      Chicago-Indy-Cincy

      Several other engineers and analysts in state DOTs reached similar conclusions with their alternative analysis. Furthermore, America 2050 HSR Report independently concluded that these corridors have high merit scores:

      Eugene-Portland-Seattle-Vancouver
      DC-Richmond-Raleigh-Greensboro-Charlotte
      Houston-Dallas

      Take your Republican hat off for a moment, then put a USA hat on. Ask yourself, why doesn’t Mica support these corridors? If Mica thinks we should only be supporting 220 mph systems that have high benefit-costs, why isn’t he gung-ho about 220 mph California HSR and the 220 mph Chicago-St. Louis line in planning? Why doesn’t he speak up about the 220 mph Houston-Dallas line being planned?

      If you still have you USA hat on, don’t use Mica or TheTransportPolitic as your litmus tests for where to spend HSR money. Read the state DOT study summaries and America 2050 report for yourself. The more Mica speaks, he appears to be a gatekeeper trying to quarantine HSR success to the Northeast Corridor.

      Lastly, America 2050 received funding for the study from the Rockefeller Foundation and Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

      • Done right, the NEC’s cost-benefit ratio is vastly higher than that of anything else in the US. Or in the world, as of 2011, except maybe if Britain could build HS2 on a reasonable budget.

        Though most likely, Mica cares about the NEC because it’s an established route instead of new investment – there’s a trend among conservatives and libertarians to assume whoever won out was right, leading Reason to e.g. attack Dvorak keyboards – or because people in and around Congress use it to get to New York (the same reason why McArdle has such a cognitive dissonance about the NEC). But he still cared about Florida HSR and opposed the cancellation.

    • Nathanael

      “As a Republican, I’d like to point out that it is not correct to say that Republicans oppose transit. It is only a subset of Republicans who oppose a specific type of transit:”

      Quite right, but they’re *taking over your party*. And what they oppose is *non-oil-dependent transit*. Please look at the Central Valley state legislators in California who flip-floopped from supporting HSR to supporting more highways and opposing HSR. After recieving instructions from their Big Oil an Koch Brthers funders. CAHSRblog covered it recently. Or you could look at the specific attempt to defund rail by the jackass Republicans in the Minnesota House — they attacted all transit but singled out rail. Despite the Hiawatha Line being a roaring success.

      I don’t believe for one minute that Boardman or LaHood still vote Republican. Why do you? Do you really think you can take back your party? I’m not even sure we can take back the Democratic Party from self-serving fatcat interests, and it’s an easier target, having less Wholly Owned Subsidiaries in its elected official ranks.

  • DF

    I may be looking at this wrong but I think the total-cost-of-ownership argument (“the train riders are not paying for fuel, maintenance, and insurance if they are substituting their car travel with train use”) is double counting, since those considerations are already reflected in the tolls/fares people are willing to pay.

    To make things slightly more concrete, let’s assume we start with an equilibrium, with rail and road alternatives for a given trip, and then something happens which does not change the cost of the rail trip but raises the cost of the car trip by $1. The road managers respond by dropping the road toll by $1 so ridership remains the same.

    It is fair enough to say that the rail-road tradeoff has now moved towards rail by $1 per trip. This is reflected in the lower tolls on the road. But it is double counting to add to this $1 the “additional” increase to the road trip’s total cost to the traveler and conclude that the change has really been $2 per trip.

    • Aren’t you replying to a specific comment? It’d be easier to tell if your answer is on the same page as the original if you had hit reply, so it was threaded to the comment it was replying to.

  • Jason Mann

    I think this was an excellent post and the conversation great. However, I think that what you’re going to start hearing about very soon is many more Democratic objections to HSR. They will start as low mumbles, small snarky comments, but it could evolve into bigger opposition, depending on how this year goes.

    The reason has to do with a growing perception from the local scene that HSR has become a pet-favorite of the Obama Administration, in the face of a huge financial crisis back in the States and at local governments. Many of the traditional Democratic urban constituents are facing teacher layoffs, mass transit cut-backs, and the housing crisis, and they’re going to start retrenching that HSR just isn’t a priority.

    I believe the Administration is going to have to do something very soon to put folks at ease that HSR isn’t taking from those areas. For example, in his latest budget there was a good chunk of money for “fix-it-first” urban mass transit; but except for this blog, where else did you hear about it? The headlines all lead with HSR, and there’s going to be a growing perception that the President is fiddling while Rome burns.

    • Jason Mann worte:
      ” I think that what you’re going to start hearing about very soon is many more Democratic objections to HSR.”

      You’re barking up the wrong tree. The Democrats just formed a bicameral HSR Caucus to solidify their support of HSR. You can see the youtube video for yourself at http://ushsr.com/

      What more interesting is that Mica and Shuster didn’t join or care to be seen as a member of the HSR Caucus dominated by Democratic members. Mica and Shuster should be members, if only to continue their argument for more business participation. More evidence that at the national level, Republicans are still playing politics over HSR infrastructure that should be non-political.

  • As a conservative and a Christian, I can speak for myself thank you very much. I don’t need a liberal blog to speak for me. But I can speak for all conservatives because I am one of the few these days who still hold actual traditional conservative positions, not just liberal friendly compromise positions of watered down conservatism.

    The reason we don’t want HSR anywhere, even in the NEC is because it’s socialist. Period. We want Amtrak to sell the NEC to a private operator and start working on the rest of it’s routes to make them profitable. If it can’t, we should get rid of Amtrak. Period.

    No more wishy washy! We need to get rid of socialist transit. Responsible conservative families do not need subsidized transportaton! Roads and airports pay for themselves with gas taxes and user fees. The rest of what government spends on roads and airports is not a “subsidy”, it’s the cost of doing business in return for the economic benefits of roads and airports that rail does not offer. Public transportation costs more per passenger mile than roads.

    • EngineerScotty

      Is this a serious post, or somebody mocking conservative positions on the issue?

    • Paris Palin,
      As a progressive and a Christian, I speak for myself. This so-called liberal blog does not speak for me, but I do debate and exchange ideas here and elsewhere.

      I was not born loving trains. I used to be pro-highway and celebrated every highway extension. Then I did my own homework and reached the conclusion that funding an interstate HSR network is no more socialist than our interstate highway system. In fact, I learned that HSR is good for our national economic security, among many other benefits.

      I also learned that gas taxes and user fees cover less than $19 billion of the $44 billion the U.S. Dept. of Transportation spends each year on highways. By your definition, all taxpayers covering the $25 billion extra would make interstate highways “socialist” as well. Does it stick in your craw that millions of non-driving and non-flying taxpayers are forced to subsidize highways and airports?

      I am more generous than you on this subject. I do not call highways or airports built with taxes from the general fund as socialist. I see highways, airports, transit and HSR as essential assets that move our lifestyles and economy for the public good — transportation infrastructure for both rural and urban interests.

  • Benj

    It seems entirely more feasible to implement a full distance (SF to LA) Acela-like high speed train — diesel, sure — on existing rails in California. If you look at a rail map of the central valley, the vast majority are long-straight thoroughfares, already perfect for high speeds.

    The thing that stops Acela from going faster is tight curves, like in Connecticut. Since the entire CA central valley already has long, long straight stretches of track, the trains would just slow up as they cross mountains to enter urban areas. The only real missing link is Bakersfield-Santa Clarita (LA area) — that’s where today’s money should be going.

    It seems silly to waste money and resources to build new track when the existing stuff, with upgrades for sure, could serve just as well.

    Aside from that, proving that there’s a demand for high speed rail by using the mixed-speed Acela model would certainly quell a lot of this debate. The line could be upgraded to true high speed in sections, as demand finances it.

    • Adirondacker12800

      It seems silly to waste money and resources to build new track when the existing stuff, with upgrades for sure, could serve just as well.

      The existing track can’t serve just as well. It’s lousy with grade crosssings. The place Acela and the Regionals go fast is the place where there ROW is totally grade separated. The upgrades to get up to 126 MPH are the same upgrades you need to get to 220 MPH.

    • Other than the bit about Acelas and diesels being a positive model, I’m inclined to agree – LA-Bakersfield should be the best place to start. Unfortunately, the EIR there is the least advanced, as a result of which LA-Palmdale is likely to be the last segment to open.

      The existing track in the Central Valley can’t support high speeds, as Adirondacker notes. There’s too much freight traffic, the track quality is low, and there are frequent grade crossings. But LA-Bakersfield would have independent utility.

  • Brandi

    I had to share this because it is just to funny. Walker has flip-flopped and is now applying for HSR money.

    http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2011/03/29/business-us-wisconsin-governor-transportation_8380692.html

  • Nathanael

    Yonah’s fundamental mistake is acting as if “conservative objections” are rational. This is how the conservative mind is working, and you can see it in every newspaper’s comment section:

    (1) Trains are for poor people and liberals. (Untrue, but you’ll never convince them of that.) We consider ourselves rich (even though we’re not), we hate liberals, and we are selfish bastards, so we don’t want trains.

    That’s it. That’s all there is to it.

    The most powerful “conservatives” have an added line of thought:
    (2) Trains are energy-efficient. Our big oil and big coal backers don’t like that. They cost less to build than highways and use less oil (no asphalt involved). Our big oil and highway-construction backers don’t like that. Therefore we oppose trains.

  • Afi K. James

    Because HSR Rail is not in the constitution to get it.

    these lamocrats are just big government nannies to the state just like the neocons are also nannies to the state.

    i’m glad i’m a libertarian for good reason

    BIG GOVERNMENT STINKS!

    • Woody

      You Ayn Rand cultists don’t have a clue about the real world. Exactly like Karl Marx’s followers back in the 20th century, you believe the dogma of a leader who ‘had it all worked out in theory’. When real facts and actual history suggest flaws in the ideology you have adopted, you shout slogans and type in ALL CAPS.

      HSR is not in the Constitution? Why, because railroads had not yet been invented? Highways had been invented by then. The National Road was authorized by Congress in 1806 under President Thomas Jefferson; construction began in 1811 under President James Madison; it reached the Ohio River in 1818 under President James Monroe. Work continued under Presidents John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Martin Van Buren. The project only stopped in mid-Illinois because the newly invented railroads.

      Funny how six early Presidents felt a National Road was Constitutional, but cult members like you claim that a national system of high speed rail somehow is not.

    • Art. 1 Sect. 8 clauses 1 through 3, same as the Interstate Highway system.

    • Nathanael

      It’s worth noting that according to federal law all railroads are “post roads”, a provision passed just about when railroads were invented.

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