Boston’s proposed South Coast rail exemplifies what isn’t high-speed rail
Senator John Kerry (D-MA) told reporters yesterday that he envisioned using some of the high-speed rail funds from the stimulus legislation currently under discussion to “accelerate the process” of implementing the South Coast rail corridor, a proposed commuter rail system to run between Boston and the cities of Fall River and New Bedford. The problem is that he seems to think that the Senate’s proposed $2 billion for high-speed rail will provide the dollars to get this commuter rail project moving.
Mr. Kerry has been one of the nation’s top rail advocates in recent years, so to see him pushing forward with the idea of using high-speed funds for what will be a relatively typical commuter rail system – running with big diesel locomotives at speeds of less than 100 mph – is myopic. What is the point of assigning $2 billion to fast rail if those funds go to standard rail projects? Where is this politician’s vision for a national rail network?
All in all, I’m disappointed with Senator Kerry. Fortunately, however, he probably won’t be able to take advantage of those funds for his pet project. The text of the legislation ensures that, according to Mr. Kerry’s own presser, only projects with trains “reasonably expected” to run above 150 mph get funded, and the stimulus package as a whole is supposed to be spent within months, not years. Massachusetts state officials had estimated that this $1.4 billion project would be completed by 2016. Engineering is not even close to being finished.
How, then, could Mr. Kerry have said what he said? Chalk it up to a politician’s limited understanding of the bills he himself is sponsoring, perhaps, but there’s no excuse for this senator not realizing that a commuter rail project such as this simply doesn’t fit the high-speed designation. Nor would its construction – to begin in 2011 at the earliest – do anything to stimulate today’s lackluster economy.
It’s a good thing the Department of Transportation, not Mr. Kerry’s office, will control the money’s distribution.