Friday, December 17, 2010

This is a point I have made many times. Republicans oppose HSR, Democrats support it. Each Party has its own reasons, and there are many reasons for each of their positions. I agree with some, but not all, on the Republican side, and I agree with almost none of the supportive reasons on the Democratic side; that is, why this is a good idea.

My view of the HSR project at the national level is, that it has less to do with transportation, transit and trains, but much more to do with earmarks, political payoffs and the illusion that such politically correct dollar transfers to the states will benefit the unemployed and the depressed budgets of those states.

It's been pointed out a number of times, including by Dan Walters of the Sac. Bee that the last minute Central Valley funding package was an attempt to rescue Democrat Jim Costa's failing election campaign, and it worked. The first construction begins in his district.

There are plenty of reasons to totally oppose this HSR project in California. We can start with mismanagement, incompetence and outright corruption among the project promoters and the CHSRA. Add to that the complete lack of accountability and inaction on the part of anyone in authority in Sacramento, and that's in the face of amply documented shortcomings and illegalities.

I will repeat my standard mantra: This project is not about trains; it's about the money. After nearly thirty years of promoting HSR in California, even at this moment, the project appears to be improvised on a day to day basis. The impression we get is that no one in their office seems to know what they are doing. The game is to get federal dollars and then quickly figure out how to spend them. Additionally, the game includes not telling the truth about anything in order to sell this project as the ideal pipeline or vehicle for funding transfers from Washington.

This is an urgent call to all my colleagues on the Bay Area Peninsula, and in California, to re-assess their position regarding this train project. The winds are shifting away from mindless support and endorsement of a vague vision of a luxury train whizzing across the California landscape. We are past the point of negotiations and seeking less pain than they intent to inflict. Harsh realities are sinking in at all levels of government. The stunning and as yet unrealistically defined cost projections are seriously dissuasive, especially for the Republicans who don't see the hemorrhaging of dollars for this project justified.

Those who continue to fiddle with this or that accommodation with this project, while dollars burn, will be left behind as pressure mounts to terminate the project at the national, and therefore at the state level as well.


High-Speed Rail as the New Political Football?

by Marc Scribner

December 16, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

Over at National Journal’s Transportation Experts blog, Fawn Johnson asks whether or not high-speed rail has become a new political football in the United States.

Governors-elect Walker (Wisc.) and Kasich (Ohio) ran on decidedly anti-rail platforms. They were also involved in several very public disputes with the Obama administration’s Department of Transportation, which ultimately led to the president’s decision to redirect ARRA (stimulus) funds out of high-speed rail projects in Wisconsin and Ohio.

While I don’t discount the likelihood that a decent chunk of the recent Republican outrage over these projects is partisan and manufactured, some of it is certainly sincere.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently said, “There are no Democratic or Republic bridges, there are no Democratic or Republican roads.” He conveniently left out railroads, as the current high-speed rail program is largely the product of Democratic design (there is limited Republican support that primarily comes from Big Porkers like Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois).

There is plenty of sanctimony over on the blog, with PIRGy types nearly in tears over the thought of losing passenger rail projects that will primarily cater to wealthy urbanites.

There are also plenty of bogus claims from rent-seekers and railfans. Andy Kunz, president of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, is predictably full of it. He cites our alleged addiction to foreign oil as a reason to support the administration’s high-speed rail plan. He implies that these new trains of the future will somehow drastically diminish America’s demand for petroleum. Of course, putting faith in this narrative requires assuming that the trains will operate at capacity, that the proposed low-density corridors are actually meeting some unmet transportation demand, and ignoring the fact that these trains would be driven by diesel power cars or locomotives. Even then, it is unclear if U.S. petroleum demand would be significantly impacted. The Independent Institute’s Gabriel Roth smacks down Kunz over his logic-impaired assessment:

There is much misinformation on the capacity of transport modes. Andy Kunz asserts that “a single high speed rail line can carry the equivalent of a 10-lane freeway”. But one freeway lane can carry over 1,800 fifty-seat buses an hour. Six hundred such buses could carry 30,000 seated passengers an hour while occupying only one third of the capacity of one lane. How many seated passengers an hour can be carried on a High-Speed rail line, which requires each train to travel on dedicated right-of-way with miles of empty space in front of it?

As I said, I don’t doubt that there is some partisan cynicism at play in these recent dust-ups over Obamarail. But it is starting to appear that politicians and the public are simply more educated about these “high-speed” trains to nowhere, and are making their voices heard.