Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The rail industry's take on the new proposal for $53 billion for HSR

Here is Progressive Railroading's take on the $53 billion that Obama/Biden are eager to distribute as part of their non-ARRA, non-Stimulus, stimulus.  There's more detail in this article and that's a little bit helpful to understand the Administration's intentions.

Just to have a context for the Democratic budget agenda, it will be $53 billion for six years. For the 2012 budget, they are proposing $8 billion for HSR.  Well, we've been there before.  $8 billion for HSR is a spit in the ocean. Furthermore, what they mean by HSR is not the same as what we, or the rest of the world, mean by HSR.  They are willing to call any train upgrade a speedier train and therefore, it qualifies.

Now, however, the vision is far more grandiose.  There will be a "core express" or backbone.  There will be "crucial regional" corridors with 90 top 100 mph speeds.  And then there will be "emerging" corridors with 90 or less mph trains.  The core express will have the fastest, but that would include anything over 125 mph.  Unless all the rail support systems are upgraded first, as they call it, the 'crucial' and 'emerging,' it's a huge mistake to proceed with super fast trains, since they cost the most and would carry the fewest passengers.

It's like replacing your aorta but leaving all the veins and arteries in shambles. They're starting at the wrong end of the network.  They should be fixing all the local, urban and regional transit systems, whether steel or rubber tire, first.  But, that doesn't have political glamour.

Then, the DOT is talking about partnerships.  We should have learned by now to be very careful when government agencies talk about "partnerships." This time, they're  including "the states,""the freights," and "private companies."  What kind of companies these would be wasn't explained.  Do they mean companies like Parsons Brinckerhoff?

We already know that the US Class I freight carriers are not that happy about rail corridor sharing with passenger trains, regardless of speeds.  And they have a serious aversion to high-speed trains with the highest hazard and liability factors.

Interestingly, while the CHSRA posits a harsh polarity between their intended HSR system and highways and runways, making them an either/or proposition, the reading by some of the states of the President's proposal includes an "integrated transportation system that "includes. . . rail, highways, bridges, ferries and runways."  Actually, we haven't heard anything yet about such integration or funding commitments to existing and deteriorated infrastructure such as listed here.   So where that interpretation comes from is certainly a puzzle. 

The overall impression we now have from all this is hand-waving speculation, wishful thinking, and a lust for funds.  Political reality will tell us a different story.

2/9/2011    Government
Passenger rail constituents applaud Obama's $53 billion rail plan; GOP's Mica is skeptical

Yesterday, passenger-rail industry constituents and advocates applauded the Obama Administration’s $53 billion high-speed rail network proposal as a long-term investment in the nation’s transportation infrastructure. 

The proposal, unveiled yesterday by Vice President Joseph Biden in Philadelphia, calls for committing $53 billion in federal dollars over the next six years to build a national high-speed and intercity rail network. The plan would help the nation reach President Obama's goal, as outlined in the State of the Union address, of giving 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail in the next 25 years.

As a step toward the goal, Obama plans to allocate $8 billion for high-speed rail in the fiscal-year 2012 budget proposal he’ll send to Congress on Feb. 14.

The proposed rail network would include three types of interconnected rail corridors: "core express" that form the high-speed system's backbone; "crucial regional" corridors with train speeds of 90 mph to 125 mph; and "emerging" corridors with trains traveling up to 90 mph that would provide access to the high-speed and intercity passenger network.

The U.S. Department of Transportation would identify the corridors in partnership with states, freight railroads and private companies.

The proposal is consistent with the president’s commitment to an integrated transportation system that "includes infrastructure investment not only for rail, but for highways, bridges, ferries and runways," said state of Washington Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond in a prepared statement.

Hammond, who also chairs the States for Passenger Rail Coalition, attended Biden's speech in Philadelphia.

"A recovered economy will depend on an integrated transportation system that works for everyone," she said. 

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) also endorsed the proposal for its job-creation potential.

"Investing in our country's transportation infrastructure is vital for economic growth, competitiveness and quality of life," said APTA President William Millar in a prepared statement. "In addition, the formation of a high-speed rail network that connects to public transportation will relieve both highway and aviation congestion."

Whether the proposal will pass muster in Congress is another matter, however. U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Transportation Committee, criticized the president’s latest proposal as well as the Administration’s handling of the first $10.5 billion toward developing high-speed rail — $8 billion from Recovery Act stimulus funds and $2.5 billion from the 2010 budget. 

"Rather than focusing on the Northeast Corridor, the most congested corridor in the nation and the only corridor owned by the federal government, the Administration continues to squander limited taxpayer dollars on marginal projects," Mica said in a prepared statement.