Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The UK: Instead of envying them, we should be learning from their mistakes about HSR

And now, a word from out British cousins.  As you know, the Brits. are on their own high-speed rail kick, doubtless because, just like us, they are also flush with cash and have no deficits.  Yeah, right!

What is interesting about this article is that it makes the case for misappropriation of funding.  Not the illegal stealing kind of misappropriation (although that's always possible in the background), but the "stealing" from Peter to pay Paul.  Since HSR is so glamorous and glitzy, it's seems to be OK to take funding away from other essential transit services, their upkeep and development, for the sake of this high-profile project that's bound to make the promoting politicians into super-stars.

In our case in the US, passenger rail has suffered from decades of severe neglect.  'Amtrak' has almost become a sarcastic bit of humor. Nonetheless, it needs greater investment to become "critical mass" and reach a "tipping point" of significant passenger transit in the US.  We either believe in passenger rail and invest in it, or we don't.  We can't have it both ways.

High-speed rail, rather than being the culmination of this rail expansion effort, will instead take away those funding resources that would have made general passenger rail more effective.  As I've said elsewhere, we in the US prefer to begin building our skyscrapers from the top. That's much more visible, especially for those who benefit from their engagement in this financial black hole. 

Now, you could say that this article is in a trade journal that promotes and is biased toward the railroad business and industries in the UK.  But, isn't that the point?  If the railroad industry sees high-speed rail as deleterious to the business of passenger rail, shouldn't we be taking another look at what we think we're doing?  What we're doing could be all wrong.  And, I believe that to be the case.

Campaign for Better Transport warns Government over high speed rail


High speed rail plans to be announced on Monday 28 February could result in a downgraded rail network for the rest of the country, warns Campaign for Better Transport.

The sustainable transport group is urging the Government not to neglect the rest of the rail network and other forms of public transport in favour of long distance high speed rail journeys. The charity also warns that if the new line only serves parkway stations, rather than city centres, it risks becoming a self-defeating strategy that will actually add to congestion and encourage car use.

Richard Hebditch, Campaign for Better Transport’s Campaign Director, said: “High speed rail could offer an opportunity to improve transport in the UK and provide greener choices for long-distance travel. But the danger is that the Government is so focused on just getting plans through in the face of local opposition that it ignores the need for it to be part of improving the whole network.

“We’re very worried that Ministers will need to cut budgets elsewhere to pay for high speed rail. That could mean even steeper fare rises and cuts in local rail services in order to pay for it. And the best way for rail to offer a greener alternative is to electrify much more of the network but plans for electrification could be put back as high speed rail eats up all the funding.”

Campaign for Better Transport argues high speed rail should form part of a broader, national transport policy designed to increase capacity on the rail network to enable more people and goods to travel by train rather than car or plane, and ensure wider economic and environmental benefits.

The group cautioned that proposed rail fare increases of inflation (RPI) plus 3% due in January should be reviewed as a matter of urgency in order to keep fares on existing lines within the means of the majority of passengers.