Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The troops are positioning themselves on the field of high-speed rail battle

It's a game of musical chairs; too many players, not enough chairs. Too many corridors, not enough funding.  The difference is that high-speed rail is not a game.  The amounts of money required boggle the mind with their grandeur, and it's not available.  All of which is to say,  the Obama Administration is leading a charge of HSR Lemmings, including the states -- including California! -- over a financial cliff. 

Here's what we are learning.

The Northeast Corridor (NEC) completes the list of eleven high-speed rail corridors officially designated and therefore funding eligible.

Amtrak can apply for high-speed rail funding.  No relation Albrecht Engel (No, it's not Uncle Al.) is the head of Amtrak's new HSR division. What good is a division without funds to massage? 

Amtrak will become the coordinating designated hitter for the NEC which runs through a number of states, from Boston to Washington, D.C.  As we already know, Amtrak is a not well managed money losing proposition. Here's their chance to do what the CHSRA has been doing; getting their hands on lots of federal dollars (outside of their current passenger rail subsidies), and at the same time, keeping it in government hands to disseminate.  

The layers of bureaucracy will grow exponentially. Oh, and one more thing. Amtrak has already specified that to high-speed rail-ize the NEC will cost $117 billion. I would say, times three. And that's going to come from where?

It's interesting that New Jersey's Democratic Senators, Menendez and Lautenberg, are such huge HSR fans. The map would suggest that New Jersey is a very small part of the 400 mile NEC trip. I'm sure that this will be cleared up over time.  The Republican New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, is less a fan of HSR, having turned down federal dollars for a transit tunnel which New Jersey would have had to chip in to build.

So far, each Party is still true to form; the Dems. favor the train and/or the money it will require, and the Republicans oppose it.  The new HSR caucus is a totally Democratic affair; bi-cameral, but not bi-partisan. 

Until recently, California, with the political weight of Feinstein, Boxer and Pelosi behind it, had a dominant role in fund collection from the DOT.  It should be said that their success cannot be attributed to the CHSRA's track-record so far.  Au Contraire!  Being highly visible bad boys will come to bite them in the behind, where their wallet is. 

What we are talking about here is a game changer.  There are almost a dozen Northeastern Democratic Senators, including very high ranking Chuck Shumer, who are now on the list for fund-seeking for, what is it again, oh, yes, high-speed rail. California has serious political competition on several grounds.

The NEC has far greater population density than California as well as three times the number of potential customers. It's the most heavily transversed transit corridor in the US. If any rail corridor has even the slightest change of private investment, it would be along the NEC. And, as we are taking pains to point out, the now highly increased leverage of Senators to support it.

Once again, it's time for all of us to stand up and repeat, in unison:  "It's not about the train: it's about the money!"

North East Corridor Officially Designated A HSR Corridor; Pols Begin To Organize

Posted on March 15, 2011.
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The US Department of Transportation has officially designated the Northeast Corridor the “eleventh and final” high-speed rail corridor. (You can read the DOT’s letter here: 110314 NEC Corridor Letter)

The designation means that Amtrak can apply directly for high-speed rail funding — as opposed to states applying individually for their segment of the line. Or, as New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez enthusiastically tweeted earlier today: “Northeast designated as #HSR corridor by @RayLaHood. Means we are eligible for $2.4 billion in rejected FL $!”

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said last week the money Florida rejected was up for grabs — putting rail-supporting politicians on high alert. And now they’re organizing. Earlier today, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg announced the creation of the “Bi-Cameral High- Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus.” The group’s purpose is to support high-speed rail, and it’s composed of representatives from states with horses in that particular race — but so far it’s only attracted Democrats, not Republicans.

Besides Lautenberg, other members of the group include congresspeople Louise Slaughter (NY), Corrine Brown (FL), Zoe Lofgren (CA), David Price (NC), Tim Walz (MN) and John Olver (MA). Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said today he will also join the caucus. The group formally announced its formation today at a press conference in DC’s Union Station.