Friday, April 22, 2011

By not funding HSR for the next several years gives us time to analyze what we do and don't need.

There are, in my mind, a lot of harmful decisions being made by the Republicans in Washington.  But about high-speed rail, I'm totally on their side.  We now know that there will be no more federal funding for HSR the remainder of the FY 2011 budget. At this time, it also looks most unlikely that the FY 2012 budget will contain high-speed rail dollars.  The Republicans will see to that.  

The fact is that HSR is a small-ticket item in a multi-trillion dollar budget that confronts vast deficits as far as the eye can see.  HSR is a highly visible gesture to be cut since it confront's Obama's singular vision for "winning the future."  Cutting it is a Republican stick in his eye, so to speak. If anything, it will lose our future and make us look like fools for trying.  We are no longer a railroad nation.  We have never been a high-speed rail nation.  We will depend upon other nations to make us be like them.  Is that what we want?

Most Americans, including Californians, are not yet fully apprised of what high-speed rail really means.  For ninety percent of the US, high-speed rail is a euphemism that actually means faster Amtrak passenger trains.  They will continue to run on the same tracks, the same corridors, from and to the same stations.  Their speed will increase 30/40 mph. They may get some additional passing tracks and  equipment upgrades.  That's it.  

However, in order to build a high-speed rail system that emulates the fastest trains in Europe and Asia (200+ mph), new tracks, usually in new corridors, will have to be built.  It's really a totally different animal; more like commercial airplanes on the rails. The per mile costs for this are staggering, as much as $100 million per mile depending upon the immediate environment.  Through cities, mountains, across rivers, valleys, etc. the costs to build a train that hates curves or hills -- must be straight and level -- is enormous.  They're not going to build this in the Sahara with a ruler.  They're trying to build it in California to run through as many important congressional districts as possible. 

The US has no experience doing this.  Indeed, the US, once a highly rail dependent nation for passenger travel, experienced a fundamental cultural transformation with the advent of commercial air and interstate highways. It has changed us and it changed the face of America. 

Our passenger railroads, eventually acquired by Amtrak, atrophied.  Now, for all the wrong reasons, there have surfaced HSR advocates, promoters and 'religious' fanatics who want to bring rail back.  

Yes, I know all the environmental reasons.  Close examination tells a very different story about that.  
But, we should also know all the financial reasons that prove it will be disastrous. 

We should not turn the clock back to some earlier era when we relied on travel by train; the romance of railroads. There are reasons for the evolution of transit modalities.  Making them faster today does not make them more economical or cost-effective. It makes them the most expensive way to travel.  Please start Googling high-speed rail ticket prices in Europe or Asia and notice that they are the top of the line, premium cost tickets of all rail travel -- EVERYWHERE.

So what?  We can't afford to build them; we can't afford to ride them.  The few that can afford both, should do so immediately and leave us taxpayers alone.  Maybe the well-to-do need them; most of us don't. 

Thank you Rep. Tom McClintock, Rep Darrell Issa and President Obama for killing HSR funding

Finally. We were able to convince big spenders that the piggy bank for high-speed rail funding is empty.

When we interviewed Representatives Tom McClintock and Darrell Issa at the Western CPAC conference I asked each of them to shut down this feel good project, a project that no matter how you evaluate it does not pencil out.

Even pro CA HSR activist Robert Cruickshank has acknowledged that the DC cash cow has died. In his blog Bob writes, “the recent news out of Congress has been, well, depressing. Right-wing anti HSR extremists won a round when President Barack Obama caved and agreed to eliminate all HSR funding for FY 2011.”

To show how driven some people can be in promoting “special interest” projects, Bob suggests that “California could always raise taxes to pay for the construction cost. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

I guess Bob has been off on vacation in some foreign land and refused to acknowledge that CA is broke.

Further into his post Bob writes: “Governor Jerry Brown is focused on increasing taxes to close the budget gap, and only once that’s done would he and Sacramento Democrats be willing to even consider a funding package for HSR. Maybe in a few years, but not anytime soon.”

After publishing thousands of words promoting a future HSR, Robert Cruickshank has finally been jolted into reality.  Public school teachers are awaiting pink slips while he could care less about our children's education as he tries to shove HSR to the front of the line consuming much needed infrastructure and educational funding.