Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Does the US Department of Transportation know, or care, what high-speed rail is?

Below, find one press release from the US Department of Transportation and one article.  The $461 million in funds will provide North Carolina the ability to upgrade some passenger rail service from 55 mph to 79 mph.  Is that high-speed rail in Obama's or Ray LaHood's vision to "win the future?"

Can there be any further doubt that all these funds have been nothing more than politically driven pork, earmarked for selected states and congressional districts to buy continued support, especially among uncommitted independents in preparation for the 2012 election?

Obama's high-speed rail program has nothing to do with high-speed rail.  It merely uses American railroading as a vehicle for earmarked funding  distribution.  Secretary LaHood was enthusiastic about taking the rejected funding back from three Republican governors in order to be able to redistribute the funds according to White House political management decisions.

He now holds between three and five billion dollars in reserve for further grant or award making, including the remaining Flordia funds, and the FRA is eager to get these funds distributed before House Republicans manage to get them rescinded.

While the Republican agenda is to target the HSR program and thereby stick their finger in Obama's eye, the Obama Administration is making that relatively easy with their singularly mismanaged HSR program. 

Are these modest incremental passenger rail upgrades around the United States an example of how we will "win the future?"

Note that even with these widely disbursed funds throughout North Carolina, all the many miraculous solutions to the state's problems emerge as if this was a brand-new high-speed rail project, such as California's. Jobs, economy and prestige are all promised to spin off from this rail panacea.

The one I like the best is where every dollar spent on high-speed rail (or any rail, apparently)has this magic multiplier effect, like the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  Spend a dollar and get back two dollars.  

Pull - eze!

DOT 35-11
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Statement on High-Speed Rail Agreement in North Carolina
Washington, DC – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued the following statement today:

“President Obama’s historic vision for a national high-speed rail system will link 80 percent of Americans in the next 25 years and lay the foundation for an economy that moves people, goods and information more quickly, safely and reliably than anywhere else in the world. Today, we have made significant progress towards that goal with the signing of a cooperative agreement between USDOT and North Carolina DOT that makes $461 million available for the State of North Carolina to begin work on projects that will reduce travel times and increase reliability for rail passengers, create jobs, and spur economic growth.”

“These projects can get under way thanks to the agreement signed today between the State of North Carolina, Norfolk Southern Railway, North Carolina Railroad, and Amtrak.    With this agreement in place, North Carolinians will soon be working on 24 rail projects in 11 counties, including the construction of double tracks between Charlotte and Greensboro and 12 new bridges that will eliminate 30 highway-rail crossings. This is the sixth agreement between the states and a host freight railroad for a major high-speed rail corridor funded under the Recovery Act, and it ensures that these grants will improve passenger rail service in North Carolina, while preserving the world class freight rail system we have today.”
Additional background on the agreement: 

Partnerships between states and railroads are central to the Obama Administration’s vision for a national high-speed rail program, which will allow America to win the future by creating construction and manufacturing jobs here in the U.S., while promoting future economic growth and global competitiveness.  The state-owned North Carolina Railroad currently leases track to Norfolk Southern Railway and Amtrak operates the passenger rail services on the state’s behalf.  NC DOT will work with Norfolk Southern to design and construct the rail line improvements and improve travel times, while covering the cost of maintenance incurred during construction. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration is making $545 million in Recovery Act-funded investments in North Carolina, under the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program, including $59 million to purchase and refurbish equipment that provides for a third daily round trip between Charlotte and Raleigh and station upgrades in Cary, Burlington, and High Point.  Previously released funding will also pay for upgrades to tracks, bridges and safety improvements at highway-rail grade crossings, station enhancements, and construction of a $23 million maintenance facility in Charlotte.

Contact: Justin Nisly •  Tel: 202-366-4570


N.C., U.S. Department of Transportation agreement allocates $461 million to enhance rail system
by Melissa Kansky, 
April 26, 2011
A recent agreement between the U.S. and North Carolina departments of transportation has allocated $461 million to improvements to the North Carolina rail system. Such improvements, scheduled to be completed by 2017, will include expanding the platform at the Burlington train station. Photo by Molly Carey.

An agreement between the North Carolina and U.S. departments of transportation provided the state with $461 million to enhance the rail system and construction will affect Alamance County. 

"Railroad construction will make Piedmont North Carolina closer to the Northeast, to New York, Washington and Boston in peoples' minds, as well as in time to get there," said Tom Tiemann, economics professor at Elon University. 

The agreement contributes to President Barack Obama's vision for a high-speed rail system that will connect 80 percent of the population, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A portion of the federal funding will be used to construct a railroad between Charlotte and Raleigh. 

"It is a step in the incremental project that connects Charlotte with Washington and all the way up to New York and Maine," said Patrick Simmons, NCDOT rail division director. 

The project will create 4,800 jobs related to the railway construction and enhance the state's prestige with respect to economic and industrial growth, Simmons said.

"It will connect North Carolina with the richest, most productive part of the country," Tiemann said.

Although the high-speed rail project enables North Carolina to become more closely associated with production in the Northeast, Simmons also sees the project as an opportunity to facilitate economic growth within the state. 

"The public investment is an economic development tool that has been used for centuries to help stimulate the economy," he said.

The construction of a high-speed rail connecting Charlotte and Raleigh particularly benefits North Carolina residents, Simmons said, as 60 percent of North Carolina's economic and population growth will occur between Raleigh and Charlotte.

"It's where our people live, it's where our economy is, it's where our growth is going to occur," he said.

With the federal funding, the state plans to complete 24 projects throughout 11 counties. Projects in Alamance County include a realignment of the railroad tracks from Graham to Haw River and an extension to the Burlington train station platform. 

"Technically speaking, North Carolina is now the seventh largest state in the country in terms of population and it's going to add 4.5 million people by 2030," Simmons said. "This project helps us prepare for that and ensure long term mobility for commerce and citizens."

The railroad track construction will eliminate a 22-mile bottleneck and increase train speed from 55 mph to approximately 79 mph. The Burlington Station platform extension will allow all passengers to board without repositioning the train, reducing travel time as well. 

"Modernizing our highway and railroad infrastructure will better prepare us for when the economy returns," Simmons said. 

Individuals who ride the passenger trains will have more travel opportunities, which is characteristic of a more robust transportation network, he said.

"Those that don't use the train will still see improved safety and mobility through safety projects, and the economy will recover just an 'nth' degree faster because we have made investments in our infrastructure that have not occurred anywhere else in the region," Simmons said.

The construction of a dozen bridges will also improve safety, according to Simmons. Bridges would elevate the street level, eliminating the number of crossing collisions between cars and trains.

The improved transportation network and increased job opportunities will contribute to North Carolina's economic growth, he said.

The construction projects will also directly create 4,800 jobs throughout the state, according to Simmons. 

"The economy will recover just an nth degree faster because we have made investments in our infrastructure that have not occurred anywhere else in the region," Simmons said.

Nevertheless, Tiemann predicts the economic benefits will influence more than those directly employed for the construction projects. 

But Tiemann predicts the economic benefits will influence more than those directly employed for the construction projects. 

"It's the multiplier effect," he said. "Every dollar you spend on this, if you look at it nationally, causes $1.50 or $2 expenditure somewhere else."

Updated April 26, 2011