Thursday, April 28, 2011

Prof. Rick Geddes, on HSR public-private partnerships for the NEC

Geddes was mentioned in a recent article in the New York Times which we posted on this blog. Here's his letter to the editor.  

The general consensus among both HSR supporters and opposers, including John Mica, appears to be that building HSR on the NEC is OK, especially if it's not a totally open-ended government project.  

The central message is becoming, if there's no private investment interest in providing capital development loans, the government shouldn't be doing it all by itself.  

I would think that lesson had been learned from Amtrak's lack of success at independent operation. To say that (only) Acela operates in the black does not recognize full-cost accounting. Does Amtrak pay leasing fees for the use of the rail system it doesn't own?  And if it owns them, how are they being amortized?  Are those numbers part of the equation?

To keep pointing out about Amtrak breaking ridership number records, yet their operating costs continuing to be a major federal burden, should raise some very fundamental questions.  If they're so darn successful, why do they keep on costing us so much?  

Will the US government continue to operate inter-city rail the way regional municipalities operate local public transit? We are seeing how well that's working!  

There are two major cost issues to consider:  the operating costs, including maintenance and replacement,  and capital development costs for major upgrades of rolling stock and rail corridors, including PTC and other signalling and control systems. How much of all those costs are fare-box recovery?

It should go without saying that HSR will be more of the same, only much worse since it will be much more expensive to build and to operate.

April 28, 2011

High-Speed Rail
To the Editor:

Re “How Not to Plan for the Future” (editorial, April 21):

Investing in high-speed rail in the Northeast corridor may make sense because it has a population density sufficient to generate enough riders to sustain the billions of dollars required to build, maintain and operate the system. Given the current federal spending freeze on high-speed rail, I believe that the time is right to consider seeking private capital to help shoulder the substantial investment needed to achieve true high-speed rail along the corridor.

Under this kind of a public-private partnership, high-speed rail projects would be evaluated by private investors based on the full costs of installation, maintenance and operation, as well as on economic benefits to riders — rather than blithely following the costly “build it and they will come” philosophy.

If we’re able to achieve this partnership in the Northeast corridor, it could serve as a model for how to modernize our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Ithaca, N.Y., April 22, 2011
The writer is an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, an adviser to CSX and the author of “The Road to Renewal: Private Investment in U.S. Transportation Infrastructure.”