Thursday, October 13, 2011

What business does the DOT think it is in? Certainly not HSR.

Here is a US Department of Transportation Press release.

They claim that they are "knee-deep" in the business of American high-speed rail.  Sorry, Secretary LaHood.  There are several problems with that claim.

1. High-speed rail as intended by the DOT throughout the US on the eleven identified high-speed rail corridors, if fully built out, would cost several trillion dollars.  The few billions being made available by the DOT for passenger rail improvements are a minescule fraction of what's needed, and do not constitute being "knee-deep" in this business.

2. High-Speed rail is defined, by the Department of Transportation, as 110 mph or faster.  In the 20th century, the US had privately operated passenger trains faster than 110 mph.  Calling these Amtrak upgrades as "high-speed rail" is pretentious marketing hyperbole.

3. If Amtrak passenger service constitutes "knee-deep" in the rail business, it's a business on a heart-lung machine.  Amtrak has cost the American taxpayers over $40 billion in subsidies and capital upkeep since its initiation in 1970.

4. Unfortunately, the DOT is not in the high-speed rail business; it would be if there were such a "business," but the DOT has no apparent interest (or ability) in investing, leaving that to the indifferent private sector and the cash-strapped states.  The DOT is on the side-lines as a HSR cheer leader, period. 

5. The DOT should be in the transportation and transit business, but first needs a comprehensive business plan and strategy for getting there.  Promoting HSR luxury trains randomly around the US, beginning with California, is no way to run a business, especially without a business plan.

6. Businesses usually make money.  That's how they stay in business.  Amtrak and passenger rail in the US is a money loser.  That's no business, especially for hugely costly high-speed rail which will lose more money, faster, than Amtrak does now.

7. This so-called "high-speed rail business" is the result of the President's goal of providing such transit service to 80% of all Americans in 25 years.  80% of all Americans will NEVER be able to afford this luxury rail service.  Well over 80% of all Americans never take passenger rail and never need to. 
October 12, 2011
DOT and the States: 
knee-deep in the business of American high-speed rail
It’s no secret that investing in modernized passenger rail is one of the top priorities of the Department of Transportation and of the Obama Administration.  We’re committed to building a 21st century rail system that creates jobs now and lays the foundation for economic development tomorrow.

Last week, DOT awarded $196.5 million to the Michigan Department of Transportation for track and signal improvements between Detroit and Kalamazoo.  These improvements will allow speeds up to 110 mph on 77 percent of Amtrak’s Wolverine and Blue Water trains between Detroit and Chicago.  The result will be a 30 minute reduction in travel time between those destinations.

In addition, these rail upgrades will create 800 new construction jobs in Michigan.  And, as we rebuild our rails with American-made materials, we're giving an extra boost to America's newly resurgent rail manufacturing industry.

This important investment will reduce travel time, improve reliability and on-time performance, and attract even more passengers to Amtrak. 

As Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said, "A faster, reliable passenger rail system is vital to Michigan's ability to compete globally as businesses look to locate or expand.  Rail improvements will also hasten the transport of freight, a priority for Ford Motor Company and other Michigan businesses along the route."

And U.S. Senator Carl Levin agreed: “This funding will help move Michigan and the nation forward by making high-speed rail a part of our economic infrastructure.  Our economic competitors around the world have long enjoyed the benefits of high-speed rail. They have demonstrated that high-speed service can create jobs and promote economic growth."

He is exactly right.  This nation cannot afford to move a 21st century economy on a 20th century transportation network.   Fast, reliable passenger rail is crucial to boosting manufacturing, spurring growth, and keeping America competitive in a global economy.

The Detroit-Chicago Corridor isn’t the only rail grant that DOT has recently awarded.  We're already knee-deep in the business of modernizing our railways.

Last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation received $40 million to eliminate delays in and out of Harrisburg on Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor.  North Carolina and Virginia received $48.3 million to advance development of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor that will link Raleigh and Charlotte to Washington, DC, through Richmond.  The New York State Department of Transportation recently received nearly $150 million to upgrade service on its Empire Corridor

And you can add to that list Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Delaware, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut--all states where DOT is helping build a foundation for improved rail service.

President Obama has established a clear goal: Within 25 years, 80% of all Americans will have the choice of traveling from downtown to downtown by high speed passenger train.  And, with these recent awards, we are well on our way.

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