Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sect. of Trans. Ray LaHood said he's leaving his job. The sooner the better.

1. LaHood has said he's leaving, presumably with Obama's second term.  If there's no Obama second term, LaHood is certainly leaving, whether he wants to or not.  In other words, LaHood will not be at the DOT whether there's HSR funding available or not, and there can't be any until 2013 earliest, after his departure. Even as a Republican, LaHood has been far to subservient to the Democratic Administration.
Why would the Republicans want him now?

2. The current House/Senate agreement is for no HSR funding in FY2012.

3.  But, the two Houses; that is, Boxer and Mica, are still very far apart regarding the Transportation Budget re-authorization for six years.  That decision will, in all probability, not be settled until after next year's election. Boxer wants only a two year re-authorization, until 2014, since she believes the Democrats will come back in both Houses, as well as the White House.  Mica wants six years.

4. The rail advocates, including FRA Director Joe Szabo, constantly dredge up the same illogical and empty arguments; the population will expand, the project will create jobs, HSR will provide necessary increases in transit to facilitate the economy. 

These are all rhetorical advocacy platitudes without substance.  Remember, this is a train only for the affluent, the professional suits with laptops and expense accounts, and tourists.  How these trains can deliver any of the promises to meet the proposed needs has never been explained, it has merely been stated as if they were facts. Will our population expand with only rich people? Will rich people need to take more train trips that they used to?  Will rich people taking more train rides improve the US economy?  I mean, really!

The comparison with the Interstate Highway System has become really tiresome. It's a false comparison.  That highway system was paid for by gas taxes within the Highway Trust Fund.  There is no "High-Speed Rail Trust Fund" and there will be no "user taxes" to pay for this train either to build or to operate.  It will come right out of the national and the state treasuries. That has been the most serious flaw in the Administration's conception of high-speed rail as essential to the nation's future.  It's an "unfunded mandate."  It's an idea that no one will pay for.

5. The environmental improvement argument is also repeated frequently, also without a solid basis in analysis.  Several academic institutions, without "axes to grind", have disclaimed these so-called benefits. To be legitimate, the comparison has to include environmental impacts of construction and manufacturing.  It has to include automobiles and aircraft of the future, not today.  It also has to include NextGen air transit systems and "smart highways" which are also in our future. The rail advocates prefer to load their comparisons like dice.

6. In California, members of the CHSRA Board have specified that this train would relieve traffic on the Peninsula's highways #280 and #101.  That traffic consists of commuters travelling no further than the length of the Peninsula.  #280 is no longer than the Peninsula.  It does not go to Los Angeles. #101 does go to Los Angeles, but the traffic congestion remains only on the Peninsula until we get to the LA Basin.  Therefore, this argument about an inter-city  train has no validity whatsoever.

7."If we don't build this train, we will need to build more highways and runways."  As it happens, we will need to do that regardless of the existence of the train. And, to compare costs -- that the train will be less expensive than other modality enhancements -- is nonsense.  

Evidence for that comes from the Rail Authority itself.  When they proposed that HSR would cost the state $45 billion, the "less desirable" alternatives cost was projected at $70 billion, a higher price for us to pay.  Now that the train is projected to cost $100 billion, those highway and runway upgrades are suddenly priced at $170 billion.  Those are CHSRA's documented numbers.  They are nothing but hot air. 

8. One of the claims  made for the new business plan is its "transparency."  Yes, but not in the sense of truthfulness.  We all can now see right through the CHSRA and their fact improvizations.  Even though there has been a complete turnover on this Board except Board member-for-life Lynn Schenk, they remain consistent in their single-minded marketing efforts; they remain first and foremost a sales organization, selling Florida real-estate that's actually under water. "Say anything that you think your customer wants to hear, whether true or not.  Make that sale!"
LaHood still waiting for Congress to authorize next-step funding for high-speed rail

NOV 15, 2011

Estimated economic impact of high-speed rail on Chicago

-$13.8 billion per year increase in business sales for the Chicago Metro area alone.
-104,000 new jobs and an additional $5.5 billion in wages each year in the Chicago Metro area resulting from increased economic activity.
-$314 million in new annual visitor spending in downtown Chicago alone.
                                                             Source: Midwest High-Speed Rail Association
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told a meeting Monday in Evanston that he is still waiting for Congress to pass a high-speed rail authorization as part of its transportation bill.

Earlier this week, House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on a transportation budget that is likely to pass this week. 

Dan Johnson, spokesman for Midwest High Speed Rail Association, said Congress first authorizes an agency to spend money on a transportation project, and afterward the next step is for the funds to be appropriated. Johnson said this week Congress decided not to appropriate any funding of high-speed rail for fiscal 2012, but LaHood hopes to secure an authorization for following years. Johnson said high-speed rail grants have never been authorized as part of a transportation bill.

"I'm extremely disappointed by this anti-investment budget," he said.

Meanwhile, construction began in September 2010 for 90 miles of existing track between the cities of Godfrey and Lincoln in the Chicago to St. Louis Corridor, spanning 284 miles. The corridor project would eventually connect the major cities around the Great Lakes, including Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Louisville, St. Louis and Kansas City. 

LaHood and leading transporation experts met Monday at the 2011 William O. Lipinski Symposium at Northwestern University to discuss perspectives on implementing a high-speed rail transit system.

According to a 2011 economic study conducted by AECOM, a Los Angeles-based management support services firm, the projected costs for the Midwest high-speed rail system would be $74.7 billion and $83.6 billion. 

Last month, construction began on the Englewood Flyover, a $133 million project backed by stimulus money and state funds. In this project, Metra's Rock Island District line "will be put to an overpass, lowering delays and raising capacity," according to the Midwest High Speed Rail Association's website.

Joseph Szabo, director of the Federal Railroad Administration, likened criticism of the proposed high-speed rail project to doubts about interstate highways 50 years ago. He said the need for an alternative form of transportation is strong, given that 40 years from now, the nation’s population will balloon by an additional 100 million.

“Just as job creators would no sooner invest in a nation that promised a future of slower Internet with less bandwidth, business owners will not invest in an America without transportation access to an expanded labor force and limitless customer markets,” he said.

In 2009, President Barack Obama called for a national effort to build high-speed passenger rails across the country. Last year, Illinois received a $1.1 billion federal grant to build high-speed rail service by 2014. Illinois received the second largest portion of the federal money, with California receiving the largest share of $8 billion distributed. 

Thomas E. Lanctot, a principal of William Blair & Co., the Chicago investment bank, said there are a lot of long-term investors who consider infrastructure as a safe investment. But there has to be a very significant financial incentive for the investors due to the great expense of this complicated rail system. The private investor will not come unless there is money being made right away, Lanctot said.

In addition to stimulus funds and private investment, funding might take the form of taxes and ticket costs to recoup the money invested in the project.

In the case of high-speed rail trains, a diesel engine is not a part of the train. Rather, it runs on electricity. 

For densely populated regions such as Chicago, a core express service would boast speeds up to 220 mph. Medium-density regions would see a range of 90 to 125 mph and, in smaller markets, the traditional speed of 79 mph would remain. 

"A high-speed train is really just a train that can run really fast," said Rick Harnish, executive director of the Chicago-based Midwest High Speed Rail Association. "The technology has been around since the 1930s.” He said a Metra train carries a diesel generator for propulsion, but a train must be powered by electricity to exceed speeds of 100 or 125 mph.

Some transportation officials doubt that the rail will make significant contributions to the environment.

Robert Poole is the director of transportation policy at the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation, a foundation that advocates libertarian principles. He noted a University of California, Berkeley, study on carbon footprints that suggests the environmental benefits of implementing high-speed rails are marginal.

“If you build a new highway, the construction [and operating costs] adds 63 percent to the lifetime carbon footprint; for high-speed rail, the construction adds 153 percent,” he said. “The Berkeley study estimated that the California high-speed rail project, based on reasonable assumptions about levels of traffic and passengers and so forth, would take 71 years to break even on carbon impact — not a very effective greenhouse gas solution.” 

The final panel of the symposium featured perspectives on the financial implications of high-speed rail.

William Testa, vice president and director of regional research in the economic research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said Monday that the buyer must beware, because the measurements of cost efficiencies of the rail system are far from perfect.

“It probably will require some public subsidy,” he said. “And that’s entirely appropriate because we have congestion problems.”

Raymond H. Ellis, managing director of AECOM, rounded out the panel, discussing the costs and benefits of the high-speed rail system.

He focused primarily on Amtrak’s Next Generation high-speed rail program for the Northeast corridor, a $117 billion estimated cost, and the California High-Speed Rail Authority project, at a $98 billion estimated cost.

The panelists were in accord with the general idea that funding for the high-speed rail would come from both the public sector and private-equity investment. They also agreed that the economic benefits are potentially vast.

Katherine Calhoun, 24, a law student at Chicago-Kent College of Law, commutes from the northwest suburbs of Chicago to the city six times a week, and she said she supports the installment of a high-speed rail system to reduce travel times.

“I would absolutely love it,” she said. “It would make living at home to save money while in law school not seem as bad by taking the sting out of the timely commute.”

Calhoun said she might be willing to pay more for a ticket on a high-speed train. 

Commuters would expect to pay between $40 and $75 for a one-way ticket from Chicago to a major city in the Midwest on the high-speed rail system. Short-haul travel options between the suburbs and downtown Chicago would also be available for only a few extra dollars compared with current Metra fares.

Check Medill Reports later this week for more coverage of the high-speed rail plans.

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