Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Let's be clear: The federal government is screwing up its own High-Speed Rail Program

Sam Staley read Ken Orski's most recent Innovation Briefs Newsletter, as we did.  Here's  good summary about what the government's mistakes are.  With all due respect to both Ken and Sam, there are other serious flaws.  

The DOT never did a cost/benefit analysis of high-speed rail.  

The DOT never prepared the kind of national transit/transportation overview that looks at the entire multi-modal, freight/passenger, system.  

They failed to grasp the obvious fact that HSR is a passenger rail system overlay; no passenger rail system, no HSR. No cake, no icing; and high-speed rail is certainly railroad 'icing.'

The whole idea in California was cooked up by a group of ambitious politicians, the type that love to use federal and state dollars and promote huge infrastructure expenditures.  These guys (we'll name them some other time. Hint: the current Governor was one of them.) kept at it for twenty years.  It finally paid off and they railroaded this project through the Legislature.  

Governor Arnie, who, as a Republican opposed it, did an abrupt "180" and supported it in 2008.  With a huge amount of lobbying, they obtained considerable federal funding when it became available through the ARRA stimulus funding. All of which is to say, the California project met both national and state political goals by the Party in power.

Meanwhile the Obama Administration realized a major strategy at hand; we are 'behind' all those other countries with high-speed trains and must catch up to save face.  We have to "win the future" which means, have HSR as well.  Americans have become acculturated to the notion that if we are not #1 at everything, all the time, we have no reason for existing.

Neither the state nor the federal government actually studied what the state and national transportation needs are, and whether HSR actually is needed or makes any sense.  They looked for supportive studies that had been done, and ignored the ones -- such as from the Congressional Budget Office -- that pointed out the many HSR problems we would have that foreign nations don't have.

So, California, rather than merely pursuing a strategy of upgrading its existing passenger rail system as a far more affordable effort, lucked out with the ARRA Stimulus funds and, previously, the passage of the state bond issue for HSR.  Had there been no ARRA funds, those state bonds would have gone nowhere since they were required to be matched with funds from elsewhere. 

Anyhow, far too many people now know the truth about this project.  Therefore, all those legislators who persist in supporting this project present themselves as complicit in this venality.  They become accessories to all the corrupt and wasteful practices of the rail authority and its heinous project.

High-Speed Rail Gets Congressional Scrutiny

Samuel Staley
December 19, 2011, 5:42pm

For an update on federal action on high-speed rail, C. Kenneth Orski summarizes recent events on Capitol Hill in Innovation Briefs and over at newgeography.com (14 December 2011). Ken provides some useful analysis on where the Obama Administration has "gone wrong" while also acknowledging that he personally believes inter-city passenger rail has a place in the nation's transportation infrastructure and network.

The key problems and strategic policymaking failures [my words, not Orski's] Ken sees were:

•Oversellilng the program as "high speed" when it fact most of the rail spending is focused on conventional passenger rail;

•Failing to provide a clear focus for the program;

•Shifting federal resources and attention away from the one corridor where HSR might make sense: the Northeast Corridor; and

•Failing to involve the private sector from the outset as an important solution to a fiscally challenged funding environment.

Overall, a good round-up of the current state of the federal program.

No comments: