Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The changing tides of high-speed rail

This brief comment is from Public Radio International. They are affiliated with the U.S. PBS, Public Broadcasting System.  Here is their quick take on the California HSR project. As I was reminded today, although high-speed rail has become a very big deal for several of us scattered here and there around California, most people still don't know and don't care.

What we're learning is that the Democrats at the federal level have lowered their expectations as well as their interest in this project, particularly with its growing unpopularity among HSR followers.  Belated discoveries of its stunningly high price has been a major diluter of interest. 

As we saw in a recent article, provided by this blog, Obama's interest has diminished as he now addresses the concerns for the state of disrepair of the US infrastructure and the need to fix it, and barely if at all mentions HSR.

While we can take that as a good sign, it's highly premature to breathe a sigh of relief. We are still struggling with the realities of a Governor bent on getting the initial seed money from the Transportation Department, despite the fact that there won't be any more after that and that the project will grind to a halt when this initial funding runs out. 

Obama's vision for a transportation makeover struggling to leave the station

Published 24 January, 2012 04:02:00 
The Takeaway

About this time last year, President Barack Obama was trumpeting his plan to build a high-speed rail network for the country. By the end of the year, rails had faded and it was back to roads and bridges.

This time last year, President Barack Obama laid out his plan for an improved transportation infrastructure in America.

He focused on high speed rail and providing federal funding to help develop new corridors for high speed rail transportation. But after many defeats in Congress, including de-funding of high-speed rail, the transportation initiative suddenly seems less futuristic and more focused on rebuilding the old highways of the past.

Alex Goldmark, a reporter for WNYC's Transportation Nation, said while Obama's vision started with lofty goals of rail and new systems to reduce foreign energy dependence, by the end of the year he'd recalibrated his desires to be about rebuilding deteriorating roads and bridges.

"If you look at how his speeches change over time...it shows that he got so battered from the political fight. He stuck his neck out on high-speed rail, which became a political football after governors in Florida and Wisconsin canceled their plans," Goldmark said. "He lost the funding fight in Congress and had to scale back what he was asking for."

And even where projects are still going forward, like in California, prices keep going up for the work that is being done.

"The immediate reaction to his high-speed rail plan was that he was going to raid the highway trust fund," Goldmark said. "That he was going to take money out of cars and roads and he was going to put it in this highfalutin tree-hugger thing of rails."

That's been the fault line for the Obama administration, Goldmark said. On the other hand, though, it's likely not a zero-sum game. America will need to develop a multimodal transportation infrastructure to move forward, but including roads and planes as well as rails.


"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH Radio Boston.

[Full Disclosure: My son-in-law, Marco Werman, is one of the anchors for "The World," a daily one hour production of WGBH and PRI, which presented the above comments. To my knowledge, he had no hand in the content.]

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