Wednesday, February 8, 2012

When it comes to High-Speed Rail in California, Secretary Ray LaHood doesn't get it.

So, let's see what we can learn from the online publication of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen which posted a DOT press release about the US Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, today. (The URL is from the DOT)

1. The Obama Administration -- and therefore Mr. LaHood -- are not giving up on high-speed rail, despite the massive amount of substantive empirical data, including financial, that argues in favor of shutting this effort down.

2. Mr. LaHood argues for the singular importance of HSR for California's economic future, as if there were no other ways to employ people or create economic stimuli for the state's economic recovery.  HSR is "absolutely essential" he says.  But, surely, high-speed rail isn't for "everyone." It's a luxury train for the rich.  Why such a train is "essential" has not yet been adequately explained.

3. LaHood makes the "jobs" claim, suggesting that "tens of thousands of jobs over the next five years" will be created in the Central Valley. That's rather puzzling.  Are there tens of thousands of unemployed railroad construction workers in the Central Valley with experience in high-speed rail infrastructure construction? I doubt it.  And, LaHood's suggestion paints a picture of thousands of sweating men swinging hammers, as on those old sepia photos of railroad men laboring. That's not how railroad corridors with track are built in the 21st century.  They are built by a much smaller number of highly experienced professionals who know how to operate complicated semi-automated machinery that does a big part of the work.

4. Then, there's that "Buy America" slogan. The US has no manufacturing capacity or experience in the manufacture of high-speed rail hardware, including rolling stock.  That is the provenance of overseas companies, from Europe to Asia.  Bringing these foreign companies here to create assembly plants is hardly the same thing as US manufacturing, such as we find in Detroit at Ford or GM. I think we're being "had" with this sloganeering, and that a great amount of those ARRA Stimulus dollars will end up going overseas.

5. Mr. LaHood likes to point to traffic congestion as a reason for building high-speed rail.  That has been one of the mantras of the rail authority. LA and the Bay Area are highly congested. Therefore -- if you can follow this logic -- we have to connect the two populations, each with their traffic congestion, with a high-speed train.  We agree with Mr. LaHood about the congestion in the two regions and therefore wonder why he is not proposing solutions to that congestion, like highly improved local, urban public mass transit in all modalities. Inter-city rail will not remove cars off the roads taking people to and from their daily jobs.

6. If there are air delays for short-haul flights, we first should ask why that is so.  The LA Basin has over a dozen commercial airports.  The Bay Area has three. If that's insufficient, it would be far, far less expensive to build an additional airport in the Bay Area, say by converting the former Almaden Naval Airfield, or Moffett Field, for the exclusive use of short-haul flights.  Furthermore, with NextGen GPS navigation systems, there will be far more accommodation in the air space, making flying far more efficient and fuel-efficient as well. Pitting modalities (rail, highway, airways) against one another is a stupid thing to do. Each has their place in a complex transit network system.

7. Mr. LaHood has fallen into the verbal trap of finding every problem soluble only with high-speed rail in California.  "To a hammer, everything looks like a nail." 

8. I won't even bother to do more than merely point out that Mr. LaHood cannot pry his fingers off the red-herring threat that if we don't build the train, it will cost us more to not build it, etc. etc. Tiresome and wrong, Mr. LaHood. 

9. The last thought is more difficult to challenge, when Secretary LaHood claims his Department made an investment to, "put American communities on track toward new and expanded rail access and improved reliability, speed, and frequency of existing service." I suppose that means putting money into various parts of the Amtrak passenger routes around the country. That's not necessarily a bad thing to do.  But, it has nothing to do with high-speed rail and certainly not with California's high-speed rail. 

DOT Secretary LaHood affirms Obama administration commitment to high-speed rail
(Source: U.S. Department of Transportation press release, February 7, 2012)

LOS ANGELES — U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in a meeting with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and local business leaders, today affirmed the Obama Administration’s commitment to California high-speed rail and discussed how investments in high-speed rail are essential to keeping California’s economy moving.

“High-speed rail is absolutely essential to California’s economic future” said Secretary LaHood. “President Obama has challenged us to build an economy that works for everyone. Now is the time to connect people who need work with the work we need to do, beginning here in California.

Construction of California’s 220 miles-per-hour high-speed rail system will begin in Fresno later this year, and, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, will create tens of thousands of jobs over the next five years in one of the regions hardest hit by the recession. The system will also spur thousands of new jobs at railway suppliers of all sizes.

Through a “Buy America” approach to construction, the Obama Administration is ensuring that high-speed rail projects are built with American-made products. In addition, 30 rail companies from around the world have pledged that if selected for high-speed rail contracts, they will hire American workers and expand their bases of operations in the United States.

Today, California’s highways are among the most congested in the nation, costing residents and businesses in Los Angeles and San Francisco alone nearly $13.5 billion in 2010. Los Angeles-to-San Francisco is the most delay-prone short-haul air market in the United States, with approximately one of every four flights late by at least an hour or more.

The stress on the state’s infrastructure will become even more pronounced during the next 40 years, as its population will grow by more than 20 million people. Without constructing the high-speed rail system, the California High-Speed Rail Authority estimates that California would need to invest $171 billion to acquire the equivalent level of capacity—2,300 miles of new highways, 115 new airport gates, and four new airport runways.

“We need to invest in the Central Valley today for high-speed rail to come to Los Angeles and San Francisco tomorrow,” said Secretary LaHood. “At this make or break moment, America needs a transportation jobs bill that includes resources to continue building a national high-speed rail network.”

California’s passenger rail system is one of several regional networks planned across the United States. To date, the U.S. Department of Transportation has invested $10.1 billion to put American communities on track toward new and expanded rail access and improved reliability, speed, and frequency of existing service.
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
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