Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The White House supports high-speed rail funding. I am stunned to hear it.

When Ray LaHood "urges California to overcome opposition to project" he's talking about us.  We are that opposition. We are Rod Diridon's "rotten apples." Never mind that we are the voters and taxpayers.

So, in response to Ray LaHood's urging, we urge California to overcome Ray LaHood and his content-free exhortations that fail the truth-test.  

I find it a display of hubris for the Obama Administration to propose a transportation bill that extends beyond his second term, were he to have one.  He calls for $8 billion for 2018 to be put into passenger rail.  I don't understand this obsession with passenger rail. Or, with transit in general, for that matter.

Well, yes I do, but not in terms of transit or transportation. I see it as a vehicle for funding distribution by the Administration seeking to pump resources into our moribund economy. I don't object to doing that for genuinely critical purposes, such as infrastructure repair, but not for building toy electric trains for Christmas for the rich. 

When I speak of "toys" I mean it in the sense that high-end sports cars, like Ferraris, are adult toys for the very rich.  High-Speed Rail is just such an adult toy. I would expect to see ticket sales for HSR in the US someday in the Nieman-Marcus Christmas catalog.

US infrastructure demands immediate attention for repair and neglected maintenance. Some, such as water and power service, rank higher on the priority list than others.  Also, the existing multi-modal transit service, highways, runways and railways, that LaHood talks about, warrant far greater attention, repair, restoration, upgrading, than building new luxury versions of any of these public utility services. 

By the way, how would most of us feel if the government decided to build new additional highway lanes on the interstate highways, that were intended for toll paying drivers only, but these drivers could go at Autobahn speeds? An exclusive highway lane with a use fee for going far faster than the rest of us.
(We could even call it profitable.)

We know passenger rail died a slow death in the second half of the 20th century in the US, due to the rapid spread of interstate highways, (which the HSR advocates now so admire) and commercial air traffic. Amtrak became the passenger-rail hospice, caring for it's survival on a Congressionally provided "heart-lung machine." 

Now, with child-like toy-envy of other nations, and not understanding their total, multi-layered transit systems, high-speed rail has been picked by the Administration as the banner behind which we are all to march into the future, despite the fact that we can't pay for it.

Still I have little quarrel with upgrading Amtrak, a major goal, if they stay focused on the most heavily used commuter routes, and add track that separates the freights from passenger service in those metropolitan regions. 

However, it is galling for LaHood and Jerry Brown, the spender and the receiver, to play fast and loose with unavailable billions of tax payer dollars for a luxury train for the affluent.  Both LaHood and Brown fail to acknowledge the magnitude of such costs and how that can be absorbed into the state and national economy.  It never gets mentioned. 

If our adolescent-minded politicians can't understand the realities and responsibilities of their job, we have to do it for them and make hard decisions about what to buy and what not to buy.  High-speed rail tops the list of what not to buy.

Bullet train gets White House backing on funds

The Obama administration asks Congress for $35 billion in passenger rail funding over five years, as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urges California to overcome opposition to project

By Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times
February 14, 2012

The Obama administration, which has been urging California to push through growing opposition to its bullet train project, asked Congress on Monday for nearly $35 billion in passenger rail funding over the next five years.

The request in its fiscal 2013 budget includes $1 billion for next year and nearly $8 billion in 2018, a massive funding plan that faces difficult odds of getting through Congress. Last year, the Republican-controlled House and even the Democratic-led Senate slashed a similar request and left no new money for any high-speed rail project.

The California project has about $3.3 billion in federal grants from prior years that it plans to use to start construction this year and an additional $9 billion in bond money approved by voters in 2008. But the project is short $86 billion and Republicans are attempting to freeze any additional federal funding for it.

Nonetheless, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to California last week and urged state legislators not to back down from the ambitious $98.5-billion project, which would connect Southern California and the Bay Area with electric-powered trains running at up to 220 mph.

In a closed-door session in Sacramento last week, LaHood told legislators that they could expect the administration to fight for significant additional funding in future years. And LaHood has talked to Gov. Jerry Brown six times in the last year, urging him to reject criticism of the project. Brown has strengthened his support for the bullet train and is planning to make his own state budget request this spring to start construction.

The budget request unveiled Monday would not designate or set aside money specifically for the California project, but the state has managed to win a huge share of passenger rail project funding in prior years.

"We have made the largest investment in California of any state," LaHood said at a news conference last week in downtown Los Angeles.


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