“Amtrak Joe” Biden, in Philly, Announces a New Plan for High-Speed Rail

The Obama administration is taking its infrastructure push on the road. First stop: Philadelphia, to announce a $53 billion plan to invest in high-speed rail.

"Amtrak Joe" announced the administration's plan for investing in high-speed rail this morning. Photo: ##http://edition.cnn.hu/2009/POLITICS/03/13/biden.amtrak/index.html?iref=mpstoryview##Brendan Polmer/CNN

To Vice President Joe Biden, high-speed rail isn’t just another administration initiative. He’s Mr. Amtrak. He gets it. Biden says he’s made 7,900 round trips between Wilmington and Washington on Amtrak. If each of those trips had been reduced by 10 minutes, he says, he would have had 55 more days to spend with his family or working.

So the vice president was a fitting ambassador to travel to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to announce a six-year plan to build a national high-speed rail network that will, the administration says, reach 80 percent of Americans within 25 years. The plan he outlined today would devote $8 billion to rail development next year.

“In the next 40 years, the United States is expected to increase in population by 100 million people,” Biden said. “Seventy percent of all people in America now live within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. You know how congested we are now. What happens with 100 million more, a significant portion of them along our coasts?”

Each day, he said, six times more people take a train than an airplane to get between Washington and Philadelphia. And more than twice as many people take the train between New York and Washington than fly. “How many more slots can the Philadelphia airport open?” Biden asked. “Airways can only take so much traffic in the lanes.”

“If you shut down Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor,” Biden said, “you’d have to add seven new lanes to I-95 to accommodate the traffic.” He then went on to cite the cost-benefit analysis of building rail instead of road. The construction cost for an average linear mile of one lane through the city of Philadelphia ranges from $40-50 million. And one new runway, like the one Atlanta just built in its Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, costs $1.3 billion.

“When you talk about the investments we’re making in rail, they pale in comparison to investment you’d have to make in runways or highways,” Biden said. “And that’s before you factor in the environmental benefit of taking cars off the road.”

In a press release issued immediately after Biden’s speech, the White House said, “The proposal will place high-speed rail on equal footing with other surface transportation programs and revitalize America’s domestic rail manufacturing industry by dedicating $53 billion over six years to continue construction of a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.”

Six years is also the proposed duration of the next transportation authorization, which Congress is planning to start working on once they finish the FAA reauthorization, currently debating. The president’s budget is due to Congress Monday. He’s already said it will include his ideas for transportation funding for the next six years. Consider this the opening volley.

The plan announced today would start with $8 billion in the coming fiscal year. But Republicans are taking a slash-and-burn approach to the budget, and administration priorities like high-speed rail are high on the list of potential casualties. Where will the money come from, now that recovery act money is gone and Republicans are trying (and failing, but still trying) to go back to 2008 levels for discretionary spending. The White House press release doesn’t explain how it intends to come up with the money, or get such a proposal through an axe-happy House.

Nevertheless, the administration proposal is a good start. The plan is to focus on developing or improving core high-speed corridors as well as regional and “emerging” lines with slightly lower speeds, laying the foundation for future high-sped service and connect to existing high-speed corridors. It’s designed to include the private sector, a key goal of Transportation Committee Chair John Mica. And for the first time, it will separate the accounts for new rail capacity and state of good repair, depositing $4 billion in each at the outset.

Don’t expect this plan to sail through Congress. But as the administration continues to articulate and refine its vision for transformational infrastructure investment, it sets a high bar advocates can press lawmakers to reach for.

  • mark davis
  • Ben

    Kill High Speed Rail.

    High speed rail will require a dedicated right of way with no highway crossings. Do you really think you can cross a highway at grade at 220 MPH? Anything less is not high speed.
    Do you have any accurate data about the cost per mile of fully grade separated high speed rail?
    Where are you going to get the right of way for this elevated track? Through the yards and fields of your constituents?
    Have you been paying attention to the uproar over the light rail passing between Minneapolis and St Paul?

    High Speed Rail is like the Star Wars Initiative. It will bankrupt all who try to achieve it and it will be a constant drain on the taxpayers just like Amtrak. There is no High Speed Rail active in the world today that supports itself.

  • jd

    Ben wrote: “Do you have any accurate data about the cost per mile of fully grade separated high speed rail?”

    Do you have accurate data on how much it costs to maintain our car infrastructure? Not just oil consumption (and the wars we fight to defend our oil supply, most of which goes to cars), but all the natural resources used to build and fuel it, the pollution it causes, the massive contribution to the obesity epidemic, the millions that are killed and maimed by cars every year, the unsustainable sprawl it has created, and the utter destruction of the livability of our cities (especially turning our cities into essentially parking lots and roads that put cars over people)? Do you have any sense of how much damage cars cause? When you stop externalizing the costs of the automobile, you will find out that high-speed rail (or any kind of rail for that matter), is much cheaper. And that is simple because it’s inherently a much more efficient form of transit.

    Of course, that isn’t to trivialize the amount of planning and thought that is required to properly implement rail, but just because it takes effort and is a change from the status quo most certainly does not mean we just continue doing things as we are now. As the rest of the industrialized world has very clearly shown, high-speed rail is ultimately a much more efficient, time-saving, and cost effective form of transit than personal automobiles.

    Ben wrote: “There is no High Speed Rail active in the world today that supports itself.”

    Dude, there is not a SINGLE transit system, especially including automobiles, in the world that supports itself. That point is completely moot.

  • Alan

    I’ll bet 70% of Republicans don’t live within 50 miles of an ocean. One of the ways we’re split is between more-urban/more-Democrat and more-rural/more-Republican districts. Why would a rural Republican legislator ever vote for a rail line that will never obviously benefit his or her constituents?

    On the other hand we won’t be building many new lane-miles of inter-city freeways either. If you live in the country, the “future of transportation” is going to be pretty much what you’ve already got, except perhaps for a greener fuel in your private non-electric car.

  • latron

    France’s system is highly profitable: “The state-owned SNCF delivered a net €1.1bn (£875m) profit last year,” wrote the UK Guardian in 2008. More here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/jul/09/rail.sncf.montblancexpress. Why are business interests in the U.S. so opposed to something that could make them so much money? I guess they’re too invested in the status quo to see the money they’re leaving on the table.

  • Joe R.

    We should have did this about 25 years ago. Now it’s playing catch up with the rest of the world.

  • Al

    “High Speed Rail is like the Star Wars Initiative. It will bankrupt all who try to achieve it” – and yet some other countries, not nearly as rich as we are, have been able to achieve it without going bankrupt.

    As for “supporting itself”, many lines run at an operating profit, and a few have paid back the initial construction costs.

  • Ben

    JD – dude, so you just want to take more money that is not yours and spend it on what you think is best?

    Alan – I lived on Ling Island for quite a while.

    latron – I am surprised, thanks for the link. I will need to research that one. Even so, it would be government who would be building and operating the high speed rail system and be in direct competition with the airlines. certainly businesses would make money constructing this thing but, who would be paying for it?

  • kevd

    @ Ben.
    Shit. You’re right. I guess you can’t have a grade crossing at 200mph. Amazing no one thought of that. Where have you been, engineers?
    Someone needs to tell Span, France, Germany, Japan, China, Taiwan, Italy, Russia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland & South Korea that they seriously messed up by building those high speed rail lines.

    Why didn’t you say something sooner, Ben?

  • kevd

    “JD – dude, so you just want to take more money that is not yours and spend it on what you think is best?”

    Yeah. Pretty much. But, its the exact way all the government subsides for highways and airports work, too.

  • As a Democrat, I’m disappointed that the Obama administration is pushing the HSR boondoggle. The California HSR will never be built, because the money simply isn’t there, even if the Feds chipped in the full $19 billion promised in the system’s financial proposal. And the proposition passed by California voters in 2008 prohibits the state from subsidizing the operating expenses of the system that will only make a profit if you accept proponents’ inflated ridership numbers and underestimated operating expenses. According to this thorough analysis, other HSR systems in the world aren’t profitable and/or self-sustaining either:
    http://cc-hsr.org/assets/pdf/CHSR-Financial_Risks-101210-D.pdf

    “Throughout other parts of the world subsidized high-speed rail fares are the norm. Iñaki Barrón de Angoiti, the Director of High-speed Rail at the International Union of Railways (IUR) said that, with two exceptions (Paris-Lyon and Tokyo-Osaka), highspeed routes are subsidized worldwide. Practically every highspeed rail system is subsidized since those two routes alone do not generate enough revenues to carry their entire high-speed rail systems. Subsidies—whether only operating costs or operating and capital costs—may come in the form of prepurchased tickets for government employees, free or subsidized capital investment, debt cancellation, or some other means. Or, as in the 2009 case of Eurostar, the EU approved a UK Government subsidy of $7.9 billion because of poor economic conditions.” (pages 58-59)

  • @Ben: yes, there are comparative costs. You can look some of them up by looking for project or line names on Wikipedia and Railway Gazette. I’d offer links, but the comment would get stuck in moderation hell.

    The lowest costs are achieved in Spain, where, including some tunneling, a kilometer of double-tracked HSR costs around $10 million, give or take.

    Elsewhere, it depends on how much or how little tunneling is required. Political interference is part of it – if NIMBYs or politicians force bad alignments with lots of tunnels, then costs increase. In relatively flat or rolling terrain, France and Belgium build for $20-30 million per km, and the Netherlands more, $50 million/km. If terrain or politics forces tunnels, then expect $50 million/km.

    Japanese construction costs are generally higher than Continental European and Korean ones, but I can’t find numbers for recent Shinkansen lines.

    British costs are the worst so far. The budget for HSR in Britain is north of $100 million per km, even though the terrain is mostly flat.

    American costs tend to be the worst in the world, for both highways and rail. Google key phrases like “US construction costs” and my name and you’ll find links. The California HSR budget is still tame, at $60 million/km overall including difficult mountain crossings and $20 in the Central Valley, but so far they’re trying to prevent the Central Valley costs from running over to about $40.

  • Paul

    So, what’s wrong with subsidies? Some lines make money, some lose. Everything is subsidized in modern society. The money still comes from the people, whether they are buying a ticket, through taxes, or paying a fine. Big deal. Without subsidies society wouldn’t be much more than a bunch of localized tribes fighting over land.

  • @Rob: intercity rail companies outside the US generally make money, even ones that operate lesser or no HSR. Look up the financial statements of JR East (Tokyo-Niigata, Tokyo-Aomori), JR West (Osaka-Fukuoka), DB’s long-distance division (various HSR and near-HSR lines), SNCF (all TGVs, not just Paris-Lyon), Korail (Seoul-Busan), and SBB (no full-fat HSR, but world-class medium-speed lines). Even Taiwan’s bankrupt HSR line is profitable now that its interest payments have been reduced from their old subprime levels.

    The profit margins on those other lines are lower than on Paris-Lyon and Tokyo-Osaka, but they’re still positive; SNCF views with alarm the fact that a full 20% of TGV runs lose money, and has warned that future TGV lines built for prestige won’t be profitable.

    All companies I listed also operate commuter lines – the European ones count them separately and fund them from local subsidies, while the Asian ones count them in and make profits off of them – but the statements should talk about intercity profits.

  • rlb

    It’s important to recognize that the administration uses the term “High Speed Rail” to build excitement and enhance it politically. To be accurate, they should just be saying “Plan for Passenger rail.” They have three categories, Core express (possibly actually HSR), Regional (equivalent to Acela) and Emerging (standard crap Amtrak). Most will probably fall into the latter two categories.
    The rail expansions which fall into the last category will probably be quite cheap, as there’s a lot of extent ROW throughout the country. The Emerging category will probably result from upgrades to existing Amtrak lines, and also won’t be tremendously expensive. It’s not all genuine HSR built from the ground up.

  • If you read the report I linked, you learn that CHSR can only project profitability based on inflated ridership projections and vastly underestimated costs of operation.

    The reality is that it will never be built and that throwing more Federal money down this rathole is shockingly irresponsible.

    Look at the numbers:

    The 2009 CHSRA Business Plan specified four sources of capital prior to the start of operations in 2020.
    Federal Grants: $17-19 billion
    State Grants (actually Prop. 1A bonds): $9.95 billion
    Local Grants: $4-5 billion
    Private Debt or Equity Funding: $10-12 billion

    California can’t sell those bonds, because investors understand that they won’t make any money unless the state subsidizes the system. But the only reason California voters passed Prop. 1A in 2008 is because it prohibits the state from subsidizing the system if/when it’s built. That’s also why not a single private investor has come forward to invest in this system. Hence, no “private equity funding” is available to build the system. And “local grants” refers to entirely imaginary future contributions by California’s cities and counties.

  • Winston

    @Alon,

    To be fair to California’s system, it does include a 13 mile long urban elevated segment through Fresno, which increases the average cost per mile of the first part of the Central Valley segment significantly. The complete Central Valley segment should be much cheaper per mile. I would like California’s system to be cheaper per mile, but it is much cheaper than making comparable highway and air improvements.

  • Tsuyoshi

    I was under the impression that not just the Tokyo-Osaka route, but also the Osaka-Fukuoka route was profitable. Most people in Japan live along those two routes (which among the top five metropolitan areas is only missing Sapporo). In Japan most people think of the other shinkansen routes (to Niigata, Aomori, and Nagasaki) as boondoggles, since they connect areas with declining populations and lose money.

    When I compare the US to Japan it’s hard for me to be optimistic about the chances of high speed rail ever getting built. The cost of driving (tolls, gas, parking) is much more heavily subsidized here, which necessarily means rail needs more subsidies here than in Japan to compete. This doesn’t mesh well with the way that virtually every politician everywhere – Democrats, Republicans, New Yorkers, Mississippians – seems to believe that the key to improving our crappy economy is cutting public spending.

    And this is reflected in the figure we just got: $53 billion. It is nowhere near enough, when you consider that a substantial portion is going to be siphoned off into our equivalent of the Niigata route. For every DC-to-Boston we’ll also get a Cleveland-to-Detroit.

  • Instead of throwing this huge amount of money into systems that will never carry enough passengers to justify that investment—and what about the costs of operating HSR?—the government should be helping existing systems get through the recession. Every transit system in the SF Bay Area where I live is facing big deficits, including SF’s Muni system, Golden Gate Transit, and Caltrain. Instead of helping these systems weather the current economic storm, the Feds have already given California more than $3 billion to build a system that can’t—and shouldn’t—be built at all.

    As a Democrat, I have to hope the Republicans live up to their claims of being fiscally responsible and put a stop to this boondoggle.

  • J:Lai

    1. The contention that no HSR rail lines are profitable is false. Likewise, the assertion that no HSR rail in the US would be profitable lacks support, as it is more likely that are specific corridors with a high likelihood of being profitable.

    2. The point that national HSR might require government subsidies is a non-sequitir. Nearly all transportation infrastructure requires subsidies, including highways and local roads. Even most libertarians agree that transportation is one of the goods for which government is the most natural provider (schools, roads, military are the typical goods acknowledged, but “roads” should be taken as a catch-all for transportation.)

    3. The current ability, or lack thereof, of California to draw on municipal debt markets is a red-herring. Even if we grant that California can not finance $10B at the current time, which is by no means proven, that still does not imply that the project can not be funded. There are numerous mechanisms by which California could raise these funds beside standard GO municipal bonds. In addition, there is no reason to suppose that California’s current economic difficulties will persist for a protracted period. CA is still the 8th largest economy in the world, and has long term growth prospects that are quite favorable.

  • Glen

    Maby Mr Anderson should point out that he is one of main NIMBYS along the Caltrain line ! And REMEMBER we voted for HSR in the 62 percent range in the BayArea!!So maost people are very glad to hear this news.!

  • Galls

    If the ultimate goal is to reduce Auto/oil Dependency, reduce emissions and even increase transportation efficiency.

    Then any plan that would actually connect to 80% of the population is an extraordinary waste of money.

    Intraurban is much better by every metric than this HSR BS and everyone here knows it.

  • Carter R

    I’d like to add the following point. California’s population is expected to grow to 50 million by 2030. Just to maintain the current (congested) levels of mobility, the state is going to have to spend at least $80 billion on statewide transit projects to expand capacity.

    So we can spend that on expanding highways and airports, which we *know* won’t pay for themselves and have huge externalities like air, water, and noise pollution and whose fuel is subject to highly volatile and increasing prices. Or we can spend part of that on HSR that runs on electricity, connects city centers, and competes with air travel.

    There is no viable “none of the above” option where we don’t spend any money. The state would grind to a smog-choked halt.

  • Al

    I looked at that report, page 59 as you mentioned.

    “Throughout other parts of the world subsidized high-speed rail fares are the norm. Iñaki Barrón de Angoiti, the Director of High-speed Rail at the International Union of Railways (IUR) said that, with two exceptions (Paris-Lyon and Tokyo-Osaka), highspeed routes are subsidized worldwide. Practically every highspeed rail system is subsidized since those two routes alone do not generate enough revenues to carry their entire high-speed rail systems. Subsidies—whether only operating costs or operating and capital costs—may come in the form of prepurchased tickets for government employees, free or subsidized capital investment, debt cancellation, or some other means. Or, as in the 2009 case of Eurostar, the EU approved a UK Government subsidy of $7.9 billion because of poor economic conditions.” (pages 58-59)

    This is a weird way of putting it. Those two lines are the ones that are subsidized by neither capital nor operating costs (a standard US highways are never held to). The rest are subsidized in capital costs, but NOT in operating costs. Even the famously problematic projects like Taiwan and the Channel Tunnel had problems because they couldn’t make payments on the debt from the construction, not because they required operating subsidies.

    Note that the report quotes the expert saying that only two lines are unsubsidized, then in the next sentence implies that the subsidies are “only operating, or operating and capital costs”, when in fact they are capital costs only, as they are in the case of the Channel Tunnel.

    I kept reading- on the next page they claim that “An economy level ticket on Germany’s Intercity Express (ICE) from Frankfurt to Berlin is $168 for that 269-mile trip.” Their reference is a website catering to American tourists, which indeed lists tickets at that price (and higher), and only sells them three days in advance. However, if you go to db.de (in English for your convenience), a 2nd class ticket 3 days in advance is $94, before discount. On the next train today it’s $154 (but if you have a discount card, as any regular traveler would, it’s $77). And then of course there are group discounts, youth and senior discounts, promotions, etc.

    They use the same dubious source for their other comparisons as well. It’s like going to the shadiest travel agent you know, then claiming that airlines are unfeasible because of high prices.

    I wonder if the rest of the report is as sloppy?

  • It’s great to see the Obama administration taking leadership on the transportation front. I wish there had been time in the agenda to get intercity rail funded last year, when Obama was only asking for 1 billion a year and avocates wanted $4 billion. But now by doubling the plan to $8 billion a year, Obama is really putting down enough money to build a nation-wide system.

    California needs $10 billion (though $20 would be nice) to complete our system, and this will do that easily. Florida may be able to start planning the HSR line from Orlando to Miami, Chicago and Saint Louis could move forward on their connection, the Pacific northwest could upgrade the Portland to Seattle line, and even part of the north-east corridor could be upgraded to true high speed with $53 billion in federal funds, not to mention many slower train routes could be improved and made more reliable.

    Some people are now arguing that the federal government shouldn’t be building intercity transportation infrastructure. Well, where were you when we spent $500 billion on interstate freeways? And are you suggesting that we add tolls to all of the freeways? (I would support that idea) At least HSR will pay its operating and maintenance costs (on true high speed corridors), which the freeways cannot do without tolls, a vehicle miles fee, or a gas tax that is 4 or 5 times higher.

  • I find it interesting that the definition of Emerging corridors has changed: “•Emerging: Trains traveling at up to 90 mph will provide travelers in emerging rail corridors with access to the larger national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.”

    Previously, Emerging HSR was 110 mph; now the 90 mph speed basically includes most standard-speed train routes. I liked the goal of 110 mph top speeds (which are achievable on almost any at-grade intercity train route, even if shared by freight trains, if the track are upgraded and well maintained), but 90 mph will be much easier for tracks shared with freight, and will only be a few minutes slower for all but the longest trips.

    This means that the 53 billion is really for all types of passenger rail, though I expect much of it will go to faster service. And some of the 90 mph routes could connect with faster trains (for example, the Pacific Surfliner route from San Diego to Santa Barbara can do 90 mph with the right signaling, right now, and will connect with California’s high speed rail project)

  • Rob Anderson Is a Liar

    Rob Anderson,

    No one cares if you’re a Democrat. You are one of the rabidly anti-rail NIMBYs in the San Francisco Peninsula, wealthy self-styled liberals who are perfectly happy to condemn everyone else to either higher taxes to pay for an underground alignment or to be stuck on the Bayshore Freeway.

    What you have said about the lack of foreign interest to invest in the California HSR is simply a lie, one that is easily debunked:

    http://www.cahsrblog.com/2011/01/%E2%80%9Cwe%E2%80%99ll-put-up-half-the-money-for-california-hsr%E2%80%9D-says-japan%E2%80%99s-ambassador-to-the-united-states/

    Not only the Japanese, but the French and the Chinese governments have said that they may be willing to guarantee the financing as part of their firms’ bids.

    As for the money to pay for local transit, if you’re so concerned about fiscal probity, vote to pay for it, just like you are for BART right now: through taxes.

  • “Those two lines are the ones that are subsidized by neither capital nor operating costs (a standard US highways are never held to). The rest are subsidized in capital costs…”

    That’s not what the quotation says. Instead it’s “Practically every highspeed rail system is subsidized since those two routes alone do not generate enough revenues to carry their entire high-speed rail systems. Subsidies—whether only operating costs or operating and capital costs may come in the form of prepurchased tickets for government employees, free or subsidized capital investment, debt cancellation, or some other means.”

    That is, subsidies come in different forms. The point is that those two lines are only part of larger systems that must be subsidized.

    My point: Why susidize a system that’s very expensive to build and to operate that will carry a relatively small number of people when you have existing transit systems that need help getting through the recession. For example, the San Francisco Muni system has 707,459 “boardings” every weekday, and ticket prices only cover 25% of its costs. Surely it makes more sense to help that system than it does to shovel billions of dollars into a system that will surely never be built.

    “California needs $10 billion (though $20 would be nice) to complete our system, and this will do that easily.”

    No, California needs $43 billion to build its system, and that figure probably underestimates the cost by at least $20 billion. California HSR is counting on $19 billion from the Feds, and the rest from unmarketable bonds, non-existent private investors—it’s been more than two years, so where are they?—and from virtually bankrupt cities and counties. I repeat: 2008’s Prop. 1A makes it legally impossible for California to subsidize the operating expenses for the system if it ever gets built, which is unlikely. If the state tries to get around this by disguising a subsidy in some other form, it would lose in court if challenged on the law, since that was how it was sold to voters.

  • Rob: SNCF is profitable. Look it up. If you want, Google the phrase, “1 TGV sur 5 perdrait actuellement de l’argent” or any variants. Or just read its annual report.

    The Tokyo-Osaka and Paris-Lyon lines are distinguished not in that they’re profitable after depreciation, which practically all HSR lines are, but in that they were funded from separate piles of money, which were eventually paid back. Although the LGV Atlantique, the Sanyo Shinkansen, and other lines are profitable, their construction money was paid by the government. If you want to use super-libertarian standards that are never applied to roads and airports, then be my guest. Just do it consistently.

  • Winston: yes, the high costs in California come from overuse of viaducts, not just in Fresno but through all the grade separations. And the high general costs come from legitimately difficult mountain crossings. I have no problem with the current budget, as long as it actually holds. But, the overuse of viaducts is a problem. For one, the line shouldn’t go through any town it doesn’t stop in. And, through Fresno and Bakersfield, the authority should look into keeping the rail line at-grade and using road overpasses for major roads and severing local feeder roads.

    I’m totally with you that it’s better than expanding roads, which are after all built by people who are even less cost-conscious than Kopp and Pringle. But the money could also be spent on things other than infrastructure, and should be if the costs increase too much.

  • LazyReader

    Should we really have to spend money just to make Biden’s trips quicker. If Biden lived in DC he’d never have to commute. As a Star Wars fan joyful someone brought that up. Who knows how much the Death Star cost to build. Thats what the California High Speed Rail should be called, a “Death Star”. I’ve typed a few comments on HSR in a previous article.

    http://usa.streetsblog.org/2011/01/27/mica-touts-public-private-northeast-corridor-hsr-in-grand-central-hearing/

  • Glen

    Anymore Reason Foundation dribble you want to post? If you’re so worried about cost please start writing your congressmen about the billion-dollar Day war we seem to be able to afford that very easy. And here the 21st century I think we can afford more than a bus ride funded by oil.

  • “Everything is subsidized in modern society.”

    ————–

    Thank you.

    When George W. Bush and Dick Cheney misled the nation into war in Iraq under false pretenses, in a country that had NOTHING to do with the 9/11 attacks, how come fiscal “conservatives” didn’t consider THAT a “boondoggle” for Halliburton and the military-industrial complex. Why don’t they react with the same vehemence against corporate welfare? Is it because those corporations fund their “conservative” politicians?

    What Republican running in the Iowa caucuses claiming to be a fiscal “conservative” is going to non-hypocritically speak against ethanol and farm subsidies?

    What fiscal “conservative” is going to complain about government subsidies of roads and car culture?

    The answer, of course, is none.

    No one sees their benefit as an unnecessary government subsidy.

    On another note, be very wary of NIMBYs hiding behind “fiscal conservatism” in order to stop public transit projects.

  • Winston

    @Alon:

    I think that the CAHSRA is doing what they can to control costs – for example, it looks like they are going to bypass several of the small CV towns between Fresno and Bakersfield. However what they really need is a big enough operations budget to hire more independent engineers. If they rely on consultants without that extra layer of review their costs are going to be higher than they could have been. The other thing that is driving up costs is the decision to build the system for its 2040 capacity today, designing for somewhat lower capacity could save them quite a bit of money on the Peninsula, especially if they had enough staff to hash out common standards with Caltrain.

  • LazyReader

    California said the system would originally cost 40 billion. Now it’s estimates place it over 80 billion! So much for cost control. All for a system designed to carry people from city to city like a plane, but do little to remove cars from roads.

    The United States makes extensive use of its rail system for “freight”. American freight railroads are the busiest on earth, moving more freight than any rail system in any other country moving more than four times as much freight than all of Western Europe’s freight railroads put together. Nearly all railroad corridors (not including local transit systems) are owned by private busniess that provide freight service. Amtrak simply pays these companies for the right to use the tracks for passenger service. If they want trains zipping along at 150+ miles per hour, they’re gonna have to build rail entirely from scratch. Because most freight operators don’t even want trains going that fast. Only Union Pacific ever commented on 110 mile per hour trains co-existing with their lines. Nearly all the others want less than 90 mph or less than that.

    In 2005 road use accounted for 88.79 percent of passenger-miles traveled in the United States. Personal driving accounts for 86 percent of all travel (the rest is by planes, trains and buses and ships). Most of which consists of daily trips from home to places like grocery stores, doctors offices, dollar stores, or work which adds up to barely over 40 miles per day; not an ideal market for high speed rail nor will it decrease congestion on highways as most traffic is inside the cities and towns, not along highways that lead to them. The idea of spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a network of train systems, where buses (which show greater potential at relieving congestion) are far cheaper and planes far faster and cars more personally convenient.

  • Spokker

    Haha LazyReader, it’s like anti-HSR Mad Libs.

  • LazyReader

    Spock-er. Live long and prosper. I simply point out most daily trips in America only consist of short ones. And high-speed rail is not going to take me from home to the grocery store or work on a daily basis…or any basis. The United States actually has one of the most efficient rail systems in the world. Not because of speed, fuel efficiency, or quality of track. It’s because the companies decided to eliminate passenger accommodation and focus on freight. In America well over 40 percent of our freight is carried by train, the rest is trucks and barge and vans and planes. In Europe rail carries less than 17 percent of freight, because they relegated track to carry people on a daily basis, there’s “train traffic” so freight rail in Europe is small because they have little opportunity to place cargo trains on the track. Passenger trains hog most of the rail. Most of Europe’s freight is carried by truck.

  • Spokker

    LazyReader,

    Yeah, all those things. Got a nice route down here in Southern California. Not too much freight except for Los Angeles to Fullerton. Commuters, tourists, college-aged folks, older folks and business travelers. Does well despite its limitations. Could have potential. Shrug.

  • Spokker

    It’s intercity rail, by the way, over 300 miles worth. Could use some higher speeds. With double and triple track (in select places), advanced signaling, freights and passenger trains wouldn’t even notice each other.

  • LazyReader

    Intercity rail is probably not going to go to any faster than it already is. On average rail speeds like that are never more than 39-50 miles per hour. You could try to boost speed past 45-55 miles per hour on corridors, then you have to cut services and make fewer stops. The faster you go the more potential stops you have to eliminate. Technically you could stop at all of them. However going faster and stopping at every station only a few miles apart only increases the wear and tear on the tracks. Caltrains for instance has said it will soon have to cut its service in half if it doesn’t get an injection of funds from the federal or state governments. California is a classic example of the problem with government funding of things like transit and intercity rail. A wise scholar once said… .”elected officials like to cut ribbons but don’t like to sweep brooms” (they like new projects, but not maintenance). So while California politicians go gaga over high-speed rail and light rail; transit agencies like CalTrains and VTA are cutting services. The year 2016 is comfortable for politicians. It’s far enough away that elected officials whose terms are no longer than six years don’t bother worrying about it.

    Meanwhile, VTA announced that it will start a bus-rapid transit service from Santa Clara to Alum Rock. This was originally supposed to be a light-rail line projected to cost nearly $400 million. As bus-rapid transit, it will cost only $128 million. The light-rail line would not open until 2021; BRT will begin early 2012. Light rail would operate every 15 minutes; BRT every six. BRT was also projected to attract nearly three times as many riders at a far lower operating cost than light rail. Anything you can do with rail; you can do with buses far more cheaply. Buses are far more flexible, they’re cheap, they’re easy to run on a daily basis. In some cases they’re actually faster. Now some are saying “I’m not gonna ride a bus” but is it really important that we provide an extremely expensive subsidized transportation option for snobs. There are thousands of transit agencies all over the country, most of which consist of bus lines. And transit agencies have this inferiority complex if they don’t have a train at their disposal, so they rise to the challenge and begin programs to compete for federal dollars to build trains, whether it’s light-rail, heavy rail, commuter rail, monorail or maglevs. So they pass ridiculous taxes on soda and gum or something. Like how Arlington paid for the Dallas Cowboys new stadium. by raising city’s sales tax by 0.5 percent, the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent, and car rental tax by 5 percent.

    During the Bush administration, the federal goverment enacted a ruling requiring cost-effectiveness research to detail which area was in most need of allocated money for transit systems or which proved the most financially feasible. The first thing Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood did for the Obama administration was eliminate the ruling. So cities like New Orleans and Dallas which largely proved they didn’t need the money ended up with their hands out getting a hand out.

  • Ecallmike

    We don’t need trains that can travel 200 mph. Trains that can average 100 mph  and connect passengers with each cities existing mass transit systems will work fine and will cost much, much less than 200 mph trains. 100 mph trains are faster than bus or car and from downtown to downtown would compare favorable with travel by air on distances of 250/300 miles or less. 

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