Who Said It: “Let’s Be Really Bold… in Developing Maglev Trains”

Can you guess who? Image: ##http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfzKHfUYIgo##YouTube##

Match the quotation to its Speaker (hint, hint!):

“Let’s go ahead and be really bold, and go head-to-head with the Chinese in developing and implementing maglev trains that move at 280 to 300, 320 miles an hour. […] You cannot talk about American national security in the long run without a fundamental redevelopment of this country economically… And you cannot talk about a competitive American economy without a dramatically more robust and more modern infrastructure.”

Is it Obama, stumping for reelection? Not this time. What about Mitt Romney, who recently said he’s okay with borrowing money if it’s for infrastructure that provides a revenue stream? Getting closer.

No, these words belong to one Newton Leroy Gingrich, and they were delivered at a June 2009 event co-hosted by Building America’s Future and the National Governors Association. That’s right: Mr. Balanced Budget Amendment, the Deficit Hawk’s Deficit Hawk, wants to build maglev trains, per-mile one of the most expensive modes ever devised.

His speech outlined “8 Principles for a 21st Century Infrastructure System,” and featured: rewriting the budget act to allow for multi-year capital investing (number one), involving and incentivizing the private sector (number four), and an “energy infrastructure investment comparable to transportation investment” (number eight).

This last point, no doubt, refers to the six-word mantra that served as the title of Gingrich’s 2007 book, Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less. He also wrote a book – that same year! – called A Contract with the Earth about environmental stewardship. If nothing else, you have to admire his chutzpah. (That, and his skill at delivering focus group-tested talking points that advance the agenda of his patrons in the fossil fuel industry.)

The Republican presidential field’s resident idea man and self-styled “organizer of the pro-civilization activists” has a rather extensive public record when it comes to his stance on transportation investment, one that dates back to his years as Speaker of the House in the 1990s. Not that he’s ever had much to say about urban transit or other transportation issues that touch the daily lives of city dwellers.

  • In 1995, Newt was already a champion of Intelligent Transportation Systems, and had high hopes for the technology behind EZ-Pass and similar programs. However, he had higher hopes for a system that could be handed over almost entirely to credit card companies instead of tolling authorities.
  • In 1998, in his book, Lessons Learned the Hard Way, Newt said that he opposed a proposal by George Bush (41) to increase the gas tax after just two phone calls: one to his mother-in-law, and one to his eldest daughter. (That smells like “sample bias” to this urban planner.) Interestingly, principle number five was that transportation infrastructure should be financed by user fees rather than tax increases, so which does he consider the gas tax to be?
  • In 2007, in his book, Real Change, Newt wrote: “The US has three corridors that are very conducive to … high-speed train investment,” meaning Boston-Washington, Miami-Tampa/Jacksonville via Orlando, and San Diego-San Francisco. Of course, the system must be “privately built, run efficiently, and capable of earning its own way… a railroad system that works for us, and not for the Amtrak bureaucracy and their unions.” (In his 2009 speech, he counted high-speed rail among “very large megaprojects that rouse the nation.”)

For all his published prose, Newt’s voting record is rather unenlightening, as it seems he missed more than half of all transportation-related votes during his last six years in office.

  • Willie Green

    There are very few corridors where ridership could justify the massive investment for High Speed Maglev travel.  The high cost of Maglev’s elevated guideway must offset high construction costs of other available alternatives.  This means that you must not only have high passenger volume, but also very difficult “terrain” to cross so that the elevated guideway is less expensive than other options. For instance, very densely developed cities where it is not feasible to obtain grade-level right-of-way or tunnel under the developed infrastructure. Maglev may also be a suitable alternative in less populous regions where rugged mountainous terrain would require prohibitive tunneling/grading/bridging for other technologies.

    The GOP has a long history of disingenuous proposals for Maglev deployment.
    When Don Young, R-Alaska, was chairman of the House Transportation Committee, he sidetracked and derailed the “finalists” of a 40-mile Maglev pilot project to prove the feasibility of Maglev technology. The two finalists were Pittsburgh (which has the difficult terrain and seasonal climate change to actually prove the technological capabilities) and Baltimore/Washington, which has passenger volume and glitz for the politically connected and  elite.) Instead, Don Young favored a sketchy scheme to build Maglev between Vegas an LA where opponents could deride it as an amusement ride for tourists.Today, the Pittsburgh proposal remains the most developed plan for construction and demonstration of the technologies capabilities.  And a route connecting Atlanta’s congested airport to Chatanooga’s underutilized airport may be the most financially justifiable.But the GOP cannot be entrusted to make these decisions responsibly.  It is apparent that they only represent Industry Special Interests who are opposed to technological development of any kind, except perhaps for defense weaponry.

  • I think that ideas proposed by Gingrich in 2009 should not be taken as guidelines to his current beliefs. In 2009, Gingrich positioned himself as an idea person, and floated some proposals that either were outside the partisan fight (e.g. pay students who graduate high school early a lump sum) or explicitly counterproposed Democratic ideas (e.g. a tax cut stimulus). But since then, partisan lines have solidified. Rail was not a partisan issue in 2009, and is one today. The best analogy I can think of is religion: in 1994, Gingrich felt secure enough to jettison school prayer from the Contract with America; today, he rants about a secular menace.

  • Anonymous

    Last August, I rode the only regularly schedule maglev train in the world, running between downtown Shanghai and the Pudong Airport. It’s about a 20-mile trip and takes seven minutes. We reached speeds of 345 km/hr (about 215 mph). Since we would be riding “on a cushion of air” I expected the ride to be quiet and smooth. It was neither. In fact, in
    addition to being noiser than rail, the ride was rough enough for me to have to hang onto a seatback when standing. One more example of Gingrich’s endless pontificating.

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