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Republicans short-sighted on high-speed rail

Another state has spurned federal dollars to establish high-speed rail.

…Florida Governor Rick Scott announced he will decline $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funding — putting a quick and unexpected end to the projected Tampa-Orlando line that was to be the Obama administration’s bullet model for the rest of the nation. Scott now becomes the fourth Republican governor in the past several months to scuttle a major rail project, following in the (backward-moving) footsteps of New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, and Ohio’s John Kasich.

The article goes on to address Scott’s stated concerns. Of course he touts supposedly “better” ways to use the money — by expanding existing interstate highways. Furthering our dependence on automobiles and, by extension, foreign oil is a conservative value, apparently.

Only it’s not. Even the American Conservative magazine recognizes the red herring of concerns over government subsidies: “Still, libertarians [and Republicans] shriek, ‘Subsidies!’—ignoring the fact that highways only cover 58 percent of their costs from user fees, including the gas tax.” Others have noted:

Both our highway system and airline industry are heavily subsidized. In 2002, Congress appropriated $32 billion in highway funding and $14 billion for the airline industry in 2002. The FAA ran on a 2005 budget of $7.8 billion. How “successful” would the private airline industry be if it were not subsidized by the government? Would our “car culture” exist without our governments involvement in building and maintaining highways?

These Republican governors are impeding efficient and prudent national transportation improvements to the detriment of their own states. Their reasoning doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and is leading some people to question whether this isn’t simply political posturing against a Democratic president. I won’t presume to judge whether they have such ulterior motives. But I will say that these governors are short-sighted and doing their constituents a disservice.

New and improved rail transportation, besides creating jobs and spurring economic development, alleviates highway congestion, lessens our dependence on oil, and has a positive impact on the environment. As far as transportation strategy goes, Republicans appear to be stuck in the 1950s.

61 comments to Republicans short-sighted on high-speed rail

  • Marc W

    When traveling 600+ miles between two big cities the idea of a smooth luxury train ride at up to 180mph between cities is pleasantly alluring. You’d be a fool to drive for 10 hrs(60mph for 600 miles) when you can get there faster(avg 120+ mph perhaps given top speed 180mph), cheaper ($70 ticket perhaps?), and more enjoyably. The amtrak we relate to is not luxury like air travel or a fancy coach bus, the existing tracks make for a bumpy ride(not designed for smooth transit, especially not at higher speeds), and because there are shared track segments between delays are common. With a real high speed rail solution then at your destination you take the local taxi, busses, or rent a car. Sadly I’m unaware of ANY U.S. city or federal program planning the high speed rail other countries have.

  • curious

    So for the 78,000 people that ride each day nationwide – in a country of over 200,000,000, the gov’t incurs a deficit of $1,250,000,000. Seems like a big subsidy to appease a population less than 3/4ths the size of our fair city. Prudent spending?

  • Why stop there, Curious? I mean, it’s also only 3,250 an hour, or 54 people a minute! Doesn’t it sound like an awfully big subsidy to appease only 54 people?!

    Not really. The U.S. population is actually much greater than you stated — it’s 308,745,538 people as of April 2010, according to the Census Bureau. But, if you take that and divide it by the total area of the U.S. (3,794,083 square miles), that’s only 81 people per square mile. So since 54 is roughly 2/3 of 81, I guess that means the subsidy really covers 2/3 of the population, eh?

    [/sarcasm]

  • curious

    I was dealing in the facts stated on your source and you are now dealing in hyperbole. Fact – 78,000 ave. people a day use Amtrak rail. Fact – $1,250,000,000 deficit/YEAR. Who pays the deficit? Taxpayers. Or do you aspire to growing a deficit? Stimulus? BS!! Politics. Explain how it ultimately benefits more than the 2% of the population it serves in a tax-efficient, cost-effective way. If you aspire to this kind of gov’t spending, why doesn’t the hotel project or the museum make sense? Deficits are deficits.

  • Curious — I’m using hyperbole to ridicule your manipulation of statistics. We have very limited train service in the U.S. at this time, so it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that a smaller portion of the population uses it than uses highways or air transportation. There are whole states that aren’t served by Amtrak. Furthermore, there are many trains, especially on the east coast, that are running at capacity and can’t take on any more passengers at present. You’re also ignoring the huge federal subsidies to highways and aviation — to which Amtrak’s subsidy pales in comparison. How much did we just pay to bail out the airlines and car manufacturers?

    This isn’t an argument about deficit reduction — we’re going to subsidize transportation one way or another (unless you’re advocating dropping all subsidies for all forms of transportation). The question is, where are we going to invest our transportation funds? The costs of building more expressways — materials, environmental, land-consumption, labor, fuel-consumption, etc. — are unsustainable in the long run. Moving more people off the roads and onto more efficient forms of transportation makes sense.

    Trying to make an analogy to the hotel project or museum is comparing apples and oranges. I also think it’s disingenuous of you to be making those comments from behind a pseudonym, since you’re running against me for council. Is this an indication of how you would handle the council’s business — shrouded in secrecy?

  • C.J. is a train fan who suggests trains are the the solution for many issues. I am a comic book fan. I suggest we teach kids to read with Wolverine Comics.

    Got a problem with that, bub?

  • curious

    I’m not manipulating statistics, I’m using your source. 76,000 use Amtrak per day at a deficit of $1,250,000,000 per year AND COUNTING. You support it at taxpayer expense. More gov’t pork for a limited few. I don’t agree. You still haven’t justified it economically or socially. You are right about it not being about deficit reduction in your mind and that is the problem. We can’t afford it and we should better prioritize our spending. Evidently you think we should be on a glorified train set. I’m for less corporate welfare, less government intervention, more stucture and accountabilty for early childhood education, fewer entitlements (better incentivized too!), and a host of other changes from the status quo. Secrecy? Hardly. I get blamed for being comments I’m not. It’s your site and I truly respect all you do to promote dialog. On the issue of massive spending for high speed rail to enrich a few at the expense of many, I strongly disagree. I’d rather see a “penalty” for Americans who don’t take the responsibility of becoming productive, educated citizens to heart. We’ve incentivized sloth and apathy for TOO LONG. But again, it’s your site and I appreciate the forum. I don’t necessarily aspire to beat you, but I do want to be one of the five called to serve.

  • David P. Jordan

    Curious,

    You’re not seeing the big picture. Most Amtrak ridership is concentrated in a handful of corridor services with Boston-New York-Washington being by far the largest. Once upon a time, Amtrak could boast handling more passengers that any one of the air shuttles in that corridor. Thanks to Acela Express trains, they handle more passengers than all of those air services combined. It’s a familiar trend wherever frequent service is offered.

    There are a number of secondary corridor-type services with a high-frequency of conventional rail passenger service. The one with the second-highest ridership is the Pacific Surfliner route between Los Angeles and San Diego (some trains also serve San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara) with 11 weekday roundtrips (12 on weekends). there were only three operated by predecessor San Diegan trains as recently as 1980.

    And there are more. Amtrak California’s Capitol Corridor between San Jose/Oakland and Sacramento has 16 weekday roundtrips. Amtrak began this service 1991 with far fewer. As frequencies increased, so did ridership. Economies of scale through greater equipment utilization has reduced subsidies.

    How about one closer to home? Chicago-St. Louis. When Amtrak began service in May 1971, two roundtrips were offered. By the late ’70s, when the St. Louis-San Antonio Inter-American (now Texas Eagle) was extended north to Chicago, there were three. And that’s pretty much where it stayed through the 1980s, 1990s and well into the 2000s. Then in October 2006, an additional two roundtrips began. Ridership grew about 40-percent because expanded service made travel to and from Chicago easier.

    The point is that a skeletonized intercity rail passenger network is going to have limited patronage due to limited coverage. Wherever there has been new service, the public uses it. Hopefully, someday if and when responsible politicians can get the country on a path to fiscal sanity, viable HSR projects might be implemented.

  • Point of Order

    “if and when”,as my grandfather used to say “when Hell freezes over”

  • guest

    The high speed rail system is a must for the economic power of the country.

    Consider the following:

    Is the Proposed Trans Global Highway a solution for future population concerns and global warming?

    One excellent solution to future population concerns as well as alleviating many of the effects of potential global warming is the Frank Didik proposal for the construction of the “Trans Global Highway”. The Didik proposed Trans Global Highway would create a world wide network of standardized roads, railroads, water pipe lines, oil and gas pipelines, electrical and communication cables. The result of this remarkable, far sighted project will be global unity through far better distribution of resources, including heretofore difficult to obtain or unaccessible raw materials, fresh water, finished products and lower global transportation costs.

    With greatly expanded global fresh water distribution, arid lands could be cultivated resulting in a huge abundance of global food supplies. The most conservative estimate is that with the construction of the Trans Global Highway, the planet will be able to feed several billion more people, using presently available modern farming technologies. With the present global population of just under 7 billion people and at the United Nations projection of population increase, the world will produce enough food surpluses to feed the expected increased population for several hundred years.

    Thomas Robert Malthus’s famous dire food shortage predictions of 1798 and his subsequent books, over the next 30 years, failed to take into consideration modern advances in farming, transportation, food storage and food abundance. Further information on the proposed Trans Global Highway can be found at http://www.TransGlobalHighway.com .