century ago, the U.S. government gave land and loans to railroad companies that
would amount to billions in today's money. The U.S. subsequently transformed
into an increasingly influential superpower. Today, in the modern era,
the government is looking to use similar incentives to yet again push our nation's
transportation efforts forward.
The Obama administration this week announced $2B USD in grants, marking the first round in a
program looking to push high-speed rail across the U.S.
I. Great Expectations
With increasing fuel costs being witnessed, rail is viewed as an increasingly
attractive alternative to air travel. While the new program looks to ease
the country forward towards high-speed rail, it still illustrates how far
behind its international peers the U.S. is in terms of public transport.
Only $300M USD of the $2B USD will be applied towards the construction of true
high-speed rail that is present across much of Europe and Asia.
That money will go towards creating a 220 mph line between two of
California's major metropolitan areas -- San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The remaining money will be applied to increasing speeds of standard lines.
The government hopes to boost a Washington-Boston-New York line from 135
mph to 160 mph with the help of $795M USD in grants. Another $404M USD
will be applied to upgrades to a 110 mph track between Detroit and Chicago.
That money will be applied to boosting speeds along portions of the
route, upgrading signals, and modernizing the track.
The applications of the remainder of the funding are diverse. Funding
will go to building a train station in Ann Arbor, Mich. Texas gets money
to conduct engineering studies. Rhode Island will be spending funds on improvements
to its train platforms. And Washington State will be looking to build a
short stretch of elevated track.
II. High Speed, Where Art Thou?
Some politicians on both sides of the aisle are less than thrilled with the
final results of the program -- even among those who support high-speed rail.
They complain that hardly any money is going towards actual high
speed rail, with most going directly to pork-barrel projects by rail giant
Amtrak (The National Passenger Railroad Corporation), who holds much lobbying
power in Congress.
Rep. John L. Mica (R-Florida), who chairs
the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,
stated, "Once again, the administration has scattered funding to numerous
slower-speed rail projects, and allowed Amtrak to hijack 21 of the 22
Part of Rep. Mica's complaints may arise out of disappointment at not receiving
funding. Florida lost its funding for rail projects
when Governor Rick Scott (R) cut matching funding
to a high speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa.
Representatives from states that are getting funded seem much more
enthusiastic. States Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.),
"We must take our passengers off the short-run airplanes. No one in a
properly functioning transportation environment should take a plane from New
York to Washington, or for that matter from Boston to Washington."
To an extent Rep. Nadler is correct -- the funding will make a seemingly
positive impact. For example a $295M USD to the much-used Long Island
Rail Road in N.Y. State will allow trains to bypass the Harold
Interlocking, a busy junction in the New York City borough of Queens.
This in turn will decrease delays and increase the speed of rides.
On the other hand the funding fails to fix other notorious problem spots like
two Amtrak-owned tunnels under the Hudson River, which are aging and congested,
or an ancient 100-year-old stretch of line in New Jersey. Both areas were
originally slotted for repair or upgrades, but the plans fell through when Gov.
Chris Christie, a New Jersey Republican, pulled out. He complained the
matching funding could put his state in danger of budget overruns.
The dispute has largely boiled down to partisan bickering. Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Michigan) complained
about his state's project, commenting, "If President Obama and Congress
insist on piling more debt on our kids and grandkids, they should at least let
us decide how to spend it. We need to fill potholes and improve roads, not
shave 50 minutes off a train ride from Detroit to Chicago."
Gov. Scott and Gov. Christie stand together with two other Republican governors
– embattled Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin), who ditched
$810M USD in funding for a high speed line between Madison-to-Milwaukee, and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), who rejected a
$404M USD proposal to connect Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus with a
slower train line.
All four governors scrapped projects that had been set into motion by their
Michigan governor Rick Snyder thus
far has been the only Republican governor to back a rail project, having done
so after much deliberation
III. Ugly Results
"If they don't want it, we need it. We'll take it," complains Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York),
"Florida's loss is New York and New Jersey's gain."
That may be true to some extent, but the partisan division on the issue of rail
is creating a situation where everyone loses.
At the start of Barack Obama's presidency in 2008 only a handful of states were
looking for high speed rail funding versus many states fishing for traditional
rail funding. While the high-speed projects arguably bore more merit than
bloated budgets for traditional rail, ironically they were some of the first to
go do to partisan politics.
The result is the kind of bastard child program that will frustrate many.
Republicans, some Democrats, and high speed rail supporters alike will
wonder why so much money is being poured into Amtrak while so little is being
applied to actual high speed rail at a time when the U.S. is already so far
The speed of traditional lines is fundamentally limited, even if congested
sections of track can be upgraded. Current generation Acela trains --
used by Amtrak -- can only reach a top speed of 150 mph. And currently
such speeds are only available in select sections of track in Massachusetts and
Rhode Island. Upgrades to the track and power lines may increase speeds,
put that fundamental ceiling will not be able to be broken with current
Amtrak is promising that next generation Acela trains will reach 160 mph.
But that's still drastically slower than the 200 mph + trains in Asia and
"[Traditional rail travel is] too much of a waste of time," comments
Matthew Konopka, a 30-year-old economist from Washington and frequent flyer to
Boston, "I would be doubtful that they'd ever be able to get it fast
Other citizens are slightly kinder to Amtrak. States Jim Moeller, a
46-year-old geographer from Fredericksburg, Va. who rides the line between
Washington and New York monthly, "I actually do business on the train.
It's a lot nicer than an airplane. [The new funding is] throwing money at
something that's actually a good thing."
America's greatest economic rival China is experiencing struggles of its own in its ambitious deployment of high-speed rail.
In China's case laying the rail isn't the problem -- it's dealing with corruption and quality control issues that
endanger passenger safety and budgets.
The U.S. is grappling with its own unique problem -- the fact that partisan
bickering has killed the majority of high-speed rail and the fact that it's
throwing lots of money at an aging rail system that -- no matter how you slice
it -- is far behind modern high-speed designs.
It remains to be seen whether either project will truly leave the station and
reach its intended stop.
quote: rains could save us all time and money while giving us more convenience. We won't even need to experience an "enhanced pat-down" to ride them.
quote: You cannot take control of a train and use it to crash into a building (some minor exceptions to this).
quote: What exactly is your point?
quote: No, it's actually NOT easy to bomb an airport. Not today anyway.
quote: Thats the stupidest thing I've ever heard... Next thing you know, and some dumbass has shot a hole in the side of the plane...
quote: Try the line of 50-200 people waiting to get their prostates checked by the TSA. Why would you waste your time trying to get through security when security has already provided you with a perfectly good group of innocent people to blow up
quote: would require a large explosion to damage
quote: The train engineer can just hit the brakes.
quote: it must be the environmental lobby that is destroying America
quote: no one else could care less about
quote: I could care less what some of you claim to be.
quote: I could care less what some of you claim to be
quote: nobody got nothing
quote: How do you experts propose I travel 500 miles one way and back in one day to a smaller city that will never get a high speed rail stop?
quote: I have no expertise on the matter but am inclined to agree with you.
quote: Think about it this way, I could pretty much drive from NYC to Boston in the time it took me to clear security, customs, board the plane and fly there. Cities like these are perfect candidates for high speed rail.
quote: Stop letting the GOP fool you. We need jobs and building/improving infrastructure is 1 way of doing that. And good paying jobs will boost revenue.
quote: The only jobs the DNC are creating are Government ones. Which are paid by public tax money. In other words, this hinders the economy not improves it. GOP fooling us? Please
quote: Yes, and all these employees getting paid by the government spend their money overseas!
quote: Infrastructure investment leads to employees employed by that investment spreading money throughout the local economy.
quote: Transport links are proven to vitalise the economy of the area they pass through. The construction of these transport links provide jobs, which provide money to the workers, who then spend that money locally, which flows on to other businesses. New commerce is attracted to the area.
quote: Businesses can do as well without roads and bridges. Judging from many bridge inspections, you may have your wish soon.
quote: I'm tired of the irresponsible spending and politicians coming to us with their hands out with absolutely no explanation or concern about what happened to the LAST huge blank check we voted on.
quote: Ask them what they get paid or what they drive, and they won't be able to remember those facts either.
quote: Please cite one study that suggests that the US is too big for HSR. Hell just cite one reason why you have this crazy belief.
quote: We have the largest airline industry in the world because we've subsidized them since 1928 (!).
quote: I simply corrected your statement because you basically implied that we have the largest airline industry because of free market force.
quote: The U.S is simply too large to have a viable high speed rail network.
quote: A single Shinkansen line operates at a profit of more than 100 billion yen while charging pennies on the dollar when compared to flight.
quote: I will not take something that's barely faster than my car, and much slower than a plane.
quote: A modern Shinkansen can do 0-350mph in about 9 miles and it's top speed is 6-7x faster than what you can legally do on the highway and there is never any traffic.
quote: A modern Shinkansen can do 0-350mph in about 9 miles
quote: Dude Boston to New York is 45 minutes by plane.
quote: Isn't that a tad misleading? Factor in the location of the airports and time and transportation costs to and from these often out-of-the-way locations.
quote: Once again Reclaimer, you're so full of s*** that it's spilling back out your mouth and onto your KB. Stop being a moron and go clean yourself up.
quote: About the 500 mile journey, well, I'm pretty sure most people would still choose to drive that little, or fly, rather than use a public rail.
quote: just replace names like Disney with the equivalent local interest
quote: It goes to providing "free" rail projects to heavily Democrat areas.
quote: your beloved liberal Democrat party
quote: For someone so independent you seem awfully at ease with how the 2 parties struggle to make each other pay for things that the other doesn't believe in.
quote: You didn't agree with the OP's comment with a, "Yeah that is disgusting...It's just like when the reps did X."
quote: but your comments are screaming in defense of the dems.
quote: I see nearly no one here saying that HSR has zero potential.
quote: I do however see people saying that the federal grants are folly for much of these United States.
quote: Before a congressional hearing, [Amtrak head] Gunn answered a demand by leading Amtrak critic Arizona Senator John McCain to eliminate all operating subsidies by asking the Senator if he would also demand the same of the commuter airlines, upon which the citizens of Arizona are dependent. McCain, usually not at a loss for words when debating Amtrak funding, did not reply.
quote: where do you see any defending here? Feel free to use an example.
quote: If you think only democrats want such funds you live in the same Wonderland with Alice.
quote: "So? The reps do the same thing!"
quote: With this you are saying that the fact that this favors dems is ok because the reps do the same thing, no?
quote: No, I'm condemning both.
quote: You didn't agree with the OP's comment with a, "Yeah that is disgusting...It's just like when the reps did X." Instead you essentially replied with, "So? The reps do the same thing!"
quote: Written text has no inflection. It doesn't sound like anything, hence its limitations.
quote: 1. Ok so you agree with the OP, right?2. Then why did you say anything in the first place?3. If you are condemning both then why don't you CONDEMN BOTH like I said in my previous post?
quote: The little '???' things mean they are questions.
quote: and cry because you are making people who are (allegedly) outside the 2-party system look like fools.
quote: Again, this is not 2000-2006.
quote: The U.S. is grappling with its own unique problem -- the fact that partisan bickering has killed the majority of high-speed rail and the fact that it's throwing lots of money at an aging rail system that -- no matter how you slice it -- is far behind modern high-speed designs.
quote: Amtrak has never been profitable and never will be.
quote: Proponents point out that the government heavily subsidizes the Interstate Highway System, the Federal Aviation Administration, many airports, among many aspects of passenger aviation. Massive government aid to those forms of travel was a primary factor in the decline of passenger service on privately owned railroads in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, Amtrak pays property taxes (through fees to host railroads) that highway users do not pay. Advocates therefore assert that Amtrak should only be expected to be as self-sufficient as those competing modes of transit.
quote: Another major reason for the slowness is that fast trains of the 1930s and 1940s were significantly set back by a 1947 Interstate Commerce Commission order which required, by year-end 1951, enhanced safety features for all trains traveling above a 79 mph limit.Since the infrastructure required for cab signaling, automatic train stop and other enhancements was considered uneconomical in the sparsely populated American West at that time, this rule effectively killed further development of high-speed rail outside of the Northeast.....However, positive train control (PTC) signaling is required to be implemented by 2015 under the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, and it is sufficient to remove the 79 mph limit
quote: So how many roads are built that don't even pay for their own construction? Ever bother asking yourself that question? What's their total cost to taxpayers?
quote: On top of that, we've also become accustomed to the ways of life that you mentioned
quote: Your bring up a great point ..... population density
quote: Nice that they have a country the size of CA that is linked by train.
quote: Not exactly a defense of Amtrak in particular, but "slow-speed" rail is still a valuable part of the transportation system.
quote: The light rail has been a catalyst for both residential and commercial development along the route and has played a significant role in the revitalization of Hudson County. Many of the stops are sited in vacant or underutilized areas, which are now beginning to see intense residential and mixed-use development
quote: Amtrak is nothing more than a turd on wheels.
quote: Amtrack is a complete mess.
quote: I'm fairly certain that the only people who use it are Joe Biden and the woman quoted in the article
quote: Ridership increased in the first decade of the 21st century after implementation of capital improvements in the Northeast Corridor and rises in automobile fuel costs. Amtrak set its sixth straight year of record ridership, with 28.7 million passengers for the 12 months ended September 30, 2008
quote: Light rail will have to be considerably cheaper before even high speed becomes viable.
quote: The Germans take driving very seriously and have much better discipline in obeying the traffic rules than your average US driver
quote: People will travel in their nice 150-200 mph cars which is plenty fast, and everyone will be happy.
quote: This editor only writes opinion pieces.
quote: I thought DT is supposed to just focus on page clicks and ad views