High Speed Rail

  • La – Robin – Hood is Out

    Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Tuesday he will not be sticking around for President Barack Obama’s second term, according to Roll Call.  Many of us first got to know LaHood when George Will wrote that this mediocre legislator had been transformed: “I think we can change people’s behavior.”

    LaHood was talking about getting people out of their cars and onto rail transit.  However, he was not talking about people voluntarily leaving the road.  His determination was to coerce people out of their cars.  Since then he has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to wasteful projects in pursuit of the Portlandification of America.  Good riddance!

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  • High Speed Rail … in Georgia?

    As more is learned about the California hugh cost overruns associated with high speed rail, many people in other states are expressing gratitude that their state avoided such a boondoggle.  But in Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed believes the Peach State needs to get a piece of that action.  He’s proposing a HSR line from Atlanta to Savannah.  Hopefully, sensible people in the state will oppose his efforts.

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  • Buyer’s Remorse

    Earlier this month, the Economist reported that the few remaining high-speed rail projects in the U.S. were all in critical condition.  Blaming both national partisanship as well as local and regional pressures, the report noted that in California “if given a second chance to vote on the 2008 $9 billion bond issue that is funding the early stages of the project, 59% of survey respondents would vote it down.”

    A third reason may simply be that people have come to learn more about what HSR entails.  The costs (and not just monetary) have begun seeping through the rhetoric about the benefits and people are just exercising better judgment than two years ago.  Tory Gattis on the Houston Strategies blog compares the efforts spending gobs of money to reduce travel times (e.g., HSR) versus spending less (“90% or 99% less money”) to improve the travel experience.  The latter approach actually results in higher rider satisfaction.

    Back to the Golden State (via Washington, D.C.), the U.S. House of Representatives just passed its version of the Highway bill that “forbids federal funding next year for California high-speed rail,” effectively gutting the project.  Depending how the House bill is reconciled with the Senate version, this could be the end of the line for California’s high-speed rail ambitions.  And the California example be enough to get other states to rethink these billion dollar boondoggles.

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  • You Know You’re On the Right Side …

    … when Paul Krugman is on the other.

    “America used to be a country that thought big about the future. Major public projects, from the Erie Canal to the interstate highway system, used to be a well-understood component of our national greatness.”

    Krugman believes the future is a nation dependent upon collective transport – i.e., mass transit.  Krugman believes most of us want that future.  Krugman is wrong.  Again.

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  • Florida Gets Last Laugh on HSR

    In March 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott took a lot of heat when he canceled the proposed high speed rail project in the Sunshine State by turning away $2.4 billion in federal support.  Now he is getting the last laugh (and saving Floridians a ton of money).  A new report is urging California to cancel its project based on known cost overruns and an uncertain funding source.  “There is simply just no identification of a long-term funding source or commitment, and we think that is a fundamental flaw,” says the report’s author.

    It’s worth reviewing how Florida beat the HSR hoax when California did not.  A combination of think tanks and activists helped convince the governor it was a bad idea, and most importantly the new governor was willing to listen and be persuaded by facts and sound argument, not fluff and slick rhetoric.

    As Ron Utt wrote in National Review at the time: “analysts at Cato, Reason, and Heritage, working both individually and collectively (through the American Dream Coalition), began to produce work that was critical of the proposals.”  The American Dream Coalition had perhaps the first in-depth analysis of Florida’s HSR proposal, dating back to June 2009.  At the other end, right before Governor Scott’s decision, Wendell Cox published a blistering critique for the Reason Foundation of the Florida HSR proposal showing the probability, not possibility, that Florida taxpayers would be stuck with a huge bill once cost-overruns came to bear.

    The real dragon slayers, however, were the various Tea Party organizations around the state, most notably the Tampa Tea Party and Tampa 9/12 Project who mobilized first against an irresponsible light rail project and then continued the push against HSR.  Continuing with Utt:

    “In September of 2010, the group held a rally to encourage people to vote “no” in a referendum on the proposal, and several members of the American Dream Coalition spoke at the event. Despite being outspent $1,600,000 to $25,000 by the business community and opposed by the political establishment, the Tea Party won, and funding for the light-rail line was defeated.”

    We were glad to have played a small role in this big success saving Florida taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over time.

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  • The California Model – Epic Fail

    Those who follow public policy at the state level know there are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to growth and development.  On one end is California with its high environmental consciousness and command-and-control governing style.  At the other end is Texas with a hands-off approach and jobs-first attitude.

    Defenders of the California model like to play the Bigger They Are, Harder They Fall defense, meaning that of course California is suffering mightily because it is so big and that is why it has born a disproportionate share of America’s economic woes.  In their order of events, the housing bubble burst, the economy tanked and then jobs fled.

    But in a very important piece in City Journal, Wendell Cox argues, “Well before the crisis struck, then, the Golden State was setting itself up for a big fall.”  Cox uses the National Establishment Time Series database to track job creation and migration between 1992 and 2008 and shows that “even before the downturn, California had stopped attracting new business investment, whether from within the state or from without.”  This is a problem of governance.

    Meanwhile, the Antiplanner makes the point that boneheaded public policy continues to be practiced in the Golden State.  Despite California’s dismal fiscal outlook and despite the doubling of the estimated cost of the already outrageously expensive high speed rail boondoggle, Governor Jerry Brown is urging the California legislature to release funds to begin building this misguided project.  Again, it’s a matter of governance … and the progressive, know-it-all Smart Growth approach to public policy is an absolute disaster.

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  • Progressives & Rail Transit

    Writing in American Thinker, Gary Jason is the latest to pick up the banner of common sense when it comes to the progressive fetish of rail transit.  He points to both national and state level boondoggles – Amtrak and Florida and California’s high speed rail projects.  Florida’s projected line from Orlando to Tampa, fortunately, was derailed by Governor Rick Scott’s veto.  California’s plan is still moving forward although the weight of skepticism is approaching critical mass.

    All around, high speed rail is getting a second, more informed look.  The Chicago Tribune is now asking the Illinois Department of Transportation to stop this [high speed rail] train.  The North Carolina legislature has taken action to prevent that state from seeking HSR funds.  In Europe the gilded sheen of success is wearing off.  Recent elections in Portugal may indefinitely postpone that country’s plan to link Lisbon to Madrid in Spain.  But progressive hopes won’t die as long as they believe rail transit will get people out of those dastardly automobiles!

    So where’s a hopeful progressive leftist to look if even socialist Portugal lets you down?  China, of course.  Because car ownership is very low in China, planners believe if they can build out a massive high speed rail network they can preempt the transition of China from a third-world bike-ped society to a first-world car-driving one.  The estimate of car ownership in China ranges from about 20 to 120 cars per 1000 people whereas in the United States the number is around 750 per 1000.  This is not because the Chinese are more pro-transit or environmentally conscious; it’s because they have historically been dirt poor and without the freedom to choose.

    Taking poor, un-free people and shuttling them onto trains … is considered progressive.

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  • “You Can’t Make Money Hauling Passengers”

    That’s a quote from the CEO of CSX, the third largest rail company in the United States, on why he’s not linking arms with President Obama’s ambitious rail initiative.  His livelihood is dependent upon his knowing the rail industry inside and out.  He’s good at what he does.  And he’s looked at high-speed rail, commuter rail, light rail, street car rail, etc.  And he knows they cannot break even despite ludicrous claims by rail boosters.

    Bottom line: We should use rail for hauling product, not people.

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  • Dirty, Filthy Rail Transit

    When I was in Washington, D.C. last month to participate in the Mobility Choice Roundtable, one of the loudest advocates for rail transit was Bill Lind, a self-styled conservative.  Although he took shots at those like me who defended automobility, his primary aim was at those advocating rubber tire transit – i.e., buses.

    Lind would repeatedly say that the reason transit is struggling is that people don’t want to ride a dirty, filthy bus but would opt for a shiny, clean rail car.  “Only roaches ride motor coaches,” he said (several times).  Unfortunately, he’s not alone.  Many advocates for rail transit believe we should subsidize snobbery – that to lure commuters out of their cars we should build more expensive rail systems rather than utilize buses.

    Sadly for him, the filth is not confined to buses (and in their defense, many motor coach operations are very clean and comfortable).  But in San Francisco, a recent investigation of the BART rail transit system found the presence of fecal and skin-borne bacteria, including the potentially lethal MRSA.  In addition, the study found 245 incidences of urinating or defecating and 56 reports of spitting last year.

    This is not confined to BART.  WebMD warns that riding transit increases the risk of developing a respiratory infection, and other risks involve violent acts.  And then there’s the strange.  This doesn’t happen in your private automobile.

    The bottom line is public transportation is public, which means you will likely get all kinds of people on it – the good, the bad, and the dirty.

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  • HSR is DOA in FL

    Florida Governor Rick Scott has rejected federal funds for High Speed Rail … so the project is dead!  Here is the full statement from Governor Scott.

    This is great news for the taxpayers and mobility advocates in the Sunshine State!  When this proposal was first floated after President Obama took office, Cato’s Randal O’Toole did a robust report for the ADC.

    Since then, many others have weighed in.  These appear to have had a positive impact on not just the governor.  Congratulations to Governor Scott for wisely acting on behalf of the taxpayers!

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