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President Obama announces a 6-year transportation overhaul. Will more Americans be riding the rails at high speeds soon?
Americans stuck in Labor Day traffic over the weekend may have found themselves pondering the virtues of rail travel. A regular NJ Transit passenger myself, I can say it's not always glamorous (ear phones=necessity). But greener and cheaper than driving, and usually reliable, it is.
Nations across the world offer high-speed, bullet-like trains, like Japan's Shinkansen, to issue travelers across countries and continents (i.e. Europe), but Americans have only Acela, and only in the Northeast at that. On the congested trails between Boston and Washington, D.C., these 150 mile-per-hour trains seldom achieve their top speeds.
President Obama announced plans yesterday in Milwaukee for overhauling the country's transportation infrastructure, to the tune of $50 billion. In addition to rebuilding 150,000 miles of the nation's roadways and refurbishing 150 miles of airport runways over the next six years, the Obama Administration laid plans to construct 4,000 miles of railroad lines. Hopefully, much of this track will carry faster trains.
After spending upwards of $8 billion from Recovery Act funds on the high-speed rail endeavor, the Administration hopes the trains will escort commuters to their jobs faster, as well as create jobs for Americans to go to. Foreign companies will no doubt play roles in America's high-speed rail future, but to promote a domestic industry, the Department of Transportation announced last week system-wide manufacturing standards for bi-level rail cars (and later single-level cars).
A uniform standard creates a level playing field and economies of scale based on a common set of designs and technical requirements allowing U.S. based manufacturers to more effectively compete. Fostering healthy economic competition will drive down costs for rail owners and operators and the traveling public. Further, maintenance and repair costs will be lower because of lower parts acquisition costs. And, training can be streamlined with just one type of equipment, allowing faster turnaround for repairs.
Despite some political and local community speed bumps, by 2015 high-speed trains may be gliding on rails between San Francisco and Los Angeles in California and Tampa and Orlando in Florida by 2015. Other inter-city rail projects are also receiving funding, which points to the question of how much more money and steady investment is needed for a nationwide high-speed network. And where it will come from.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports for The New York Times:
The administration said it would work with Congress to find ways to pay for the plan so that it would not add to the nation’s rising deficit. The White House is proposing to cut tax breaks and existing subsidies for oil and gas exploration and production as one way to pay for the plan, but officials said Mr. Obama is open to other ideas. Historically, transportation projects have been paid for largely with dedicated taxes like those on gasoline.
Mr. Obama also called for what the White House is describing as an “infrastructure bank” that would focus on paying for national and regional transportation projects by pooling private money with public investment. He said the bank would eliminate a patchwork system in which transportation projects are financed through Congressional earmarks rather than based on merit.
The Federal Railroad Administration is expected to release a report sometime this month. As for the rest of Obama's infrastructure initiative, it may have a slow time getting passed by Congress this fall.
Related on SmartPlanet:
- High-speed rail federal report warns of missing links
- California's high-speed-rail debate heats up
- Five reasons high-speed rail can boost business by 2035
- The new arms race: China planning high-speed rail network to Russia, India, Europe
- Spain's high-speed rail: comfort and convenience trump green
Sep 6, 2010
How could it possibly make sense to ANYONE to undertake a high speed rail project in the midst of the most severe recession since the Great Depression? Ask yourself - WHY does Obama want this? What is its real purpose? Why not address jobs or creation of new industries? Why not revisit trade agreements to work out better deals? And while we're talking about trade agreements - how about we talk about the North American trade agreement and the deal Obama just signed the other day, quiet as a mouse, that agrees to a common perimeter for North America? Think we might just need high speed rail for that? Hmmm..... http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/breakingnews/harper-obama-perimeter-border-summit-faces-sovereignty-speed-bumps-115203054.html
Rails are the life blood of our country. America needs to get back to work. LiUNA (Laborers? International Union of North America http://bit.ly/9Y3oTf) estimates 1.5 million men and women in the construction industry are jobless. That's unacceptable, somethings gotta be done.
Obama has proposed an idea for a infrastructure bill that would put the some 1.5 million men and women in the construction industry who are jobless (according to Terry O?Sullivan, General President of LiUNA (Laborers? International Union of North America http://bit.ly/9Y3oTf) But unfortunately childish, partisan game playing has been gumming up the works. Can't we all just agree that we need to get America back to work? Lets get this country working again
I do support high-speed rail, but states need to control development of it and the feds need to get involved strictly for money and where projects cross state lines and one state can mess up a project. Amtrak?s Northeast corridor Accela trains are a nice example of the government dropping the ball on a good project. The state of Connecticut refused to cooperate on some land takings required to straighten out some curvy sections of track. Refusing to cooperate drove the cost of the trains up as special leaning trains that could go faster through curves had to be purchased. Even with the custom trains the speed is still well below what it should have been. Even a modest improvement in train speed would make the trains schedules competitive with air shuttles that run between Boston and New York City with the trains being hands down faster and more convenient for business travelers. Faster trains running on straighter track are also cheaper to buy and maintain than high tech leaning trains with more moving parts prone to failure.
President Obama said he wants to see high-speed rail between Milwaukee and Chicago. At about 90 miles downtown to downtown that is too short a run to be cost effective. Any advisor to the President who has done even a small amount of research on the topic should have given him a better example to use.
We need well thought out HS rail. Only folks against it are airlines, a very strong lobby for highway repairs, constructions, auto lobby and various other special interests. HS rail can do the job, but to it must be USA this time, no more imports of foreign owners that have taken over wind and solar if we are to get public support. A network of HS rial would and could work. but for now China and all taking over that one, now biding 30 million plus in South Africa, and other places while USA makes excuses to not progress in most of the new cutting edge areas. USA simply has become Corp USA and if not huge profits for Corp, then no no USA. Disgusting how we once lead world in BOTH design and as importantly manufacturing of cutting edge in nearly all areas, now it is pretty much gone. We need HS rail, we need to get by back cutting edge attitude and do it, and yes try for a change "designed and built in USA".. that is what created jobs, and what we need to adjust attitudes from "we cannot because" to "we will because our survival depends on it". Let's stop whinging about why not, and go update the entire USA, that creates real jobs, not the ones on docks shipping imports across USA.
@TAPhilo: actually 100 years ago we did have cheap reliable passenger/commuter rail. What happened to it? It didn't die because people weren't using it any longer. The car companies and the tire companies plus a few others bought them through a shell company and disbanded them because it would force people to buy cars. It was a big scandal then and is largely forgotten now. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_American_streetcar_scandal
@genomelover for one, monorail is rail technology... its right in the name monoRAIL and for two, the monorail IS a 19th century idea, 1897 to be exact. and thirdly, monorail IS highspeed rail.
Not that we need any more government spending, but funding more rails is just wrong. Rail is a technology of the 19th century, and it cannot compare to monorail! --Monorail is a third of the cost of rail-- the cost of the median divider on a stretch of road compared with the road costs. --Monorail exceeds rail speeds by 3-4 times-- SF to LA in an hour and 10 mins --Monorail is not contending with roads and drivers; it operates ABOVE the ground --Monorail is safe--NO reported incidence of death or dismemberment --Monorail is QUIET-- no more noise pollution Don't you have to wonder why monorail hasn't already been widely adopted. It's all about corruption and kickbacks. Any plan that entertains more rails promotes the same good ol' boy business kickback systems that pervades metropolitan transportation planning bureaus ....but why am I surprised; this is the Federal Government -- even bigger corruption!
I would love to have the funds to produce something similar to the circular city setup in the documentary on Jasque Fresco. Until things are being built from the ground up we will continue to have to spend millions on back reving. I say go for it, in Phoenix we finally got the light rail in place and I wish we had more. Obviously the person with the short haul incite is correct in that we do need more than just a trip into an area but transportation once we get there. Thats why city buses, trolleys, and shuttles are in the areas needed so it works. I wish it would expand more but man, what a pain during construction. I think it's funny people use this as a way to dig on Obama. Need to get a bumper sticker that says: I support pure evil not good intentions. I would rather send millions to an ethiopian prince than knowingly go along with the rape(firesale) of my country for 8 straight years then leave an upper-decker for the next administration.
But greener and cheaper than driving, and usually reliable, it is. "High Speed" is not "greener" or cheaper than driving, especially when all of the hidden costs are exposed. Even ignoring Infrastructure capital and maintenance costs, it takes a lot of energy to make a train go over 100 mph. "Energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions increase by 15% to 40% [for high-speed rail] from evaluating the 'tailpipe' (vehicle propulsion) component," said Chester. "Carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter emitted from infrastructure construction are larger than those emitted from vehicle propulsion when normalized per passenger kilometre. Additionally, by looking at low- and high-passenger occupancy scenarios, we show that high-speed rail is not universally better or worse than the other modes." http://environmentalresearchweb.org/cws/article/news/41383 The reality is that "high speed rail" is one more massive government spending boondoggle that keeps coming up because is sounds cool, the Europeans (therefore Progressives) love it, pretends to solve all our problems (pollution, transport, economy) and polls well. The reality is that it will solve little for the country as a whole and for taxpayers.
Obama paid off the big wall street firms, then the banks, then detroit, now he is paying off the railroad workers and the construction people that put him into office. What jobs will this create? Maybe another hundred thousand when 40 million are out of work? The money does not help unemployment. We are spiraling down in jobs with more debt. People need jobs to buy houses. To buy cars. To pay for transportation. To send their children to college. Wall street is just trading the same stocks over and over. No new stocks because IPO's are dead. With IPOs come new jobs, new stock trading, new wealth. With the new jobs and wealth come extras taxes. With extra taxes we pay our debt. Paying our debt means less dependence on other countries. But our money is slowly flowing out to the Middle East for oil and to China for products. Only the middle men are getting rich, like Big Oil and Big Retail, where they buy from the Middle East and China. But they are not sharing the wealth. It goes to pay for their life style, not yours. We are slowly spiraling down. And this helps it. Who will be able to pay for the new trains and new airport runways when people can't afford to fly and take trains. Americans are starting to stay close to home more and not travel or take vacations. We can't afford to fly around in Air Force One and tell people how great life is at the top.
I think at least one High Speed Rail from the East Coast to the West Coast would be successful. If it were at fast or faster then air travel, then people would avoid the airports. Remember, the first Trans-Continental Railroad was a Federal project and led to the expansion of the country. My only caveat is it would have to be truly High Speed such a bullet train faster than 200mph.
$50B for a high-speed rail? No way! Not when right here in the suburbs of the Nations Capitol, it will cost $5B just to put in an above ground connection to the existing subway...That's only 8 miles and a handful of stations! $50B is *NOTHING*! You can't build anything with $50B! tell me about the one trillion dollars we have spent on this useless war for the last 10 years ... now *THAT'S* real money!.This is just sick!
Americans are not herd-beasts, as are much of the rest of the world. If a transportation solution does not allow, does not promote individual door-to-door travel, it will not be acceptable. Period. America is the last bastion of individual liberty, and 3 generations of brainwashed incompetents are eroding the walls of that citadel. Why demand that we change our culture and belief system so some ninnies (many of them foreigners) with no self-respect can feel-good about mass-transit? The federal gov't has no authority to use its legislative or unConstitutional regulatory power to coerce citizen behavior. They propagandize, they tax, they subsidize behaviors that crooked politicians and power-mad do-gooders want discouraged or encouraged. Yes, our rail system could use an overhaul, absolutely. It needs to be better organized, upgraded, refurbished and maintained. But no human should be using it for transportation other than those running the train. We need high speed rail to carry GOODS across the nation. People can drive their cars on the highways, which also need to be upgraded and refurbished.
I'm a fan of the railroads myself. (Heck, my grandfather and great-grandfather worked on the railroad for most of their adult lives!) I think it's really sad, seeing how far downhill passenger rail has gone ... and there's room for some improvements. Honestly though? Trying to "upgrade" certain city-to-city connections with a new "high speed rail" system is NOT the best use of funds, right now. From where I sit in the midwest (St. Louis, MO), what I see is Amtrak constantly hobbled by the fact that they don't even own any of their own railway lines. They pay to borrow them from other railways who have priority over Amtrak, so what should be a straightforward trip to Chicago winds up taking up to an hour or so longer than expected, at times. (A freight train forces Amtrak off to the side, to wait for it to pass through and put a safe distance between them.) Additionally, Amtrak needs to put much more of an investment in their train stations! The nicest station we have here is in the municipality of Kirkwood, where the station has been run entirely by volunteers since around 2004, when Amtrak announced they couldn't afford to keep it open. We've still got a lot of retirees around here who fondly remember the railroads of their youth who are eager to do whatever it takes to keep the station open, right now. But what happens when they pass away? Will anyone else care enough to run it for Amtrak for free? Our "main station" in downtown St. Louis has been little more than a shack, ever since the old Union Station was decommissioned and turned into a shopping plaza! It's a disgrace, really. And lastly? I don't see how they can expect people to have any interest in taking the train when they don't even offer enough routes? Last time I checked, I wasn't able to take Amtrak from St. Louis to Memphis, TN. That makes NO sense to me. I know an awful lot of people who regularly make that trip between St. Louis and Memphis for various reasons, and it usually comes down to taking a car since the airlines are too expensive.
first paragraph correction industrial age should be industrial/service age and this would be compared to the technologically driven countries, whom embrace technology (like the US used to; which is how the US got to its height in the 1970's and why they've been sinking ever since, because they started admantly regecting its uses for society).
*palm to face* is amazing how anti-progressive americans are... you're kids are going to inheriet a society that by comparison to even china (which is rapidly progressing, especially in the last 30 years) will be in the still be in the industrial age, kicking, screaming, and pleading against progresssion of technology driving and enabling society. seriously, if you don't want to see society advance then just bury your head it in the sand, society shouldn't be held back by people nostalgic for what the country was 30-150 years ago... or alternatively, just move to a country even more backwards and yours; though in fairness most countries are trying to modernized, not trying to go backwards, or being at a perpetual social standstill on technology. and specifically to the comments about "if it works in europe, it wont work here"... this is just plain ignorant, esspecially so since the time the european union formed, why, because the US is a bigger country than the EU is a superstate, more than TWICE the size, meaning any benifit as a result of distance can be more than doubly effective in the US... infact people in the EU would be better served using there personal vehicles than people in the US SPECIFICALLY because american inhabit a geographically bigger country... infact the only reason i can think of that high speed rail would be a bigger benifit to the EU than the US is a result of population density; which is about 260% higher. the problem really is the implementation, a national rail project is going to need more than 4000 miles of track... at this amount if they have it built by 2015 they still wouldn't be on par with china (whom leads the world) in high speed rail developement they already have more than 3500km of high speed rail built with another 6600+km already being built, or froughly 6330 miles in total. or better yet lets put it this way is there anyone here from the US thats thinks americans should let their country (still the richest country in the world, both monetarilly and via resources) fall behind (and it is) china whom is technically still a third world country (though in reality they are an emerging superpower). and besides no-one is saying that you have to give up your personal vehicle in favor of high speed rail, nor will high speed rail be best choice of everyone but it will reduce traffic, it will reduce air pollution, and it will get perople to their destination faster, maybe even faster than a personal vehicle, even after you account for getting from the end point of the high speed rail to your final destination.. after all its not like there wont be other public transit (and even private transit like a cab, although much more expensive) between where you get off the high speed train and where you actually are going. @AlexKovnat its been a LONG since established fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas so yes they are having an effect, not they aren't causing all of it, but they are causing a completely unnecessary amount of it... and for that matter so is the energy industry... they also cause warming through the creation of smog (or more boradly called the urban heat island effect which also includes radiant heat which is MUCH higher in cities than rural area, and as more and more rural areas become cities this problem will only continue to escalate), which above and beyond the warming effect is absolutely horrendous for public health. and BTW living energy economically is just the smart, responsible thing to do, there shouldn't need to be government involvement to get society to be smart, or atleast responsible, it should go without saying, even if there wasn't a climate crisis, even if there wasn't an energy crisis (on and off), even if energy didn't cost an ever increasing fortune, even if alot of uses of energy were a complete waste of energy (like driving to the corner store or leaving unused electrical devices on while servicing no practical use). and also BTW, not everyone in north american depends on a personal vehicle, many of us get to work just fine without one, granted its not as conveinent, and public transit it underfunded and royally tainted by greedy public sector unions... a personal vehicle is a LUXURY (a concept most people in the west don't understand, hence their distaste/lack of support for public transit), where public transportation is a social service and in the average persons life is more vital than the police, fire department, and most other public services that most people don't even think about, and chances are will never use. so in short the problem isn't that it won't work (because it would) or that its not a good idea (because it is), the problem is north americans (esspecially americans; we have the same problem in canada) are so set into their 1950's-1970's lifestyle that any change is a scary, uncertian prospect, that should be avoided,
By "This is another worthless attempt to mislead Americans", I assume you were referring to the comment that followed... No transportation spending will be effective unless it is done with the long term in mind. The Chicago region used to have a wonderfully effective transportation system, despite government corruption and graft. But then a single politician enacted policies that drove big business from the city into the outer suburbs. Instead of spoke- to-hub commuting, the demand became spoke-to-spoke, and the underlying services and infrastructure did not (in some cases could not) adapt. Chicago is not unique in this regard. Thirty or forty years ago, rail spending would have been much more effective than an equivalent amount of spending today. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it at all. All the parts of transportation infrastructure must work together. Short-haul, highly utilized air routes, in most cases, could be serviced more efficiently by rail. Our existing long-distance rail system could use some work. Where there used to be several trains a day, in many cases there are now one - if you are travelling a route that requires a change of trains, that often means an added day on either the trip out or the return, because of the asynchrony of intersecting routes. That is often unacceptable - hence ridership drops, funding is cut, etc., etc. If rail service were a practical alternative to flight, more passengers would chose rail, freeing air transport capacity, etc... but without intelligent capacity management of the transportation system as a whole, we'll always have a mess. High speed rail could be a part of an overall solution - but a lot of minds would have to open first. Face it. We're doomed.
This is another worthless attempt to mislead Americans. The way the federal system works will take more than 6 years to get an acceptable plan. The money will go to a White House slush fund to be spent on other things and no real progress will be made. Does the President understand anything? Is he just a puppet set up to look stupid with the things he says and does? Why not find out what can be done instead of pretending he can make things happen?
Come on, how long have we been talking about high speed rail service? Heck, we cannot keep up what we have. Expansion only brings more services we cannot maintain.
It sounds cheap to me... $50B for renewing our transportation system, rails included. Just look over what we spent with the Iraq war and the benefits we got in return. Even if we print this $50B and have something built with it, it will be a lot more than what we got from the wars. This may not solve all the transit problems, but at the end something will be done and will help people get jobs while the economy recovers. That's better than sending our young people to die looking over non-existing wmd.
Something that people forget when it comes to infrastructure and the rest of the world is SIZE MATTERS. All the examples of successful rail implementations are smaller than the State of Texas and a population base 10 times that if not more. Forget about a comparison to the Continental United States. A Federal Rail system is preposterous. Let the individual states decide if their infrastructure could benefit from an "improved" or updated mass transit rail system.
That's all we need... another government spending program to put us deeper in debt, to create (governement) jobs, and to pay for government solutions for which we have already allocated funds. Rider 1: "Nice train. You going to work?" Rider 2: "Yes. You?" Rider 1: "Yeah, I'm going to my highway contruction job." Rider 2: "Sure. Me, too." Sheeesh
As a railroad buff, I have to fight the temptation to actively desire massive government subsidies to build high speed rail systems. I decided not to support such subsidies because one person's subsidy is another person's tax burden. And if you try to have the subsidy without the tax burden, you end up increasing public debt, which is ruinous in the long run. If there is a genuine need (i.e. if global warming is for real and our automobile-intensive way of life is the cause of it all) to encourage more energy-economical lifestyles than what we now have, with its almost total dependence on the private car, I would rather have a tax on motor fuels to incentivize reducing our fuel usage. This could take the form, as each of us might prefer, of smaller cars, less driving, more use of car-pooling, more use of transit, and yes, railroads instead of airplanes for at least some intercity travel.
First, his speech DID NOT say one thing about High-Speed Trains. Second, the current thinking is; it is more important to spend highway funds on nicely designed and decorated walls along highways, then it is to have smooth highway surfaces or another lane so traffic can flow better; - the government is trying everything it can to force poeple out of their cars (no more personal freedom).
It is interesting that people are opposed to rail in any form as "unsustainable". They forget that by using the same standards as they use for rail, that air, bus and highway transport is unsustainable in any form. Taxes to support air, bus and highway transport tend to be hidden, in many cases because we are so used to the tax being there that we overlook its presence. Don't forget the subsidies that air, bus and highway transport have enjoyed for years.
We've been paying into the highway trust fund since it was invented in the 1950s to maintain and expand the roads - so why do we need to spend extra money to maintain the roads? - The money was spent elsewhere and thus never used for the intended purpose - usually on "light rail" projects. The USA is NOT EUROPE. Things that work there just do not work here. High Speed Rail is a perfect example of it. If you banned all scheduled passenger airplanes then it works - else it just is does not work. Where people are and where they want to go is not there. Why does it work in the Northeast (after 30 years of building it!) is that the number of people who live in the NE and work in DC makes it work. Else it fails. Tampa to Orlando? The only people who will use it are those going to Disneyworld. Commuters won't since they NEED their car to get to their final destination. Drive an hour and have your car after you get there, or ride a train for 40 minutes and then have NO WAY to get around after you get there. And of course if you buy ANYTHING you have to carry it with you the whole time - no place to store it. If this was done 100 years ago throughout the USA when labor (and land) was cheap - like they did in Europe - it would have been great - oh wait, we DID - but the local governments found that they could make more money and gain control of people by wiping out all the private trolly lines and forcing everyone to using government controlled buses. Now we are moving to government controlled rail lines - and the effect will be the same - subsided failure.
I am a Civil Engineer and Land Surveyor; and have been doing a significant amount of building rail projects around the country for the past 7 years (in addition to heavy highway/ "interstate highway" type projects), and conducting quantified feasibility studies in metro/suburban areas for future rail construction. I have to agree that the first paragraph, especially, (not to mention the rest) is a complete lie. Rail is one of the costliest and dumbest possible expenditures for transportation. I'll put it in terms most can understand, instead of spouting how trains, even though "electric", actually run off of coal power; and, that the carbon footprint on the average train or light rail system is exponentially more than your driving around in an SUV with only yourself, and nobody else in it. ----- Q. How much of the food you buy at the store arrives by means of subway line, lightrail system, or high speed rail? A. NONE Q: How much do tires on a bus cost? A: Estimated between $1700 and $2800 for a brand new set of tires. Plus a bus doesn't requires millions of dollars of *unfunded infratructure underneath it to move, unlike a train - which, I might add, cannot do this magical thing called "turning". Buses have a device called a steering wheel, and the front tires get pointed in the direction the driver wishes to travel. It's AMAZING! *Highway and roads are paid for by gasoline and diesel taxes. Trains are funded by subsidies and additional taxes My overall point is: people think trains are cool. Correction: 3 year olds think trains are cool, and so do people who think like them. Stop this fad of building light rail, commuter, and high speed rail! It's just going to get ripped out in 20 years (or sooner) and replaced with buses. 1800s rail technology has no place in modern infrastucture. Look to improving highways; separating commercial trucks into their own more heavily built lanes; and pursuing technology like driver-less cars, and onboard-caravaning systems.