The Truth Comes Out

Nevada Senator Harry Reid was the first to publicize the last-minute insertion of $8 billion in the stimulus package for high-speed rail, so many people thought he put it into the bill in order to start funding a maglev line from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. However, Politico reveals that it was President Obama himself who wanted the provision.

Obama failed to communicate this desire until after the House passed its stimulus bill. When he told the Senate he wanted money for high-speed rail, it cut funds for highways, transit, and airports by $8.3 billion and added $2 billion for HSR plus $5.5 billion for “Discretionary Grants,” which presumably could go for either roads or transit.

Obama wasn’t satisfied with $2 billion for HSR; he wanted $10 billion. So Congress eliminated the discretionary grants and raised HSR money to $8 billion. Apparently, it didn’t want to increase total transportation funding above $46 billion.

Obama thinks building high-speed rail can be a part of “rebuilding America.” The Antiplanner, of course, is skeptical. But what kind of high-speed rail does Obama want? California’s 220-mph lines on exclusive rights-of-way? Or much-less-expensive upgrades to freight lines that will allow passenger trains to go, say, 110 mph? Neither will do much for personal mobility, but at least the latter will waste a lot less money.

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18 thoughts on “The Truth Comes Out

  1. Scott

    How can people continue to avoid the facts about rail?
    It’s extremely expensive and unfairly funded by non-users (98%+ of population).
    HSR won’t realize any value for over a decade. A new job needs to make immediate value.

    For needed infrastructure, how about adding many more lanes of highways?
    Lower the TTI (travel time index).

    More roads don’t even have to be part of the pork package.
    The gas tax could be raised.
    People who believe in the AGW hoax will like that.

    Why do people forget that more money for the public sector is taken from the private sector, even by borrowing?
    This bigger government will be extending the recession, just as the New Deal did.
    All levels of government don’t need to be 39% of GDP, going on 46%. Below 30% is fine. Lower taxes will allow people & businesses to spend, in a stimulating way.
    The US can learn some economic things from Ireland & Hong Kong.

    Soon we will see stagflation.
    The misery index will go higher than under Carter.
    Just remember Obuma’s messages: “Spread the misery. Punish success. Reward ignorance & sloth.”

    Want economic education? Try the Foundation for Economic Education:
    http://fee.org/library/podcasts/freedom-university/

  2. the highwayman

    Scott: For needed infrastructure, how about adding many more lanes of highways? Lower the TTI (travel time index).

    THWM: Though there isn’t a real a need for more new road space, what’s needed is congestion pricing to manage existing road space better.

  3. Borealis

    I used to ride the Amtrak Northeast Corridor quite a bit. The problem wasn’t that the trains topped out at 80 mph — it was that they went 10 mph through many urban areas.

    If a train just matched highway speeds of 70 mph for all the time between station stops, it would be a huge improvement, and would clearly beat driving for many people.

  4. bennett

    Not to mention that when they share the track with freight, the freight gets the priority. You end up sitting and going nowhere while a freight train passes you at 2mph.

  5. the highwayman

    O’Toole: Much-less-expensive upgrades to freight lines that will allow passenger trains to go, say, 110 mph?

    THWM: Well that would help improve personal mobility in general along with helping improve the transit times of freight trains too. That’s a good idea, go for it!

  6. Dan

    Meanwhile, where is the harrumphing umbrage and spilled ink from this ideology when contemplating the orders-of-magnitude higher waste of money in failed imperial ventures, where the private sector solutions “lost” $10s of Bn of our money? There is a much more powerful fetish, if’n ya ask me.

    DS

  7. John Thacker

    Borealis:

    Your point is quite true. People have a difficult time understanding how rates affect consumption, whether with gasoline and MPG, or time and MPH.

    For example, going from 16.6 to 20, 20 to 25, 25 to 33, 33 to 50, and 50 to 100 MPG or MPH all saves the same amount of gas or time on the same distance. Going from 10 to 20 saves as much time as you could save from going from 20 to infinitely fast.

    The Northeast Corridor still has some at-grade intersections, of all things, where they must go slow.

    The best return on investment for trains is to eliminate bottlenecks. Longer passing sidings, eliminating at-grade intersections, automatic train control– none of those things are that difficult, and none of them require a megaproject. Several states, such as NC, have been leading the way in such incremental upgrades, whereas other states have just been waiting for Uncle Sam to provide free money.

    We could upgrade all the USDOT proposed corridors to 110mph max speed (and something like 89mph avg), or we could make a downpayment on the California plan. I know I’d vote for the former.

  8. bennett

    Oh Dan,

    Don’t you know that our current economic collapse is to be blamed 100% on government intervention. If the government would have just got out of Madoff’s, Bear Stearns, AIG’s, GM’s, etc’s way none of this would have ever happened. DUUUUUAAAAHHHHH!

  9. John Thacker

    Don’t you know that our current economic collapse is to be blamed 100% on government intervention. If the government would have just got out of Madoff’s, Bear Stearns, AIG’s, GM’s, etc’s way none of this would have ever happened.

    Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme is the type of thing that was exposed because of the crisis, but was not related to it. It’s also not the sort of straight up lying that’s easy to catch. We passed an enormous financial regulatory bill, Sarbanes-Oxley, but it doesn’t matter when you just make up all the required documentation instead of honestly reporting it.

    GM’s problems again have little to nothing to do with the current economic crisis. GM was hurtling towards bankruptcy during periods of strong economic growth. The current decrease in the car market made their death come a little faster, but they’ve been selling off subsidiaries (including GMAC, car rental companies) for the last few years.

    The current economic collapse has a lot of factors. Probably the biggest underlying one is land-use regulation contributing to the housing bubble, but certainly another one is idiots (bankers and buyers both) believing that house prices could only go up, that the whole country couldn’t have house prices go down at the same time, and believing that legally-mandated AAA ratings meant something. Also silly capital requirements that meant that banks could hold less capital to back mortgage-backed securities than they had to hold mortgages originated by them. That gave them an incentive to get MBSes instead of holding on to mortgages. There were several other stupid ideas, including assuming that things were independent instead of correlated, and in intentionally ignoring any low probability risk (thanks to a metric called VaR, or Value at Risk.)

    Many of these problems showed up outside the US as well, as a quick look at the European financial markets and housing markets will show.

    One problem, bennett, is that not only did government not “get out of the way,” but government positively encouraged all these bad trends. And certainly not just the Bush Administration, which even tried to reign in some of the excesses but was pushed back by people who thought that house prices would always go up, so that Fannie and Freddie and banks should be forced to loan to more people.

    It still would have happened if the government had gotten out of the way, but that’s no particular reason for the government to make it worse.

  10. mattb02

    Sounds to me like President Obama is in serious need of some Austrian Economics. Did he just wake up and feel like reallocating all those funds elsewhere? Does he seriously think he is in any position whatsoever to decide on the details of transport design in Nevada and California that can be expected to produce anything useful? Does he really think its that easy?

    He either has an enormous ego or he seriously misunderstands the importance of information in decisionmaking and the problems of central planning. Either way, America, your president is going to do a lot of damage these next four years.

  11. prk166

    Amtrak can complain about having to deal with freight all it wants. But a much larger impact on their schedule is either themselves or the politicians. Their trains are constantly making stops at stations. They boast of “huge” passenger destinations like Connersville (IN), Rugby (ND), Fulton (KY), Ephrata (WA), Stauton (VA), Columbus (WI!), Malta (MT) and other tiny towns that you’ll likely never again. It’s not only time lost while at the station but also time lost accelerating and decelerating. And that adds some costs. Throw in the random times dictated by the schedule and driving ends up being just as cheap, more convenient and faster.

    And it’s stops like those that become all the more important when dealing with high speed rail. On a corridor like Minneapolis – Chicago, an hour of traveling time could be cut be eliminating most of those stops. The dollar cost to do that would be very small, a one time charge to board up stations and possibly lay a few folks off. Now to cut the travel time on the corridor by @ 2 hours, taking it to the 110MPH, they’re look to spend @$1.25 billion. That 2nd hour of time saving is very expensive.

    Which is the real issue issue I have with this going forward. I have a bad feeling it’s going to be far too much driven by politics. The same politics that lead to places like Malta, Montana or Raton, New Mexico just “having” to have a stop will rear it’s ugly head with the high speed spending. So where it would make the most sense, in the north east and into the the Carolinas or Florida, we’ll inevitably find ourselves with a line connecting MPLS and Chicago for a billion when that same billion could’ve served 3 times as many people had it been used in North Carolina.

  12. MJ

    Did you ever read Jack McCroskey’s book on light rail in Denver?

    I did. I met Jack in Denver a couple of years ago. He comes across as rather bitter in the book, but you probably wouldn’t know it from talking to him.

    The book itself is pretty entertaining reading if you can hold your nose and endure the over-the-top advocacy. I especially chuckled at the way the crusade for light rail in Denver is portrayed: Jack and a few other brave souls on the RTD board versus the ‘axis of evil’, comprised of Colorado’s governor, the Rocky Mountain News, RTD’s feckless management and other assorted riffraff.

    Interesting, too, is how he positions himself as the moderate, incrementalist “voice of reason” set against the greedy political class and their built-it-all-now demands.

  13. Dan

    Poll finds Utahns want more commuter trains
    Most favor extending TRAX and Frontrunner, but balk at bonding for freeways.

    By Brandon Loomis

    The Salt Lake Tribune
    Posted: 02/19/2009 06:35:01 PM MST

    If laying the first tracks didn’t settle the debate a decade ago, riding the trains since then would seem to have done it: Utahns like light rail.

    A survey by the University of Utah’s Center for Public Policy & Administration finds overwhelming public support for continued investment in rail transit projects. Among 1,002 residents polled statewide, 79 percent said continued funding for rail projects either is very important or somewhat important.

    Among the 546 interviewed within the Utah Transit Authority’s service area, that support spurted to 81 percent, said Jennifer Robinson, associate director for the U.’s center.

    It’s no surprise to Wasatch Front Regional Council Director Chuck Chappell, who said nine-plus years of riding the rails have convinced once-skeptical Utahns that they need transportation choices.

    Some ideologies are just on the *ss-end of thought, aren’t they?

    DS

  14. Kevyn Miller

    It’s great to see that light rail accounts for 79% of travel in Utah. and that it spurts to 81 percent within the Utah Transit Authority’s service area. What percentage of Utahn’s support light rail by atually using it themselves rather than merely seeing it as something to keep the plebs off the roads.

  15. the highwayman

    prk166 Says:

    February 18th, 2009 at 1:39 pm
    Amtrak can complain about having to deal with freight all it wants. But a much larger impact on their schedule is either themselves or the politicians. Their trains are constantly making stops at stations. They boast of “huge” passenger destinations like Connersville (IN), Rugby (ND), Fulton (KY), Ephrata (WA), Stauton (VA), Columbus (WI!), Malta (MT) and other tiny towns that you’ll likely never again. It’s not only time lost while at the station but also time lost accelerating and decelerating. And that adds some costs. Throw in the random times dictated by the schedule and driving ends up being just as cheap, more convenient and faster.

    And it’s stops like those that become all the more important when dealing with high speed rail. On a corridor like Minneapolis – Chicago, an hour of traveling time could be cut be eliminating most of those stops. The dollar cost to do that would be very small, a one time charge to board up stations and possibly lay a few folks off. Now to cut the travel time on the corridor by @ 2 hours, taking it to the 110MPH, they’re look to spend @$1.25 billion. That 2nd hour of time saving is very expensive.

    Which is the real issue issue I have with this going forward. I have a bad feeling it’s going to be far too much driven by politics. The same politics that lead to places like Malta, Montana or Raton, New Mexico just “having” to have a stop will rear it’s ugly head with the high speed spending. So where it would make the most sense, in the north east and into the the Carolinas or Florida, we’ll inevitably find ourselves with a line connecting MPLS and Chicago for a billion when that same billion could’ve served 3 times as many people had it been used in North Carolina.

    THWM: Though the dwell time on these long distance stops isn’t a great factor. There can be local and express runs on some inter city lines too if there is the traffic warrant it.

  16. the highwayman

    Kevyn Miller Says:
    It’s great to see that light rail accounts for 79% of travel in Utah. and that it spurts to 81 percent within the Utah Transit Authority’s service area. What percentage of Utahn’s support light rail by atually using it themselves rather than merely seeing it as something to keep the plebs off the roads.

    THWM: More light rail lines in the SLC area isn’t a problem.

    Just as building streetcar lines in Portland OR isn’t a problem, but building streetcar lines in Blitzen OR is a problem.

  17. prk166

    Dan, I’m not sure what a poll commissioned by the UTA exactly proves. For example, does “somewhat important” actually mean that any of those 31% would vote in favor of an increased sales tax? After all, many of these same people were saying they were not or probably were not in favor of an increased gas tax. And note that it compares it to a couple highway projects with different criteria. For example, how does a “probably should not” for I-15 translate into the light rail question? Is it a “not very important”? But wouldn’t it stand to reason that many people if asked the same question would say “somewhat important”. That is they know with the growth they are incurring it “probably should not” be done today but in the grand scheme of things knows that at some time it will be “somewhat important”. And there is no indication that the poll asked people how they stand on a project like the Mountain West Corridor if it’s built as a toll road, that is using little tax payer dollars for the project. How would people answer then? What if the question was something like is a freeway needed on the Mountain West Corridor, an area that is expected it’s population increase by 150% during the next 20 years? Or what if the question about more transit was “should we spend another $2.25 billion on rail even we just spent over a billion on Front Runner north even though less than 5,000 people use it?”

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