Friday, March 4, 2011

The train keeps a rollin'...

Even when they're told we don't want it...

Florida Gov. Rick Scott...

According to a CBS story, "Plans to build a high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando died Friday, when the Florida Supreme Court sided with Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who has argued he has no obligation to accept federal funding for the project. The 84-mile rail line was expected to be a highlight of the Obama administration's infrastructure investments, but the new Republican governor turned down the $2.4 billion in federal funds allocated for the project. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had tried to convince Scott to take the money, but in a statement today, LaHood confirmed the money will now go to other states investing in high speed rail."

That’s great, Mr. Secretary. Even if it’s a waste, just keep on spending, right? I mean, after all, it’s not your money going down the drain.


The idea of “bringing High-Speed Rail (HSR) to America has been a decades-long dream for liberals, who have long envied Europe's extensive rail system,,” according to Philip Klein writing in The American Spectator. “Building a high-speed rail network, they hope, would move the nation away from automobiles and reduce pollution. It has the added bonus of being a massive, centrally planned public works project. The problem is just because rail has worked elsewhere, that doesn't mean it makes sense here. ‘We're not like Spain or France, where the population densities are a lot higher, and the cities are not as spread out,’ Ken Orski, a former transportation official in the Nixon and Ford administrations and publisher of the newsletter Innovation Briefs, says. ‘So you can connect cities like Barcelona and Madrid or Paris and Marseilles easily.’"

Klein points out that “large European cities have ‘distribution systems,’ meaning that when passengers arrive at a station, they can get where they need to go by public transportation or walking, without a car. By contrast, in a city like say, Fresno, a person would be stranded without one. ‘So people who are saying ‘Look at Europe, why can't we be like Europe?' I don't think they really realize the difference between our geographic and demographic conditions and theirs,’ Orski says. The only place where high-speed rail could theoretically make sense would be the Northeast corridor from Washington to Boston, which would pass through Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. The problem is, Orski explains, it's likely ‘50 years too late,’ because the area along that route is already densely populated and developed, making it cost prohibitive to acquire right of way.

“Nonetheless,” Klein writes, “when candidate Obama began speaking glowingly about high-speed rail during the Democratic primaries, liberals only cheered him on.”

Which brings us back to the situation in Florida...and now elsewhere in the United States.

A train route to nowhere...

From Reason: "Florida Gov. Rick Scott made the right decision in once again (and for the final time, hopefully) turning down $2.4 billion in federal funding for the proposed Orlando-to-Tampa rail line. The line could have cost Floridians up to $3 billion more than advertised, since there is good evidence the cost estimate was low-balled. And it would have required ongoing operating subsidies because it didn’t meet even the basic criteria for a successful high-speed rail line. Yes, Orlando is a major tourist attraction. But Tampa and Orlando are highly spread-out cities and don’t have large central business districts that the majority of people seek to reach. "

The Reason article continues: "The bad news: It doesn’t look like Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is learning anything. He’s promising to simply divert the $2.4 billion in taxpayer money to other states’ rail projects. If the Obama administration is serious about rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure they should stop pushing shiny, medium-speed trains and shift the funding to cost-effective transportation projects that will move goods and people—as Gov. Scott requested. The nation needs plenty of infrastructure upgrades. And the most needed infrastructure projects will all demonstrate high benefit-cost ratios that will either interest the private sector in building them or make them self-supporting via user fees. High-speed trains aren’t needed and aren’t cost-effective. A serious Transportation Secretary would focus on getting people and goods moving, not ribbon-cutting ceremonies for medium-speed trains."

Which brings us to the situation in California (below), where the state’s proposed HSR project has moved from a voter-approved ballot initiative to a target of scorn (and cost-cutters).

California's (proposed) high-speed boondoggle...

“In December,” Klein writes, “California's projected budget deficit swelled to $25.4 billion, raising further doubts about whether the state could afford such an extravagant public works project. If the system is fully built, it would cost an estimated $647 million a year for 30 years for state taxpayers to pay off the $9.9 billion in bonds that would need to be issued. State Sen. LaMalfa says that this is particularly irresponsible at a time when people are already protesting proposed cuts to education and health care services.”

"We do not have the money to make the payments on this rail system," LaMalfa explained to Klein.

“Some have raised questions about the reliability of the estimate that the entire system would cost $43 billion,” Klein notes. “A Reason Foundation study projected that the real cost would be far higher, in the range of $65 billion to $81 billion. Wendell Cox, one of the authors of the study, says that based on international data, the cost of these types of projects tends to be underestimated by 40 percent to 100 percent, because public officials have every incentive to low-ball the figures to get projects approved.”

We’ve heard that train the tracks before, haven’t we?

Bonus reading:John Galt vs. Bamtrack

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