Goverment's Outrageous Lie about High Speed Rail Funding
State of the art high
speed trains comfortably travel at speeds in excess of 220
mph in Europe and Asia.
So why not in the US
Are we expected to believe
that a pathetic paltry $8 billion investment in a crazy
patchwork quilt of piecemeal projects will give us a national
high speed rail network to be proud of?
The government's $8 billion
high speed rail initiative, first promised in 2009, and now
being explained in 2010, is being frittered away on ridiculous
projects that get this country no closer to any type of high
speed rail functionality.
Sadly, Sometimes $8 Billion
Isn't Much Money
Do you remember the $787
billion that has been dished out every which way, primarily for
'shovel ready' projects to save our country from slipping into a
deep depression in 2009?
$8 billion of it was grandly
labeled as being for high speed rail. Well, here we are almost a year after
the start of that frantic spending program, and the $8 billion that was set aside for high
speed rail has just sat there, stimulating nothing except the
extraordinarily over-worked imaginations of the politicians.
And now, in late January, we have now been advised of the grandiose plans for
this $8 billion. In his State of the Union speech on Wednesday
26th, President Obama claimed 'there's no reason Europe or China should have
the fastest trains' and on Thursday explained how the $8 billion
will be doled out.
Now, please appreciate, $8 billion is chump
change for high speed rail - the California high speed rail
project alone is currently projected as costing somewhere in the
range of $65 - $80 billion, and you just know final costs will
end up way above that projection.
So $8 billion will buy us - what, exactly? Well, California asks
for $2 billion merely to upgrade track between Los Angeles
(downtown) and Anaheim, and another $1.3 billion to do some work
on the route between San Francisco and San Jose. So $8 billion
could potentially buy us a tiny chunk of California's project,
but nothing else.
The bottom line is simple, and I've commented on this before. $8
billion won't create any usable stretch of high speed rail,
anywhere in the country - and high speed rail, by its very
nature, is only of value when the distances it covers are
greater than perhaps 100 miles - shorter distances don't create
sufficient time saving as to encourage people to switch to
$8 billion - a lot of money for some things - is a
ridiculous trifle for high speed rail. It is as useful as trying
to save the Titanic by bailing out the onrush of water with a
Not Just Insufficent, But Mis-directed
The reality of our politicians' grand scheme for high speed rail
is even worse than it could be.
Rather than dump the $8 billion
into the single most deserving project to give it some chance of getting somewhere
closer to reality at some future time, they have decided instead
to slice it into a dozen useless pieces, with money
being spread among 31 different states (can anyone say 'venal
process of vote buying'?).
Secretary of Transportation
LaHood Promises Us the World's Best High Speed Rail
There's a lot of talk about 'long
term vision' - most of which seems to be used to disguise the
fact that little or none of the $8 billion will actually create
anything tangible (and fast).
cheerleader Secretary of Transportation Ray
LaHood promises us
And I assure you that one day, not too many years from now,
ours will be the go-to network, the world's model for
Let's look at just two of the ridiculous projects that will
apparently become the world's model for high speed rail and see
what our politicians are so proud of, and ascertain just how
thoroughly we're now beating China's quiet accomplishments.
An Example : Florida's
'High Speed Rail' Funding
One of the specific projects that seems to be fully funded, and
with a planed in-service date of 2014 is a line between Tampa
and Orlando that is described as having trains traveling at
speeds of up to 168 mph. Wow - that's impressive, isn't it. Or
is it? Let's look more closely.
Give or take a mile or two, it is a distance of 80 miles along
I-4 between the two cities, slightly less as the crow flies. So,
with a train going at up to 168 mph, it should be an easy 30
minute journey, right?
After all, in China - and remember,
'there's no reason we can't have faster trains' - they operate
scheduled service between Beijing and Tianjin, a 74 mile
distance, that takes the train 30 minutes.
Well, actually, it seems that our new 'high speed rail' service
between Orlando and Tampa is projected to take 60 minutes to
cover 80 miles - and who really cares about the theoretical
speed the train might apparently briefly reach for a short
minute, when the average speed is a much less impressive 80 mph,
and the overall train performance is barely half that of China,
which we are told we should be able to exceed.
The gushy excited press release
about this project also tells us that this 60
minute service is much better than driving by car, which would
take 90 minutes. But let's dig a bit deeper into the reality of
'High Speed Train' vs Regular
Sure, the train may take 60 minutes between stations (although
it may also take longer when the final service is started). But
let's think not of just the train time, but instead the total
journey time - how long it takes to get from wherever you are in
Tampa to wherever you want to be in Orlando, or vice versa.
With the train, you first have to get from where you start your
journey (eg at home or a hotel) to the train station. How will
you do that? If you live in that city, you'll probably either
drive or take a taxi - one way you then have to find parking and
then make the rest of the way to the station by foot, and both
ways you have to pay extra (for parking or taxi fare). Maybe it
will take you 15 - 20 minutes to get to the station, and you'll
want to get to the station probably 15 minutes prior to the
If you were visiting the
city you leave from, things won't be quite so easy if you have
a rental car. First you'll have to return the rental car
somewhere, then second you still have to get to the train
Then, upon arrival at the other end, you need to repeat the
mirror image of this process. Collect your car, take a taxi, or
somehow get a rental car and complete your journey.
So how long is the total journey time? The 60 minutes for the
train ride will grow to easily two hours, maybe more. And you
now have at least three different parts to your journey, with
three different types of travel - getting to the train station,
the train journey, then completing the journey at the other
Compare that to simply driving from one city to the other. Driving is a 90 minute
door to door journey, involving no changes of
travel mode, no inter-dependencies, no extra costs, and no need
to fit in with train timetables - it can be
done at any time of the day or night that works for you.
Which would you choose? The quick easy (and probably less
expensive) way? Or the slow complex more expensive way?
Another Example : High
Speed Rail Money goes to Slow Speed Rail
My own state of Washington gets $590 million to 'improve
rail travel times' over about 250 miles of slow speed track that will
remain slow speed.
It is expected that
investing in things like extra sidings and passing loops for
freight trains will reduce delays on the
slow (79 mph max speed) Amtrak trains that use the route between
the Canadian border and on down to Portland in Oregon. For
sure, these improvements will be positive and good. But it
is nothing - nothing at all - to do with high speed rail.
It is merely allowing the current slow trains to go at their
current slow schedules speeds, it isn't speeding them up to high
In terms of high speed rail, this is over half a billion
dollars of money totally wasted.
And, even worse, the money
isn't being spent to create dedicated high speed rail corridors.
It is being spent on track belonging to
Warren Buffett's Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight railroad, rather than
belonging to the state or to Amtrak.
And no matter how much money
is gifted to BNSF, the fact remains it is a freight railroad
that grudgingly allows passenger trains to share its tracks, but
which gives traffic priority to its own slow lumbering freight
High Speed Rail Defined
With hundreds of millions of
dollars of the $8 billion assigned to 'High Speed Rail' being
used to build new sidings for privately owned freight railroads
in Washington (and probably elsewhere in the country too) one
wonders exactly what President Obama and Secretary of
Transportation LaHood understand the phrase 'high speed rail' to
As it turns out, there is an
official definition of high speed rail promulgated by the
European Union, and being as how Germany is one of the countries
that President Obama believes we should be able to beat in the
high speed rail stakes, let's see what that definition is.
The EU (in its 1996
directive 96/58) defines high speed rail as being trains that
regularly travel at speeds in excess of 200 km/hr on existing
tracks or at speeds in excess of 250 km/hr on new tracks.
These speeds translate to 125 mph on existing track and 156 mph
on new track.
The Value We're Getting for our
So how many miles of high
speed rail will we get for our $8 billion? The $590
million in WA buys not a single foot of high speed rail.
The $1.25 billion in Florida gets us a line that is too short,
resulting in a low speed rail type average speed of 80 mph, less
than half that achieved on new high speed rail projects in
Europe and China.
And so on, throughout the
remainder of this pathetically small funding.
Catching Up With China and
President Obama told us
there's no reason that China and Europe should have the fastest
trains. Secretary LaHood went further, and promised us
that the US system would become 'the go-to network, the world's
model for high-speed rail'.
So, is that going to happen?
Well, at the same time we're
fragmenting a mere $8 billion, over an uncertain but multiple
number of years, to subsidize freight lines, build new train
stations, and create short distance lines that offer no
appreciable benefit over regular trains, buses, or cars, what's
happening elsewhere in the world?
According to this
Bloomberg article, China spent $70 billion on its rail
network in a single year (2009) and will be spending almost $300
billion more over the next decade.
You've got to believe that
each billion dollars invested in rail buys a lot more
land, a lot more labor, and a lot more materials in China than
it does in the US, which means their $370 billion buys maybe 100
or more times the rail system that our $8 billion is going to buy
us here - and that comparison assumes a rational investment on
our part. In truth, most of the $8 billion that we're so
proudly spending on 'high speed rail' isn't actually buying us
anything fast at all.
please, President Obama and Secretary LaHood, explain to me how
it is your $8 billion 'high speed' rail program is going to make
the US rail system 'the go-to network, the world's model for
In case you can't tell, I am outraged at our politicians
for perpetrating such appalling lies.
The politicians truly are trying to
pretend that black is white. And I'm terribly disappointed that
after the $8 billion results in no tangible benefits at all,
this will be used as another strike against Amtrak and passenger
rail in general, it will be used as another reason not to
actually invest the money and resource that we should be
investing - 'we gave you another $8 billion and you've got
nothing to show for it'.
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29 Jan 2010, last update
28 Nov 2012
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