Political Opposition to High Speed Rail is Beyond Stupidity

High speed rail remains a sort of punching bag when it comes to rhetoric about government spending and America’s unstoppable devotion to the automobile. I’m not one to get too political about sustainability since I think it should be a non-political common sense issue. But sometimes I have to let things fly. Even in an era of deep deficit, some government spending is a good thing, and High Speed Rail happens to be high on that list.

First, let’s run down a few of the reasons why:

High Speed Rail is the most important US infrastructure project since the interstate highway system. You can read some more of my ramblings on the topic here, but the key points are these:

  • It’s cleaner, more comfortable, and more convenient that any other way between cities less than 350 miles apart. Even JetBlue’s COO agrees.
  • It’s also FASTER than flying or driving when door-to-door times are compared
  • Rail stimulates massive sustainable economic development around stations – reinvigorating forgotten downtowns and post industrial brownfields and creating neighborhoods that are more desirable to live and do business in.
  • By stimulating further development of walkable neighborhoods and alternatives to car travel, HSR impacts social problems including obesity and access to jobs.
  • Freeways and airports are increasingly congested, fraught with environmental and social externalities and very expensive to maintain and expand.
  • People love it once they try it.

Unfortunately, there’s almost no way a real high speed network will be built in the United States without direct government funding. The reason is simple – it’s very expensive to get started, and requires all kinds of political cooperation from the federal to the local level. There is, however, a plausible argument that NOT building high speed rail (and related non car infrastructural improvements) would actually be more expensive in the long term – widening a freeway (something I compare to an obese person loosening his belt) is astronomically expensive, as is expanding airports. Plus, freeways and airports offer none of the additional benefits that high speed rail provides.

If you’re still not convinced, perhaps a trip to Europe or China would convince you.

Meanwhile in Wisconsin:

Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced funding for a first batch of high speed rail service on several key routes in the US. Many of these will radiate from Chicago – the continent’s transportation hub. The very first line will ultimately connect Chicago to Minneapolis via Milwaukee and Madison. Phase one will be an extension of the existing Chicago/Milwaukee line to Madison – a project that is fully funded by $810Million in stimulus money. It’s a gift horse if there ever was one to the people of Wisconsin.

Now, with the mid term election creeping into view, Republican gubernatorial challenger Scott Walker has pledged – I kid you not – to “return” the $810M in stimulus money to Washington and halt construction of the train.

His argument? That the state will ultimately be forced to pay for upkeep of an empty train.

My argument? Although maintenance costs are not trivial, they are peanuts compared to maintaining highways. And given that this is only phase one of a much larger system, it’s a small, timely investment in something that will pay off in spades later on.

Walker’s abominable “No Train” campaign (web design by a 5 year old, evidently) is a dirt cheap political stunt to shock people who are scared of anything new and who have been led to believe that anything without four wheels and a v8 engine is a communist plot into voting for him. This is despite the fact that the proposed train would create jobs and stimulate new business in his own state. It’s a real shame that any politician, Democrat or Republican would stoop to such a level, but such is the reality of the anti-obama moment.

Why the heck does this matter to me?

If the Wisconsin segment of High Speed Rail is allowed to be turned into a political casualty, rest assured your state is next. This even goes for California where local squabbles, lawsuits, and similar political climate already threaten to push costs into the stratosphere.

Republicans and Democrats alike should favor High Speed Rail as a job creating investment in a cleaner, greener country.

Please visit the Midwest High Speed Rail website and spread the word to friends and colleagues in the area.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

93 responses

  1. Nick, I couldn’t agree more with you.

    In Europe we have a healthy (and still growing) train network, I could now go from Milan to Rome, or from London to Paris (centre to centre) in 3 hrs or less, when a 50-mins flight would then swell up to about 4 hours once you factor in idle times and taxi/bus trips to and from the city.

    The US train network map shows a Far West scenario, which looks unbelievable in a developed country. By the sound of current US politics, I’m even amazed you once made it to the Moon. Nowadays that too would be considered a communist plot to waste taxpayers money I guess.

    Just as well the rest of the world seems to know better!

    Carlo Ombello

  2. No one ever talks about the massive government funding for other modes of transportation yet they – politicians – have the “you know whats” to point to Amtrak as a loosing proposition.

    If the airlines had to BUILD AND MAINTAIN THE AIRPORTS AND THE FAA, would they ever post a profit? (this assume the do post profits on occasion anyway :) ) And if the truckers had to build their own highways – how much would they be charging?? Sadly the trains do not burn enough fuel and only need a handful of locomotives to move massive amounts of people and freight so they are out gunned apparently by oil and car lobbys.

    There IS a reason Europe invested so much in rail – gas over there has been very expensive for so long, the distances are in the sweet spot of HSR travel , and the governments know that private firms will never make investments needed to provide what is for them, and should be for us, a national defense system.

    Oh by the way theses trains are electric so they can also be supplied by renewable resources too! OY am I making just too much sense here??

    As soon as the Acela became operational, I never went back to the Delta or US Air shuttles – made NO sense from Boston.

    I rest my case

  3. Nick,

    I would say that all your reasons “for” HSR are true and worthwhile. I consider myself a proponent of the system and would love to see their use more prevalent in the US, but there are a series of hurdles that no one has the answers to.

    Cost is huge. With estimates at $130 million per track mile it’s a hard pill to swallow.

    Using trains is more than just ‘build it, and they will come’. It’s a cultural shift that requires a change in how we organize our towns and what the process of commuting and traveling is like. Granted it’s hard to promote that without having one to try.

    Train maintenance is amazingly expensive. Amtrak is basically insolvent, despite increasing ridership. If you look at their financial projections, the work that needs to be done on bridges and tunnels alone eclipses their annual revenues. There are very few examples of profitable passenger railroads in the US (Long Island Railroad is one.)

    Lastly, there is more to Alternative Transit than just HSR. We have to be mindful of the network of systems that help you get to and from high speed rail on either end. Where we are now, it may make more sense to fund those systems to make an eventual HSR route more user friendly than spend money to build a train that will be under-utilized.

    1. I think we need to look at those costs which BTW seem not out of line for such an investment in infrastructure. However, per my comment, how does that investment compare to what is you will spend on widen roads and building airports or runways? Ridership on Amtrak took off in 2008 when gas was $4 to 5 a gallon – as in Europe. Eventually it will get there and we will not have the alternatives. Again planes are petroleum based modes of transport too. It shall hit the fan at the same time.

      We need to stop fighting unfunded wars,beef up Special Forces and covert operations to deal with terrorism since that is the business of the police, not armies, and then take 10 to 20% of the $500 Billion to divert to another form of national defense – energy independence, part of which is a self sustaining transportation system. The sooner we are self sufficient, the sooner we can turn our back on the insanity in the Middle East and let them figure our their own post-petroleum economies. We need to done subsidizing dysfunctional governments with our oil money and pay attention to rebuilding our nation’s wealth. Veered a bit off topic but this is germane to the attitude we need to embrace the societal and economic costs of oil.

      1. Quick question: you quote a $130 million/mile cost, yet in the article it says the proposed HSR line will connect Chicago to Minneapolis for $810 million/mile, which comes out to around $2 million/mile. Why the discrepancy?

    2. Isn’t the Acela high-speed train from Washington-New York-Boston one of the only money-making lines in the entire Amtrak system?

      If this is true, then it is not a matter of expense, but a matter of only spending in the right places.

      As you said, HSR is not THE solution, but it is certainly a good addition to a bucket of solutions!

      As some have pointed out here, the government needs to stop subsidizing ALL forms of transportation, and the ones that are most viable in the market will be successful.

      Getting infrastructure built is the perfect job for the gov’t, for all the reasons stated in the article.

      As for our communities not being ready for rail, this will all shift, when enough people have access to light rail, heavy rail, HSR, express-bus, car-sharing, bike lanes and bike storage.

      As someone who just moved next to a BART station, from an almost rural suburb, I don’t drive my car, anymore, unless I absolutely have to. I would absolutely take HSR over a plane, to anywhere that was accessible, most likely from San Francisco.

    3. T. Caine is dead-on. You could build a huge, comprehensive rail network covering every major US city, and nobody would ride it. Our cities are too spread out and too far apart for any type of current mass transport to really work. HSR has an upper limit of effectiveness (350 miles you state) but it also has a lower limit of effectiveness, about 150 miles. (traffic can change this calculation) It’s just plain faster, cheaper, and easier to drive 2.5 – 3 hours, AND HAVE YOUR CAR on the other side. So if the sweet-spot for trains is 150-250 miles, how many people make that commute, and is that a behavior that we want to encourage via massive infrastructure investment.

  4. The WI rail will not be high speed. It will have to be subsidized by the state forever. It does not carry people between desired destinations (low ridership). Buses and other means will be needed to transport people to their destination. The time involved in transportation is more than double than if someone drove. Rail is the least efficient in terms of costs and requiring large sections of real estate. What rail system in the US is self sustaining without government subsidies?

    1. That argument is a red herring.

      1) All transportation in this country (except perhaps bicycles) is already subsidized heavily.

      2) The new segment is part of a greater segment, it’s not just Milwaukee-Madison. It’s Madison – Chicago and ultimately msp. There is loads of demand on this segment.

      3) I agree that the speed is not as high as we’d ultimately like, but it’s a huge first step and compared to current options, I would certainly say it’s “high speed” – 110mph

      4) Of all Amtrak’s lines, the Hiawatha, of which this would be an extension is one of the LEAST subsidized on the system

      1. I found this, “Only Amtrak’s signature ‘high-speed’ service on the Northeast Corridor, the Acela, and
        its companion Metroliner service, consistently earn more than their operating costs.
        However, the annual maintenance cost of the Northeast Corridor dwarfs the operating profit
        generated by Acela and Metroliner service.” This would indicate that even if there was a high demand for a Chicago to Madison route, it would never be profitable since there should be higher ridership in the NE Corridor.

        1. Certainly true! But it’s not supposed to be “profitable” any more than an interstate highway is supposed to be “profitable”.

          That does make me wonder, however, if we got rid of all subsidies for gasoline, if the train would suddenly become profitable.

        2. @TAOL GURO

          It does not have to be “profitable” in terms of making millions of dollars, but it should be breaking even. Otherwise it will always be what it is now, a drain on taxpayer dollars in perpetuity.

          I was wondering the same thing, but as it turns out I don’t think the answer is yes on the NEC. Right now, the number of trains that run between Boston and Washington are almost at track capacity. This means that even if ridership doubled (a tall order)we wouldn’t even have the capacity for them without adding tracks or renovating stations–which is a whole new realm of cost.

    2. How do you figure some of these out? It will take 2-2.5 hours to get from Downtown Madison to Downtown Chicago. It takes that same amount, if your driving in the middle of the night. During the day, much more. Then, you don’t have to pay the obscene parking rates in Chicago. I see The Wisconsin extension as the first step to both true high speed rail, and to service to Minneapolix.

      And to use your logic against you.. Pretty much every rail road is private. They get some government help from time to time, but most are owned by private companies. What ROAD system (or airport) is Self Sustaining without government Subsidies?

      Scott walker seems to forget how many highways the state builds with federal money, then has to be subsidized by the state forever…. He has yet to threaten to return a highway..

  5. How can facts be called a red herring? They just happen to be inconvenient truths that you prefer to ignore. Why is it ok to have a near bankrupt government subsidize everything unless government controls everything, including thoughts?

    1. No one is ignoring the costs – I’m saying that arguing against HSR on the grounds that it is subsidized is a red herring unless you argue that nothing should be subsidized. HSR is not cheap, I’ll agree with you there, but the article suggests strongly that not building it is even more expensive.

      1. Cost (subsidizing) is not the most important consideration? The true red herrings are the thoughts that by doing HS rail life will be merry (low unemployment, clean air, greener country, …). The only way HS rail will have a positive effect on this country is if it is built and run by private businesses. Government workers are liabilities. We of the private sector have to pay their salary and benefits for the rest of their lives.

        1. All I’m saying is that for that argument to be valid, you must also argue that all other transportation subsidies be shut down as well, otherwise it’s hypocritical.

          I also totally agree with you on the salary/pension problem for the public sector, but a solution to that can be found in other ways that killing HSR.

        2. Government workers are an asset. Your argument is propaganda.

          You pay their salary and benefits for the work they perform, and you benefit from their work.

          Having dedicated 35 years to government service (working for much less than my private sector counterparts) and dealing with a wide range of private contractors I have seen countless examples of lazy and unproductive private sector employees, incompetent supposed experts in their fields, and fraudulent practices by companies thinking that government contracts are easy pickings. You would be shocked and outraged if you only knew.

          Are government employees perfect? Not by any measure, but they serve an important role that benefits us all.

          Of course if your goal is to destroy the middle class completely by driving all wages to poverty levels, then you will likely get what you pay for.

  6. Great discussion! There’s a lot of heat right now on government spending in general, which is pretty understandable given the economy and political climate. I agree with some of the commenters that making high speed rail “profitable” in the pure sense shouldn’t be necessary, but I admit I don’t have the cost details on maintenance other than what’s on the anti-rail site.

    Scott Walker’s video suggests taxpayers would be on the hook for “up to ten million dollars a year” for maintenance costs. That’s peanuts in the grand scheme of things. Really tiny cost, in fact I’m surprised it’s that low.

    There are many other costs to keeping us car and plane dependent – not the least of which is massive lost productivity while people are stuck in traffic. None of that is factored into the expense/savings of HSR…

    1. Nick – For reference, if you look at the October 2009 report for the NEC concerning time improvement and maintenance here , it says that total anticipated financial obligations through 2018 is $11.8 billion from Boston to Washington. That’s no small chunk of change and not counting the $7 billion requested to upgrade Penn Station in NYC. As we know, this is more than the entire stimulus contribution to HSR and this is for one line that already exists.

      1. Just to try to put these maintenance figures into some perspective, the Pentagon is ‘maintaining’ our presence in Afghanistan to the tune of 7B$ per month.

        And there are alternative development and maintenance funding options on the table which don’t require government spending, gas taxes, tolls, etc. America2050.org suggests allowing infrastructure investment by public pension funds, the social security trust fund, IRAs. That’s an 8 to 10 Trillion dollar investment resource. Infrastructure targeted private equity funds are currently on the order of several billion. Less than 10% of this would cover current estimates for a nationwide build-out of high-speed rail infrastructure in all the mega-regions.

        Boston’s Economic Development Research Group estimates rail infrastructure spending creates 24,000 construction and manufacturing jobs per $1 billion in capital investment, and 41,000 operation and maintenance jobs per $1 billion in operating investment.

        A cost/benefit analysis, including all the direct (reduced congestion, time savings/productivity, increased safety, reduced emissions, fare revenues) and indirect benefits (recentralization, jobs, inducing housing and business development, increasing global competiveness, shift energy sources, environmental benefits) should make a compelling case. Throw in a stable annual coupon that’s a little more interesting than your standard muni bond and watch the investors flock to this. I know, it’s not that easy…but still…;-)

        1. Whoops – errata: Infrastructure targeted private equity funds are currently on the order of several “hundred” billion.

        2. Deano, fair enough. I’m certainly the last one to say that the money isn’t there somewhere if the priorities of the nation shift to make rail transit important. I just feel like Americans are not usually the type to take things on faith alone and, as of now, we don’t have too many great examples of self-sustaining systems.

          I am also a believer that user fees (like gas taxes and tolls) should be used for what they are taxing rather than taking part in a governmental shuffle of money.

          I’m all for creating jobs as long as we make sure those jobs aren’t just tax-funded jobs, but instead are funded by user fees/ticket prices. I’m certainly hoping we can make it work.

      2. Good points. Yeah, that’s a huge lot of money. I wonder how much of that is “maintenance” as opposed to other regular obligations? I’ll dig into it when I have more time!

  7. High speed rail will never be built outside of the Northeast USA. 1. It costs too much. 2. No one will ride it, tickets will be too pricey. For a short distance it will be cheaper to drive, for a long distance it will be cheaper to fly. 3. It will not go where people want to go,

  8. Good, solid, trenchant editorial and comments. Thanks for remembering that high speed rail is really a substitute for airport expansion.

    But….I don’t live in the Chicago Milwaukee area. I am COMPLETELY unwilling to pay a dime in tax money for some kind of embarrassing semi high speed service that shares the line with freight (and gets delayed by a few hours from time to time).

    Do a proper system worthy of the greatest, richest democracy in the world or don’t do it at all.

    Yes, we can afford it. The cost is on average around $40 million per mile outside of the coasts. That means we can build a line in the midwest or south for about the cost of our wars for a month.

  9. Very interesting! I live in Minneapolis and am keenly aware of numerous college students and businesspeople who constantly travel between all the proposed cities. It would be beneficial for consumers if the HSR were allowed to compete with bus systems for ridership like Greyhound and Megabus, but hopefully ticket prices wouldn’t go TOO low so that the taxpayers suffer. These systems already are much cheaper than driving a car, but not faster.

  10. A train averaging 39 mph is hardly ‘high speed.’ That’s what the average speed would be for the trains planned in Ohio. What a joke.

    A four hour trip by car would be a six hour trip by train. And much, much more expensive.

    I’m all for high-speed rail – if it’s long distance, longer than 350 miles. Short train routes are a waste of billions of dollars. High speed rail should be used to compete against airplanes, not automobiles. Cars are much more faster and cheaper than train travel.

  11. What have we learned so far? The author gave us a “hope and change” lecture and blamed Scott Walker for getting in the way. The author provided no cost-benefit analysis. Even some comments bought into that we can somehow reach a fantasy land by deficit spending. How much are you willing to subsidize each person to ride between Chicago and Madison? $100, $1000, $10,000? Until you can provide a cost-benefit analysis, you should avoid calling names. Facts should drive this discussion, not some unsubstantiated perceived (hoped) value.

  12. I;ve been a lifelong democrat, but happen to disagree with a highspeed rail infrastructure, at least as it exists now. I’ve lived in several foreign countries, including china, which arguably has the best high speed rail system in the world. The problem is it simply isnt applicable for my situations in the US. Take, for example, the high speed rail proposed from Miami to Orlando in my home state of Florida. In principle, a great idea, but in practicality, upon my arrival in orlando a poor infrastructure exists making it very difficult to get around. Instead of buying a ticket for the cost of a tank of gas, I can drive my own vehicle at my convenience and have a means of transportation in my destination city. Until we improve public transportation at the basic city level, it does not make much sense to invest in expensive projects like high speed rail when more sensible alternatives already exist.

    1. Yeah, the Florida route doesn’t seem like it would be too useful at first. However, Disney has good transit, so hopefully would connect. I think it’s a chicken-egg situation: I don’t care which came first, but we need both.

  13. I love trains. I love to ride them. I love their history. I don’t love the cost to ride them. For me and my family (total of 5) to take the train (Amtrak) down to Chicago from Milwaukee (roundtrip) costs over $150.00. Not to mention once I get their I need to pay for public transportation to get to my final destination. That’s probably another $30.00. Compare that with taking my mini-van. Gas $40.00 and tolls, parking $60.00. I save about $50.00 and have much more convenience having my own vehicle with me. Unless ticket prices come down considerable (which will not happen without huge government subsidies), no one is going to ride this train from Milwaukee to Madison. I like the idea of having a train from Milwaukee to Chicago. It just isn’t cost justifiable even with the possibility of new jobs. We can’t keep subsidizing everything. Eventually we (the tax payers) will have no more to give. That 810 million dollars would be better spent fix current infrastructures (bridges, roads, and highways). As “cool” as trains are, we need to be smart on how we spend OUR money.

  14. I happen to work for Amrak in IT and know of every project thats going on. Amtrak received roughly $1.6B last year from the hill. Operations run $500MM. The NE corridor is the only area where Amtrak makes any money. The reason for this; it’s the only area where Amtrak owns it’s own track. Everywhere else it’s leased from what we call a host railroad like CSX, BNSF etc. These leases are costly and when there is freight, passenger trains are pushed to the side or placed behind a freight aka slow mover.

    There is also the FRA, Federal Rail Association that is mandating that Amtrak run with an OTP or On Time Performance of 90% or better. This is almost impossible due to the political issues with the host rail roads.

    Let’s talk about the infrastructure for a second. Some of the trains have run out of diesel fuel in the middle of no where because the engineer miss judged how much he had and there was no system in place to assist him in making a choice as to when to fuel up. It’s the “I think I can make it to the next gas station” scenario. There are only a few trains that can send out telemetery data and thats not in real time with the shortest being a 5 minute interval and the longest being upwards of 30-45 minutes. Some of the basic of systems you would think would be in place either don’t exist or if they do are severely antiquated.

    There is also the issue with the executive leadership. Most of them have been there 20-30+ years and see it as a system that isnt broken and they really dont see the need for any complex IT solutions.

    They’ve spent $40MM on a failed e-ticketing solution with a system that isnt deployed and has almost no assets.
    So, whats that tell you.

    Trains in general are 100 years old and so is some of the mentality of those that control what happens. Unless new blood comes in or there is some huge sweeping federal action that Amtrak HAS to abide by then things will continue on as they are. They will move forward but at a snails pace and decades behind Europe and the Far East.

    Amtraks budget this year they are projecting on getting $600MM. Once a

  15. Mr. Aster, I think you’ve made yourself out to be quite the sensationalist. I understand you are for HSR development, and so am I. However, when you write an article, do try to remain logical and use less sensational, inciteful rhetoic like “Walker’s abominable “No Train” campaign (web design by a 5 year old, evidently) is a dirt cheap political stunt to shock people who are scared of anything new and who have been led to believe that anything without four wheels and a v8 engine is a communist plot into voting for him.”

    That was just overboard.

    1. I actually thought that was rather funny. Walker has definitely stooped to a low level in producing that ad. Even if he did stop the train (a bad idea) the idea that he’s some kind of responsible person for doing it is ridiculous. He knows exactly what he’s doing – riling up really dumb people to get elected, that’s reprehensible.

    2. Well, I’ll admit I was hoping to catch some attention to this issue. I have respect, generally speaking, for the republican ideals of fiscal responsibility, but I felt that Walker’s video and “no train” campaign were really cheap hits that deserved to be called out…

  16. I am all for a HSR system; although this $810 million will only be for fixing up existing track and finishing off track to go to Madison, WI. Also the fact that the HSR website is promoting a 220 MPH train; the existing track is not even rated for over 110 MPH. Even if the track was it would all have to be raised as it crosses many many intersections from milwaukee, Bookfield, Watertown, and others. Not to mention that there will be stops in each of these cities as well, it wouldn’t be able to get up to 220 MPH if it had the room.

    The current approved plan is just not a step forward in my mind. its like putting a band-aide on a decapitated body.


    “LaHood was in Watertown to sign an agreement to release $46.7 million of the $810 million in federal stimulus money that Wisconsin is receiving to build the line, which is to start service at 79 mph in 2013 and reach 110 mph by 2015.”

    Like i said, i’m all for a HSR (bullet train). but all the rail should be scrapped and replaced with maglev on raised platforms. Now talk about spending money. that would be expensive and awesome at the same time.

  17. How about arguing against HSR because implementing it in America would destroy what could be called the most efficient freight rail system in the world? It’s easy for people to feel that HSR will help sustainability because they can imagine themselves taking the train, however the world of freight transportation is something that most people never think of.

    In Europe passenger trains take precedence over freight on limited rail resources. In America it is the opposite. This is why freight rates can be 3 times higher in Europe than in America, not to mention much less efficient. Move people onto rails and you will move freight on to trucks.

    ref: http://www.economist.com/node/16636101

    Not to mention that government subsidies are one reason that Amtrak lines aren’t as used as they could be. A non-stop express train between New York an Chicago using current trains and tracks could probably be profitable, but because congress has to approve Amtrak’s funding you end up with a train that stops in every ‘important’ congressional district in western NY.

    1. New York to Chicago is too far to be competitive with Air Travel (unless it was a *really* fast train, beyond current technology). You’re quite right about the conflict with freight so we have to be sure this system is separated as much as possible.

  18. I have to disagree. I would have agreed if it weren’t for the possibility of the NASA delayed http://www.skytran.net system. It’s cheaper in energy, building the cars, building the infrastructure, insuring and every other factor. It’s nearly 100% safe. It’s virtually door to door like a car (within a block or so to most every neighborhood). It’s on demand at 2 am or 4 pm. It’s private. It’s much more ecologically benign.

    We can build a 80 ton train to shuttle 1000’s of people on a single trip if they coordinate on times but we’d need a rail system to hold up those 80 tons. Or we could build a small rail system that hangs on telephone like poles and cut our wasted costs in every category.

    To anyone wanting to counter this system, you haven’t read up on it. There really is no reason it can’t supplant 80+% of our commuting and small cargo traffic.

    (I don’t have any ties with them other than years of watching their progress or lack thereof)

  19. Wisconsin has been talking about getting public transit from Milwaukee County to, at the very least, Waukesha County since the early to mid nineties. Waukesha County is the very next County due west of Milwaukee County.
    I lived in Wisconsin from birth until my mid-twenties and spent most of my life in Waukesha County, the reason that Waukesha County is against light-rail, speed-rail, whatever-rail is cultural.
    Waukesha County used to be (might still be) one of the 100 wealthiest counties in the country and mostly caucasian.

    Call it Xenophobia, or Urabanism verses Suburbanism. Waukesha County does not want to give people in Milwaukee County a quick and easy way into their neighborhood. That has always been the issue. Since I haven’t lived in Wisconsin since 2003, perhaps everything has changed and I am off-base.

  20. As a taxpayer in Texas I do not want my money being spent on high speed rail in other cities/states. I prefer to be taxed less first, but if the government is going to steal my money then spend a proportionate amount here in Texas.

      1. Nick, next time when you include such a tax spending statistic, make sure that is averaged out over the population of the state. Texas has a population of 24.78 million people (2009) and Wisconsin only 5.655 million people (2009). So Texas is receiving $.08 more of each federal dollar spent, but has a population of 19.125 million more.

        If that is not convincing, then how about the areas of the two states. Wisconsin has an area of 65,498 sq mi ranked as 23rd in the US, and Texas has an area of 268,820 sq mi ranked second. A difference of 203,322 sq mi.

        Texas has a much larger immigration problem than Wisconsin, legal or illegal, have to pay for federal buildings processing immigration status. More money get’s spent on border protection, NASA command center in Houston.

        If you are not convinced by now that Texas should receive more in Federal taxes than this will convince you. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_tax_revenue_by_state
        Texas paid $225 billion in taxes to the federal government in 2007, while Wisconsin paid only $44 billion.

        Yeah Texas will deffinitelly pay for that Train, and John is completelly right, less taxes first.

        1. I don’t understand – the point is that Texas is getting more for every dollar spent, but both states are still at a “loss” if you look at it that way – ie, both states are already funding more in other states than they receive themselves. Not that I’m arguing it should be evened out, my point is that national money funds local infrastructure all the time and I’m not sure why that’s a big deal.

  21. I love the variety of contradictory “facts” trotted out in the comments. It’s the one consistency I’ve noted about rail opponents: they don’t seem to understand the train issue at all. They just repeat what uninformed politicians and radio personalities tell them.

    “No one would travel it”: Sorry, the Hiawatha line is one of the most-traveled lines in the whole Amtrak system (and it comes very close to covering its costs per passenger-mile). And it does that even against strong competition from the KRM line of the Metra. I’m at the moment considering a 6-month contract in Chi, and the train is how I’ll travel if I take it. (Driving typically costs in the 30-50 cents a mile, when you count tire wear, oil, and the rest of the general wear on a car. IOW, for a 70-mile trip, I’ll about break even on costs, before parking. And I won’t have the aggro of driving in Chi traffic.)

    “Amtrak loses money”: OK, sign the Interstate system over to the trucking industry and lease it back, and see what that costs. Amtrak does a pretty good job of covering its costs when it owns the track. It doesn’t own one inch of track between Milwaukee and St Paul. The freightliners hold it hostage because they know they can milk the government for tons of cash and no one will complain about their price gouging, instead they’ll all blame the government itself for being victimized. (That’s something that always puzzles me; people who claim to be concerned over govt spending don’t seem to care when the govt gets overcharged for goods and services.)

    “It’s too slow”: Perhaps that’s a valid argument against cross-country trains (though I prefer to ride them over airplanes as I can sleep and arrive refreshed, I understand that’s not everybody’s cuppa) but for the madison-chi or Milw StP runs, the trains will be just as fast, or even faster, considering wait time for baggage, getting out of the airport, getting from the airport to wherever you’re *really* wanting to go. And the Milw-StP runs, when completed, can also play host to the Empire Builder (Ch-Seattle) and improve its performance by several hours, as the Canadian Pacific routinely delays that train (CP owns those tracks, so if they want their trains to have priority, they do).

    “It’s expensive to ride”: MIlw-StPaul (according to expedia) shows airfares of 150-250 (rounded down) depending upon the day of the week you fly and how long you stay. Amtrak shows about $195, regardless of the day you choose (ticket prices on Amtrak vary by the train, not by the day of the week). So rail could be cheaper or more expensive, depending upon conditions. (Oh, you can take more than one carry-on on the train, BTW. And you can bring your own liquids to drink.)

    “It’s expensive to maintain”: Let’s look at an existing example. Hiawatha runs over 70mph and WI and IL *together* are on the hook for a max of 7M annually, and often less. If the Milw-Mad run works the same (and it could be less, considering it’ll be newer equipment) that means you could run the line for over a decade for substantially less cost than the Marquette Interchange project. We’re talking a total operating cost of under 0.03% of what the state will spend next year on operating the state roads (not including what localities and feds will chip in for road maintenance).

  22. Nick…it’d kind of weird: I just moved to Dublin, Ireland. From Chicago. And I grew up in the Madison area.

    Having seen what light rail has done for Dublin I can assure you that it is the ‘right idea’.

    The big issue is that each side can throw lob their impact studies over the wall, twisting them whichever way is needed.

    The biggest problem: rail is a good idea, but since it comes from the Obama admin it’s poison.

    This is what this country has come to now: unless someone is getting paid enough, it’s not going to happen.

  23. “that means you could run the line for over a decade for substantially less cost than the Marquette Interchange project”

    OK. Well, the Marquette interchange carries 300,000 vehicles a day. Let’s average 2 people a car and that’s 600,000 people a DAY.

    Projected ridership for the Milwaukee/Madison train? Maybe as high as 800,000 a YEAR? (http://www.wdtimes.com/articles/2010/08/13/in_times_square/times01.txt).

    When it comes to moving people, trains are toys and I don’t want to pay for yours.

  24. Nick,

    In Ohio they plan on building a High Speed Rail between Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati. One would say great until one sees the facts of the plan. The top speed of it is only 79 mph, with an average speed is about 40 mph. There will be 2 trains, each with a locomotive and three or four passenger cars, this is from the Cleveland.com, and each train would run one trip per day. How many total seats is that? Let’s say 100 per car, times 4 cars, times total of 4 trips, thats only 1,600 total seats, and I think this number is excessive. I lived in Germany and I know what a High Speed Rail is, and this is not it.

    Give me a good reason why I should travel from Cleveland to Columbus at an average speed of 40 mph, when in a car I can do 80 mph. I would still need to use my car to make it to the rail station, pay parking, and once in columbus, rent a car to drive around. So instead of me arriving at my destination in 2 hours, it would take me about 6 hours, maybe even cost more. Grayhound could get me there cheaper and faster, and they are located Downtown.

    Plenty of cities are built up with suburbs, and you can’t live without a car. In downtown Cleveland there is barely anybody living there, it’s all offices, everybody is commuting. The train station we have is an open area next to the Browns Stadium, we have the same wind chill problems like you guys do, and the 85+ degree summers days. I prefer not to wait for a delayed train there. I can already read the news headline ‘Local person dies from heat(cold) while waiting on train.’ I have been in Chicago, and not the other cities so I can’t comment on them, but make sure you evaluate the need for a car in a given city, and the security of having to take public transportation in a city.

    1. Good questions. If that Ohio train really only averages 40mph then you’re right, it’s not going to pull a lot of riders. However, is it something that can be upgraded at some point? IF so then it might not be a bad deal to get it started today.

      The Milwaukee-Chicago train is also a max speed of 79mph over 90miles with 6 or 7 trains a day, and it’s very well ridden. Granted, Chicago is a much bigger city with much more traffic and parking hassels and an excellent walkable center.

      Connecting the key Ohio cooridor is a great idea, and would be hugely beneficial for a downtown redevelopment, but yes, as you say, if it only averages 40mph it’s not good enough.

  25. Nick and all,

    I’m rather disappointed in the lack of discussion on the one solution that alleviates every concern mentioned above. I thought everyone wanted an intelligent discussion with relevant facts? At $10 million per mile ($15M for bi-directional), this is a fraction of the costs discussed above while offering so many more benefits. There’s just no reason to continue discussing large HSR with Skytran on the table. It’s only problem is getting the entrenched rail lines to stop forcing politicians to define all “rail” as steel wheels on steel rails.

    1. I love the Skytran concept – I think it would be great in New York for example…. But, not to be a nay-sayer, but first of all the MKE-Madison segment is just about $10 per mile ($810 for ~80 miles). Second of all, it’s one line from central areas to other central areas… the skytran would have to have lines up and down most streets, so definitely not cheap either. Still, I’d love to see it demonstrated – I can see it radiating from the main train depot to key neighborhoods and universities, for example….

      1. Personally, I think the $10/mile number is an entry price that’s sure to come down. I also think the minimal maintenance and minimal land use would save an untold extra amount that most people forget to account for. That said, you’re not comparing apples to apples. No other transportation method discussed above provides for the last mile so why are you holding this one to that standard? Even so, when you add in all the costs, reaching a system like this deep into neighborhoods (longest walk of 2-3 blocks) is still cheaper. Look at the cost to maintain a city street. Look at the insurance cost. How about the residents’ added hassle of paying to stay legal and drive? All these costs can now be placed in the discretionary category which means the lower income families don’t have such a barrier to getting on their own two feet. I certainly would call it “definitely not cheaper”.

        Another unacknowledged benefit is that deliveries can be made without a paid driver. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pizza or a car part, put your object in a car, get a code, send the car and phone the code to the recipient. If they have moved, the car can divert to the new location.

        I really do think this can be done, privately, on such a scale that commuting, town to town travel and some bargain hunting longer distance travel can be covered. Let the big box stores, malls and companies buy a terminal in their lobbies and docks to help subsidize it.

        Another link to their tech site (which has faltered in the last couple years) is http://www.unimodal.com . At least they have a couple news reports on it.

  26. Subsidies? Rail is the ONLY mode of transportation that is generally expected to acquire, develop, maintain, police, signalize and pay taxes on all of its right-of-way. ALL OTHER MODES rely on public funds to acquire, develop, maintain, police, and signalize their TAX-EXEMPT right-of-way. Taxes on railway rights-of-way help pay (subsidize) to build and maintain … roadways, airports, waterways … BUT it is the EXTREMELY high INDIRECT costs of our highway dependency, costs that most people overlook, that we should focus on. The high cost of highway destruction, trauma and disease, of gunboat diplomacy and oil wars and spills … transportation policy has been bankrupting the USA. We need to get back on track!!

  27. Mom asks the twins what type of punch they want, the children flip a coin and the Democrats win, the Republicans not happy with the outcome ruin it for all by pissing in the punch. This is exactly what President Obama has to deal with, Republicans have chosen to block any and all dissensions the Democrats make regardless if it’s good for America or not.

    Are current sitting Republicans politicians hate America and will do anything possible to destroy it, we need to rid our country of this thought process and people that are killing our great country. Do what you can and vote against the Republicans set to destroy America.

    1. Ed, deficit spending is bankrupting America. Your party has been in total control of spending since 2006. Deficit spending on trains that will be used continuously by less than 5% of Americans will not solve all of the world problems and transport Americans into the land of unbridled prosperity. You and the author turned this issue into an emotional issue. Rational and intelligent discussions with emotional people is a waste of energy.

  28. Toma,

    I agree, at least to some extent, that in general deficit spending isn’t good. However I have to ask, which do you think increased the deficit more; the $34.5 Billion that the Fed spent on the roads because the “users” didn’t pay enough via the fuel taxes or the $7 Billion spent on rail?

    And yet, I see no one complaining about that $34.5 Billion every time the issue of deficit spending is raised. Deficit spending is deficit spending; it doesn’t matter what the project is.

    1. The $7 billion deficit on rail will be increased as more HS rail lines are built. Just because $34 billion is spent on roads does not make it right either. Is it a constitutional right for everyone to subsidized transportation? We have too many government leaders that just can’t say “no” to pork spending.

  29. Why must the government (taxpayers) pay for HS rail? Why not HS stagecoaches or HS skateboards? The stagecoaches could be pulled by two Chevy volts. Why not require something futuristic, like flying saucers. Anyone that watches Discovery channel knows that our scientists have reverse engineered captured saucers. Support for HS rail is well beyond stupidity.

    1. Toma,

      Well if you want stagecoaches back, get the government to stop paying for the roads. Heck, if the Fed hadn’t interferred in the free market by providing subsidized Interstate Highways, we might not now be needing to invest in passenger rail. It never would have been ripped out and it would probably still be privately owned and operated.

      And yeah, obviously, there are billions of stupid people in Europe, Russia, China, and Japan all of which have or are building high speed rail.

      1. I don’t want stagecoaches or any government owned and controlled transportation. We don’t need government run rail for the few people that would use it. Government controlled businesses are the most inefficient and costly means of delivering a service or a product. Regardless of all other countries use of rail, America will not get rid of roads or cars. Cars may become more efficient in the use of energy, however making HS rail a government run business should scare every American. No one has made any convincing argument that huge deficit spending will take us into the land of prosperity.

        1. Yet another expert that somhow magically knows that no one will ride a train. I hate to tell you this, but even in this very car orientated country, passenger rail is the fastest growing form of transit. In fact, over the past 30 years, the number of rides taken on passenger trains has nearly doubled from 2.488 Billion in 1979 to 4.473 in 2008.

          And you have a odd definition of “huge” if you consider spending $7B larger than $34.5B. We can’t continue to pay the road bill, and that’s just the Federal dollars, and we can’t continue to put all of our eggs in one basket.

          We also don’t have the space to continue to build/expand our roads to meet the demand. Alternatives are needed.

      2. BTW, your “And yeah” comment is not supported by facts. Billions of people did not make the decision to build HS rail. Decisions like this are made by political leaders, not the masses. Time magazine wrote about China’s HS rail. The masses prefer slower and cheaper rail. See below:

        Although construction costs are cheap in China, high-speed railways are also much more expensive to build and maintain than standard railroads. Fast-train networks have traditionally been built in smaller, developed nations like Japan, because they are best suited to travel between highly populated, closely located cities — not in a place like China, where large cities are spread out. What’s more, many Chinese are perfectly willing to take slower, cheaper trains. In an opinion piece in the China Daily published in April, Zhao Jian, an economics professor and colleague of Jia’s at Beijing Jiaotong University, wrote, “China’s per capita income is still relatively low and so is the economic value of time. Cheap travel with basic comfort suits ordinary Chinese passengers, who do not want to spend three times as much for high-speed tickets just to save a few hours of travel time.”

        The danger is not just that China ends up with a much better rail system than it needs at this point. It’s that it incurs heavy debts in building it. Massive infrastructural investments over the past year have helped China become the first major economy to pull out of the global economic crisis, but they could become a heavy burden if the recovery stumbles.

        Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2008791-2,00.html#ixzz0zkIl9OeJ

      3. Regarding your comment on needing to invest in HS rail, why do we need to invest in it? Are you aware that we have HS air travel available between all major and many minor cities? HS rail is just another option that costs taxpayers more and does not add to prosperity. The expansive hi-way system created enormous prosperity for this country. Many cities were created and grew to support a driving society. What do you think HS rail will accomplish? Who will be the winners and who will be the losers?

        1. I’m well aware that we have air travel. Are you aware that we subsidize it? Are you aware that the airlines want out of the short haul flight business? They can’t make money on the short hauls; not that they’re making money anyhow.

          And yes, HS rail is another option. An option that we need. And seeing as how this country was founded on the idea of Freedom of Choice, why do you seek to remove that right from the people?

          As for the expansive highways, they didn’t create enormous prosperity for the country, they shifted it from the RR’s to the truckers. And most cities in the US grew up around RR’s, not the highways.

          As for what I think it will accomplish: I see it reducing the need to continue to try to expand our very expensive highways that need Billions every year. While I don’t expect it to replace our highways, I do see it slowing and perhaps halting the ever increasing amounts of money needed to keep our highways going.

          I see it giving people the freedom to choose how they want to travel. I see it at least partially fixing the interference that the government created when it drove private industry out of the transportation industry. I see it reducing our dependance on oil. I see it freeing up space in our airports for long haul flights and reducing the need for more aiports and expanding airports.

          And I see America and Americans coming out as winners in this.

  30. Most of the submissions here are dealing with railroads in the present economy. That is wrong thinking. Our economy will have some major changes in the next decade. People seem to think that they will always have a choice of a car or a plane and consider a train ride more like entertainment. Our entire problem is that gas is too cheap now! If we wait until the oil depletion rate overcomes the slight surplus oil they are using to keep the prices down, then it might just be too late to make an alternative! Remember the lines at the gas stations in “73”? We were only importing about 5% of our oil then. We are now importing 66% of our oil. Our monies are going to regimes that want to kill us. What happens when we run out of our puny 2% oil reserves. (Reference 27,000 abandoned oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico, not to mention land based wells abandoned in Texas and other countries). The shortage in “73” is nothing compared to what we have coming! China is the fastest growing auto market in the world! India is also moving in that direction. We are fighting over oil now. It’s only going to get worse if we don’t make some major changes! Railroads are 220 times more fuel efficient than a car and 400 times more than a plane. Railroads will be our only affordable travel choice for long distances. We need to make huge conservation and infrastructure investment efforts now. We have reached peak oil and demand is just starting to go into overdrive! Fuel in Europe is $7-8/gal and the U.K. will not be exporting oil in the next few years. If we placed an energy tax on gasoline and jet fuel (not diesel) we could get the country moving in the right direction and use the revenues for expanding the renewable energy options we have available now. (Portugal went from 17% renewable energy to 46% in 5 years!) Trains also run on electricity! Airplanes will be the first to go in the upcoming oil shortage. Our railroads need huge expansions now. Is our country going to be left dead on the side of the road, out of gas?

    1. Currently, HS rail is a luxury. You contend that in the future it will become a necessity, therefore no matter what the cost, we must do it now. This is all about government control of every major industry, including transportation. Government already owns two auto companies. We are well on the way to government control of health care. Government also continues to take over the financial industry and are on their way to controlling energy. Also, they mostly control education and the news media. It appears that every problem must be solved by government. This is where we differ. The private sector has the ability to solve the energy issue and many other issues, however our government won’t let them. It is all about power and control. When government controls everything, we lose all freedoms.

    2. Do you really want government to control transportation or anything else? Don’t you realize that you are allowing politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists to control your money and your life? Here is an example of our government exerting control:

      GULF ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, FL – If you’re going to the Gulf Islands National Seashore this weekend… You might want to leave the shovel and sand pale at home.

      The fed says B-P workers can’t dig more than 6 inches in the sand to look for oil…. and as Channel 3’s Dan Thomas found out… You can’t dig at all.


  31. speaking as a person who lives in wi, this train is not what we need, our road systems are falling apart, and the funding to fix this problem is non existent.

    makes no sense to spend all this money on things we don’t need, just because someone says its what we need.

    1. Wis Native,

      The roads are falling apart because the “users” refuse to actually pay fully for them. Every time any one talks about increasing the fuel taxes, people scream bloody murder.

      So last year, just at the Federal level, $34.5 Billion was taken out of the General fund to help support the roads. That means that every driver in the country, myself included, got a 50% subsidy from the Fed.

      Put another way, every man, women, and child in this country paid $112 last year towards our highways without regard to whether or not they even own a car, much less can drive one. You’re being asked to contribute worst case scenario $1.77 per anum towards the train to Madison.

      1. Your facts regarding WI needs updating. WI residents objected to an automatic annual gas tax increase. Leaders should be held accountable for voting on higher taxes. Also, over the last 7 years, $1.3 billion was taken from the WI transportation fund to fund other programs. This would indicate that WI roads are over funded.

        I don’t know where any of your figures come from. Please provide references to the many figures that you use. I found that $34.5 billion was the receipts in 2009. This indicates that taxes were collected. Expenditures exceeded receipts by a few billion. Currently, every government program is not fully funded. Our congress spent over a trillion dollars last year that was not funded. Why don’t you rail against the government leaders who spend our money? The problem is not the taxpayers that are not willing to support an insatiable government.

        Let’s say that I buy into America will be severely harmed by not having a deficit run government owned HS rail system. If America is dependent upon a global economy, what will we do about transportation to every foreign country? If HS rail is the answer, I can’t wait to see a HS rail from NY to England.

        1. Toma,

          With the utmost respect, it’s not my facts that need updating; however a check of your vision might be in order.

          I quite clearly stated that it was Federal dollars that I was providing; not Wisconsin’s numbers. Although Wisconsin’s aren’t good either. However, the only number that I provided in that post that is based solely on Wisconsinites is the $1.77 annual contribution to the train.

          Regarding my numbers, you have to look in two places. At the first link, directly below the graph you’ll see footnotes. Take note of the $7 Billion that Congress had to transfer into the Highway Trust Fund to keep it solvent.


          Then in this chart, make note of the $27.5 Billion listed as Highway Infrastructure Investment, Recovery Act. Add the 2 amounts together and you’ve got $34.5 Billion not paid for by the users.


          As for railing against our government leaders, I just did that. The difference is that I went after the big bucks, $34.5 Billion for roads, while you went after the small change $8 Billion for rail.

          Which do you think increased the deficit faster?

          Throw in the monies given to the Auto Industry and rail’s spending is a drop in the bucket by comparison.

          As for your final paragraph, please don’t be silly. No one is suggesting that HSR is the answer for every possible travel option. Certainly no one is suggesting HSR to England. However, HSR is a good answer for many travel options even if it is deficit ridden. And it’s a good answer because its deficits will be far less than the ones that we’re currently incurring on our roads.

  32. This whole exercise is silly. Pollyanna type assumptions, non-verifiable numbers, and gross generalizations are not acceptable arguments for investing in HSR.

    Even if the government spent $34.5 billion extra on roads, it is a useless number since a deep-dive into the numbers is not possible to determine why it is what it is. Congress allocates our money foolishly on local projects (John Murtha airport, Alaska bridge to nowhere, ethanol subsidy, …). Congress and the President are major contributors to the deficit problem, not the taxpayers. Taxpayers are the victims.

    Automobiles and freeways are not going away just because HSR exists. China has HSR. They have horrendous traffic congestion.

    HSR does nothing for local travel until the next deficit project occurs, mega-cities with mega-apartments and mega-employment buildings.

    I think that we can agree that HSR will result in deficit spending and will be under government control. You have no problem with either, regardless of the cost. I have problems with both of them. Deficit spending is not sustainable at the levels we are at. The LSR MKE to Madison route is a foot in the door to HSR and a government controlled future. As long as government remains the solution to all of our problems, it is inevitable that we won’t have a choice in our future.

  33. Toma,

    I’m sorry that you seem to be unable to verify the numbers. Everyone else can go look at those pages and see the numbers. And those numbers come from the department that is spending the money. Additionally, you can indeed deep dive into those numbers if you so choose. There are links to full reports on the DOT site. I have to believe that the only reason that the number is deemed useless by you is that you just don’t like it since it blows up your theory.

    And by the way, Highway Trust Fund monies are not used for projects like airports.

    Next, I never suggested that highways and autos were going to go away. I have however suggested that we cannot continue to build still more highways, nor can we continue to widen the existing ones. We have neither the space for them within our cities or the funds to continue to do so.

    Therefore I am saying that having some deficit spending, an amount far lower than what we are spending on our roads, is needed in an effort to prevent the continued mega increases in deficit spending for our roads.

    I’m not a fan of deficit spending. But if a small amount of deficit spending keeps us from have to double that $34.5 Billion within the next 10 to 20 years, then yes, I’m all for deficit spending on HSR so as to avoid mega-deficit spending on roads.

    Next, HSR and local travel don’t belong in the same sentence; unless you’re discussing local travel once one gets off of a HSR train. HSR and local travel aren’t interchangeable.

    Finally, as long as you continue to fight HSR or any rail project, then it is inevitable that you are striving to ensure that people living in the US are deprived of the right of Freedom of Choice. You seek to tell everyone that they must travel by car because you’ve decided that’s the right way.

    I’m advocating to actually give people a choice, something that this country was founded on if you recall, that being Freedom of Choice!

    Ps. China just got started on their HSR. Let’s talk in 20 years to see where they are then after they’ve completed their plan.

    1. Once again, the money spent on freeways is irrelevant to this discussion. It is not a choice between spending the money on freeways or HSR. They both are deficit spending. Why is deficit spending ok for the government but not for you or any business?

      When did it become a right that you get to choose HSR and someone else has to pay for it? If another technology comes along that is better than HSR, is it governments responsibility to make that available too?

      What founding document contains, government must provide Freedom of Choice? Does it include, HSR must be a provided choice?

  34. It’s only irrelevant because it’s forcing you to make a choice that you don’t want to make.

    Again, deficit spending while wrong, is unfortunately now inevitable. The only other options are to either allow our roads to fall apart or double the fuel taxes and neither is not a viable option. The public will not stand for either of those two choices.

    Therefore, like it or not, we are now contronted by the choice of trying to maintain the current deficit spending levels on our roads coupled with some deficit spending on rail or more than doubling the deficit spending for our roads. You’re not getting any other choice. There isn’t one available, unless you can somehow convinice the majority to increase the fuel taxes by at least $1 per gallon starting tomorrow.

    So with no other option, wouldn’t you prefer a more modest deficit spending plan over a mega deficit spending plan?

    As for your other questions, once the government interferred in the market place of transportation by funding highways, it unfortunately changed the rules. There is no way out now and therefore no choice but to continue to its involvement in the transportation market. We can debate whether or not government ever should have gotten involved, things like benefits to mobility and military, but why bother? It’s done and it was done many years ago, we can’t change it now.

    And it became a right when you accepted the payments of other’s when you drove your car or took a flight. Until you stop accepting money from others for your daily activities you have no right to demand that you dollars can’t be used for things that you just don’t like.

    Of course if you were really worried about your dollars, then again you’d be supporting HSR since again it’s bill will represent far less money taken out of your pocket than will keeping the existing status quo.

    Or do you just like paying more?

    1. You failed to directly answer the Freedom of Choice questions? Just because the government is involved in airports and roads does not mean it became a right that the government provide HSR or future alternatives. Where is my government owned freedom of choice right for international travel?

      Fuel and other taxes are collected for freeways and airports. A previous CBO report indicated that they were funded up until the recession dropped revenue. The Stimulus package added unfunded projects, including $5 million for Stimulus promotional signs.

      Your main argument is that we must deficit spend and somehow HSR will spend less. Why should I accept that?
      Why not elect responsible leaders that won’t deficit spend? As long as people elect leaders like this current crop, you will have continual deficit spending and possibly a depression.

      As long as you are resigned to HSR deficit spending is good for this country, there is nothing more to say except, we agree to disagree.

      1. There’s nothing wrong with deficit spending – on certain things. HSR happens to be a very good deal. It’s tragic that it’s being labeled as a waste for political gain here.

        That said, I have no problem curtailing much of the spending the government does. But why can’t we start with real problems, like the drug war? A horribly immoral, expensive, and totally ineffective use of taxpayer money! Or the death penalty? That costs millions more than HSR and is unfit for a civilized country! Or, dare I say, war war and more war?

        HSR is money well spent, even if it is in debt right now.

        1. I am fascinated by your Freedom of Choice doctrine that claims, if the government deficit spends on something, it is obligated to deficit spend on alternatives. What other things does our government owe us aside from HSR?

  35. Toma,

    I didn’t answer that question because it’s just an attempt to distract from the topic at hand. However, it is interesting that we’ve gone from you’re saying that “As long as government remains the solution to all of our problems, it is inevitable that we won’t have a choice in our future.” to where is it a right to have freedom of choice and why does the government have to fund it.

    You can’t have it both ways! Either the government is stifling choice or its not.

    Moving on, fees are collected for trains too! However, all forms of transportation require subsidies. And the recession has nothing to do with that. The recession didn’t start until very late in 2008, at which point the Fed was actually already in Fiscal 2009. Yet the Highway Trust Fund needed an $8 Billion bailout in Fiscal 2008.

    Next, this current crop? It might interest you to know that it was the Republican controlled Congress under Republican President Bush that gave us the current 5 year highway funding bill that expires at the end of this month. The Republican Congress actually ignored warnings from the Bush White House that they were outspending the income.

    It was also the Bush White House that added $4.899 Trillion to the national debt. So far President Obama has only added $2.624 Trillion to the national debt.

    While I’ve no desire to get into Repubs vs. Dems, the simple reality is that they both are guilty of deficit spending.

    Finally, you didn’t answer my question. And remember, you’re not getting a choice, there is going to be deficit spending. So wouldn’t you rather have a lower amount than a higher amount?

    The problem is that we both know that this isn’t about deficit spending. This is about deficit spending on rail. You, for whatever reason, don’t like rail. You picked an argument that you figured would work, not realizing that we deficit spend on the roads, and lost.

    I’ll even give you a chance to prove that it isn’t simply that you’re anti-rail. If Milwaukee were given money tomorrow to build light rail from a private source that invoked no deficit spending, but MKE would still have to foot some of the operating expenses, would you oppose building it?

    1. I wasn’t having it both ways. You made up the Freedom of Choice doctrine and I wanted to see if you applied it to other problems or this was specific to HSR. Our government does not owe us choices.

      I am against all continual deficit spending. It is no way to run your personal life, any business, or any government.

      If HSR is so great, there should be an ROI plan. If it cannot support itself within 5 to 10 years, it should not be built. Also, it should not be government run. The government owns airports, however as of now, they do not own the airlines. If a deal can be made where private companies run and maintain HSR and it does not add to our deficit, I am ok with it.

  36. Toma,

    No, I responded to you that your opposition was limiting choices, the very thing that you were blaming on the Government.

    And while the Government may not own the airlines, there would be no airlines without government spending. Collectively the airlines over the past 40 years or so have lost more than $10 Million.

    That’s despite interest free loans and grants after 9/11, despite the Fed paying for the FAA and much of the ATC system, and despite local funding for the airports. So the government might as well own the airlines too.

    As for ROI, true high speed rail will support itself operationally (much like the airlines), but it will always require help with the capital expenses of the infrastructure. That’s how most HSR in Europe is run these days, as well as in Japan.

    And you didn’t answer my question about light rail in MKE.

  37. I don’t know how to make it any clearer to you. I don’t support continual deficit spending by anyone. Also, I don’t support government ownership of businesses. Just because someone provides a gift to the government that will cause the government to continually deficit spend does not change my stance.

    Why aren’t you complaining that the MKE-Madison route is not HSR? This whole thread is based upon needing HSR.

    Just because Japan, China, and Europe do something, it does not make it right for the US.

    How successful was the supersonic Concorde flights? Did you ask that the US provide an alternative?

    Virgin is expected to launch space tourism in 18 months. Will you insist that our government provide an alternative?

  38. Toma,

    Cities & states aren’t allowed to deficit spend, so a gift to Milwuakee for light rail couldn’t obligate MKE to deficit spend.

    As for you’re not supporting deficit spending at the Federal level, please point me to places where you’ve posted and advocated to increase the fuel taxes so that they fully cover the roads. Because until you’re advocating for an increase in the fuel taxes you are by default supporting deficit spending if you drive your car anyplace.

    Regarding government ownership of business, then I suppose that you don’t support having the local buses either to transport children too young to drive and seniors who are unable to drive. Who cares if they have to walk everyplace? It’s gotta be better than having government support a business.

    Regarding the MKE-Madison route, I agree that it’s not HSR. I wish that we could jump right to HSR, but we can’t unfortunately. It’s a starting point. One learns to crawl before one learns to walk as a baby. People are already upset at the minimal spending because the wrongly beleive that “no one will ride it.”

    California didn’t start building it’s first HSR line until after it had several very successful lines similar to what’s proposed for MKE-Madison.

  39. China has, up and running, nuclear/electric powered, electric bullet train networks complete with a social infrastructure (associated infrastructures like factories), with folks there in, on veggies and rice(sustainable) diets, producing products for the American and world markets, oil-free and cheaper than America’s “rubber wheeled SUV suburbia and McMansions” paradigm can compete with. Overhead in the American paradigm is simply too damn high! Due to the efficiencies built into their system, the Chinese can out-produce and at lower cost than American manufacturers! This is not and airy fairy proposition! This is the reason why jobs go off-shore! This is the cause of America’s recession! This is part of the Asian economic war that America is losing!
    China is currently engaged in contracting for Russian Energy reserves and other resources! Russia covers the biggest continent in the world! the largest richest reserve left! Get out the map! Count the time zones across Russia and see where China’s interests lie! Chinese built, Japanese designed cars made with Russian steel, Russian natural gas energy, and sold on the streets of America! I see it all now, as Detroit City sinks into Third-World ship! America a dismal failure because they could not handle change!

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