Rail

Debate over intercity rail leaves policy at a crossroads

Posted on May 17, 2012 by Cliff Henke

Both the critics of intercity passenger and freight rail policies that have emerged in recent years, as well as supporters of these programs, are partly right and partly wrong. How these conflicts will be resolved — and whether both sides own up to their shortcomings — will determine the future of these programs.

The controversy surrounding the future of the California High-Speed Rail Program is perhaps the most famous case in point. Among the critics, the California state legislature’s equivalent to the federal Congressional Budget Office, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), recommended that the program not be funded, despite the revised business that lowered the estimated costs from $98 billion to $68.4 billion. The LAO and other critics also cite the uncertainty of future funding. On this score the critics are right — to a point.

Critics ignore U.S. history
The more extreme of the opponents use the LAO’s and others’ calculations to decry investment in intercity rail, in general, arguing that it is wasteful and an inefficient use of taxpayer funds. Nevermind the data showing the jobs created, or that Amtrak’s ridership is at its highest in decades, not just in the Northeast Corridor but also in California and the Pacific Northwest as well. Nor do their arguments recognize that both freight and passenger intercity rail services began with some early public sector commitments, ranging from direct subsidies to free land to loan guarantees. Nor do the critics acknowledge that these systems are facing severe roadblocks that will constrain U.S. competitiveness if delays go unaddressed. By contrast, even conservative governments throughout the world are ramping up their rail infrastructure spending.

Supporters also point out that the nation would have to make less effective and even more expensive investments in airports and highways to cope with the expected increase in intercity travel demand, especially within the “super regions” that dominate economic growth now and in the future.

This is not only true of California, but also in the Northeast Corridor, as well as major corridors in Florida and the Midwest. The final refuge of conservatives is to argue that, if there is a need, it should be borne by the private sector. They point to the recent announcements by private consortia of plans to build lines in Florida and between California and Nevada with private money — again overlooking the assumptions regarding expected public sector contributions on both lines.  

Lack of consensus
Regardless of the long-standing support by some on both sides of the political spectrum, current and future intercity rail funding has been plagued with a chronic lack of sufficient consensus on either the nature or even need of a program. The current difference between House and Senate transportation bills are a case in point. Until those differences get hammered out, not just this year, but also long-term, it will be more of the same.

Cliff Henke, a contributing editor to METRO, is senior analyst at PB. His views herein are solely his own.

View comments or post a comment on this story. (0 Comments)

More News

Metra to seek proposals for new railcars, engines

The exact number will depend on the responses to the RFP, the amount of funding available, and whether Metra can use financing alternatives, such as leasing, to maximize its funding.

Siemens diesel-electric locomotives to begin operation on Calif. train

The Charger clean diesel-electric locomotives are the first high-speed passenger locomotives to receive Tier IV emissions certification from the FRA.

Alstom delivers last of 22 Venezuelan metropolis trainsets

The Alstom-led consortium “Grupo de Empresas,” together with Colas Rail and Thales, subcontracted by Consorcio Linea 2, is responsible for the project, including engineering, integration, and commissioning of the electromechanical works on a turnkey basis.

Stun gun incident causes stampede after NJ Transit train gets stuck in tunnel

This latest incident happened three weeks after the derailment of an Amtrak train at Penn Station and a week after a NJ Transit derailment shut down eight of 21 tracks there and disrupted travel in the region for days.

Holt to lead railroad systems engineering at WSP | PB

He will be responsible for leadership, direction and management of engineering services for railroad and rail transit projects and will support the firm's related business initiatives across the country.

See More News

Post a Comment

Post Comment

Comments (0)

More From The World's Largest Fleet Publisher

Automotive Fleet

The Car and truck fleet and leasing management magazine

Business Fleet

managing 10-50 company vehicles

Fleet Financials

Executive vehicle management

Government Fleet

managing public sector vehicles & equipment

TruckingInfo.com

THE COMMERCIAL TRUCK INDUSTRY’S MOST IN-DEPTH INFORMATION SOURCE

Work Truck Magazine

The number 1 resource for vocational truck fleets

Schoolbus Fleet

Serving school transportation professionals in the U.S. and Canada

LCT Magazine

Global Resource For Limousine and Bus Transportation

Please sign in or register to .    Close