Saturday, December 18, 2010

At Least Some Objections Don't Hold Water - Or Freight

A good many of the objections to spending money on Passenger Rail and/or High Speed Rail (HSR), now that Republicans will take over the House of Representatives, are grounded only in "don't spend money", and not in any sound logic.  The most illogical one is this:  Spend the money on improving freight rail, and the highways will get better because the trucks will be off of them. 

Yes, Virginia, it is true that getting trucks off the Interstates is a noble goal, both from the standpoint of congestion, and from a Green perspective.  But spending government money on the freight railroads isn't going to get us there.  For one thing, the freight railroads are still in competition with the truckers, last time I looked.  And there is a lot of money in the trucking lobby that says trucking will continue to get largesse from the gov't. for years to come. 

For another thing, the freight railroads still haven't figured out the formula to compete for short-haul freight.  And whether we like it or not, short-haul is what is going to continue to cause congestion in urban areas.

The gov't. could do two things that would not cost the taxpayer any money, and accomplish what there is to accomplish as far as getting trucks off the Interstates.  #1.  Stop allowing increase in truck size and weight (hopefully decrese weights) on the highways.  Any federal or local legislation that does this should also include a short rider that prohibits multiple trailers with 100 miles of an urban area of 75,000 people or more. 

#2.  Take half of what is already being spent on highway maintenance for 2 years and turn it over to Amtrak and/or short-haul commuter rail agencies like Caltran or urban transit districts.  Yes, there would be 2 years of deferred maintenance on some roadways.  If we didn't have to apply political correctness to everything, we could apply brain power instead and pick and choose which highways simply could not make it for another two years.  Spend the remaining half on them.  I bet there will still be some of the remaining half left over.

Before I started writing this post, Ohio had already opted out of the high-speed rail money form the Obama admin - okay, I'll stop calling it a regime, because that angers some folks.  That will go elsewhere, but it shouldn't be spent on freight railroads.  Not if we know what's good for us.

Before I completed this post, Mr. Obama had signed the tax bill that will give us two years to see if a continuation of the current income tax rates will stimulate the economy.  I bet it will.  Sadly for Passenger Rail, there will probably not be as much money offered to HSR projects for a long, very long, very very long time.  Happily, some people will now have a chance to think of better places to put the HSR money that remains in the hopper.

©2010 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com
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