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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments


Collision course:

Local advocates for high-speed rail want state legislators and other state officials to press ahead with the resurrection of passenger rail service here.

[. . .]

The rail group emphasizes it's not asking for new money to be raised; it wants 2 percent of the state's transportation budget to be spent on rail planning.

Shifting money toward rail development could be crucial to the state's ability to raise local matches necessary to spend federal funding.

But the resistance is building:

Many Americans soon could see European-style high-speed trains in their backyards, but a wave of Republican gubernatorial victories means the project -- once touted by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as a "game changer" -- faces many obstacles ahead.

Last week, the Department of Transportation yanked away nearly $1.2 billion in funds from Wisconsin and Ohio after incoming governors in both states said they would not continue the project, and distributed it to 13 other states where high-speed rail projects are moving forward as planned.

Rail is a legitimate part of our national transportation infrastructure and deserves its place along with highways and airports in the federal funding line. But making high speed rail the kinds of success here that it is in Europe is probelmatic for a lot of reasons, and billions poured into it are likely to be billions wasted. Robert Samuelson of Newsweek has a pretty good handle on why high speed rail is really just por:

We are prisoners of economic geography. Suburbanization after World War II made most rail travel impractical. From 1950 to 2000, the share of the metropolitan population living in central cities fell from 56 percent to 32 percent, report UCLA economists Leah Platt Boustan and Allison Shertzer. Jobs moved too. Trip origins and destinations are too dispersed to support most rail service. Only in places (Europe, Asia) with greater population densities is high-speed rail potentially attractive.

That subrubanization was made possible in large part because of government policy in promoting highways. Because the government was so succesful with a previous subsidy, in other words, it has made a rail subsidy more impractical.


tim zank
Mon, 12/13/2010 - 3:06pm

In Indiana (and most other states) high speed rail would be an absolute money pit and about as efficient and cost effective as, oh, I don't know, maybe Amtrack?????

Why do we keep beating this poor dead horse (albeit an iron horse) when it is a proven loser?????

William Larsen
Mon, 12/13/2010 - 4:44pm

This is a prime example of "unintended consequences." Highways were subsidized by taxes; made it more "convenient" to travel, but artificially raised the overall cost, but hid it from view. In addition the mortgage deduction was passed and realters have used this deduction to influence buyers into thinking they save thousands on taxes, but in reality the standard deduction pretty much eliminates the home deduction after 10 to 15 years on a 30 year and 6 years on a 15 year.

We took an infrastructure that was widely used, paid for by private capital and used tax dollars to compete and wipe out their infrastructure.

GM and Chrysler should have been allowed to fail. They would have filed for chapter 7, creditors (bond holders) would have gotten some amount back instead of the US Treasury, and unions would have lost much of their benefits. In simple terms a readjustment at the point that caused it.

Instead of creating a fair playing ground, politicians influence the markets so much with tax credits, incentives, research, grants, exemptions, that any small change now can makes something that once was viable, non viable. If politicians ever learn that the more they do, the worse they make our economy, we could once again be a strong economy. However, politicians have to feel needed, so they pass lots of meaningless legislation with lots of unintended consequences.

Mon, 12/13/2010 - 10:55pm

Mass transit is a joke in the United States. Almost all systems, including Citilink buses are heavily subsidized by tax dollars. As can be seen here in fort Wayne, near-empty buses are the cause . . . and improving bus and train occupancy has never been successfully accomplished here or anywhere else.

As for intercity rail, it is nice to know that the US has the cheapest rail rates in the world, but that is an accident of geography and history. We haul freight, not passengers on our rails . . . so we spare our interstates from the truck traffic that stalls European roadways. According to Antiplanner:

Europe has decided to run its rail system primarily for passengers, while America

Bob G.
Tue, 12/14/2010 - 9:47am

The ONLY place any type of mass transit is still "practical" is in places like NYC (the subways).
And yet even THEY still suffer gridlock ABOVE ground.

I do miss the interurban lines, as they were a lot better than driving (esp. in bad weather).

I "suppose" if the automakers toss nothing but CRAP cars at us in the near future (as they are TRYING to), HSR lines might come back in vogue (more governmental control in our lives...JUST what we need, right?)

Maybe it's all part of some masterplan we're not supposed to be privvy to, hmm?

I'm just sayin'...