Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Foolish Florida Decision Makes a Slew of Other States Quite Happy: Big News on the Railroad Tracks

I don't mean to sound flippant, but lately its felt like terrorists take America's train system much more seriously than Americans do. It was, apparently, the next Al Quaeda target to mark the anniversary of 9/11.

I have to wonder if such foes of Amtrak and high-speed rail as U.S. Representative John Mica (of Florida) would have seen rail attacks as giving some legitimacy to the system they constantly denigrate. To hear Mica and his co-horts, you'd think that these trains are running empty, their conductors simply partying the day away on government money.

In truth of fact, Amtrak has experienced record ridership for the last three years running. And Americans, when polled, overwhelmingly support, indeed, love the idea of train travel.

Well, Mica doesn't like to look at numbers, which may be why he and the rest of the folks in his state recently turned down $2 billion in stimulus funding for the creation of high speed rail. That money was redistributed on Monday as follows:
  • Michigan, Missouri and Illinois states will share a total of $404.1 million to upgrade track between Chicago and Detroit and Chicago and St. Louis(the upgrades will reduce travel time by 30 minutes on the first run);
  • Minnesota has been awarded an additional $5 million for work on a high speed corridor that will eventurally link Duluth and Minneapolis
  • California and five Midwest states are getting $336.2 million towards the purchase new locomotives and rail cars
  • California will receive another $300 million to extend construction on an initial 110-mile high-speed segment in the Central Valley by 20 miles. What has people in my neck of the woods crowing is the $795 million that the northeast corridor will be getting which will increase train speeds from 135 mph to 160 mph on "critical" areas of the track between Boston, New York and Washington, DC.
  • North Carolina got $4 million towards extending high speed rail service there
  • Texas took $15 million to help fund a plan to link Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston with high speed rail
  • Washington, Oregon, Maine and Connecticut were also given varying amounts of money for state rail projects
Cheers to those states and for all the jobs that will be created (1000 in California alone).

On Sunday, my senator Chuck Schumer put forward a proposal to create a "no ride" list to help protect the trains against terrorist attack. He said at the time that he'd be pushing for additional funding to support security on the trains.

While I want to support Schumer, I worry that money for this program could be syphoned away from the high speed rail projects.

And make no mistake these are projects we desperately need. We simply cannot rely entirely on a system that relies on gasoline, both for environmental and for geo-political reasons. According to the National Association of Railroad Passengers, the U.S. transportation system is 96% petroleum dependent, accounts for 71% of the country’s oil use, and consumes 25% of the world’s net output. Trains by contrast are highly fuel efficient (as much as 30.2% than cars per passenger, according to NARP). With the ever-increasing size of our population its imperative that we take steps NOW to create infrastructures that are green, safe and efficient for our children and grandchildren.


  1. I agree with this and your response to the Al Quaeda plans struck me as odd if one listens to Congressional opponents of Amtrak (incidentally, these same Congressmen and women have no problem subsidizing auto travel with Federal funding for highways and the like). The reality is that opponents such as John Mica are highly selective in the data they choose to focus upon.

  2. I completely agree with your position, Congratulations to the States that will benefit. I look forward to one day taking a train instead of a plane or car.

    Thanks Pauline, I am enjoying your blog.