Saturday, November 6, 2010

Obstacles to High-Speed Rail in America: Politicians, Big Oil & Freight

Will the U.S. ever catch up with Asian and European rail systems?

Posted by: Noel Jones

If you're wondering why the heck it's taking so long for America to get an expanded passenger rail network going--especially when stimulus money was allotted for new rail projects around the country, here's your answer--pro-car anti-rail DOT's and politicians, as well as freight rail--note that this could be a bleak indicator for progress in our nation as the first three stories cover right-wing Republicans who have managed to kill all the jobs associated with these rail projects, while claiming to be focusing on creating jobs in the same breath:

Madison Mayor-Elect and Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation Kill Stimulus-Funded Rail Project

Ohio Governor-Elect Kills Stimulus-Funded Rail Project

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Kills Rail Tunnel Project to New York

An on-going obstacle to the development of efficient passenger rail are freight rail companies who want to continue to dominate the rail system, don't want to share existing rail, and refuse to pay for passenger train delays that freight rail regularly causes on our already-existing passenger train lines:

Freight Rail Blocks Legislation to Implement Regulation Requiring Payment for Passenger Rail Delays

So, hmmn...we desperately need to create jobs, stimulus money has been granted for new rail projects that have already begun, and these politicians are swooping in, with the help of state DOT's, even before they take office to halt the projects and fire the construction workers

who are building the rail. Not to mention that a European train company already opened an American headquarters in Wisconsin and was set to start hiring in that facility. DOT's around the country would like to see the money go to ROADS to keep our transportation emphasis on CARS, even with today's projection that gas will hit all-time highs in 2011-2012. But this is no surprise, because who benefits most from people buying and driving as many cars as possible? Car companies and Big Oil and politicians that serve them. There is seemingly no end to the lengths big corporations will go to screw this country and make even more billions than they already have, whether it's Big Oil, Big Gas, Big Ag or Big Pharma, and they do it through the people we elect to office. These people have proven they do not care about America.

So we could be employing thousands of construction workers to create a nation-wide rail system that would save people money on gas, parking and car maintenance, while greatly reducing our carbon emissions and spurring economic development along the rail lines, but these jerks are killing rail projects that have already started. Meanwhile, China, Japan, Korea and the European continent are investing billions in more high-speed rail.

Are you mad yet?


Dennis R. Lieb said...

I paid $2.99/gal for regular gas tonight...and it's November. What do we have to look forward to next summer? I'm not complaining about it...just making a point. How many people in this economy can afford to drive at those consistently high rates? When this happened in the seventies (job recession and price inflation due to gas prices at the same time) a new term had to be created for something no one had seen before: stagflation.

If one considers the true cost of bringing gasoline to market (including defending the places we import it from) we should be paying $6.00/gal or more. Who could afford that? Well maybe some could all of the time or many could some of the time but not everyone all the time.

This is why our lack of vision for an alternative mobility option like a national rail system is a national embarrasment. We are leaving no option for most people under the above scenario.

The people we just elected didn't come to these decisions yesterday. They have been somewhere between crystal clear against rail or hedging commitment until after the election. It should be no surprise then that with their political futures secured they wasted no time laying waste to the commited projects in the pipeline. At the same time, the majority of voters in these regions still poll heavily in favor of rail.

This should tell us something about either the cluelessness of the electorate or a severe inattention to policy details by voters and the media.

As for the freight rail legislation, I will defer from killing them at this point. There are a relative handful of Class I railroads in this country:

BNSF Railway (Burlington Northern-Santa Fe)
Canadian National Railway (CNR)
Canadian Pacific Railway
CSX Transportation (Formerly Chessie Systems/Cheasapeak & Ohio)
Kansas City Southern Railway
Norfolk Southern Railway (NS)
Union Pacific Railroad (UP)

NS and CSX split up the former Conrail system between them and control east coast freight...NS in the north - our region.

They range from caustiously optimistic/cooperative to deal with regarding rail (NF/BNSF) to moderatley difficult (CSX) to outright assholes (UP), hence their CEO's idiotic statements.

The stakeholder agreements are nothing new...the Class I's agreed to these in the 70's when they were allowed to bail out of passenger service by the feds in exchange for use of their tracks by Amtrak. The government should just enforce existing rules and I see no reason to add them again to this document.

In their defense, the current system doesn't compensate them enough for the damage to their track by passenger use and passenger delays take a back seat to cargo that is first priority if they are to make any money. There are solutions out there that would work for both sides and it must be frustrating to a lot of pro-rail republicans (especially at the city and state level of elected officials and agencies) who have done a lot of work and have great knowledge in shepparding the passenger rail system we already have into existance only to see it scuddled by their own party.

There are a lot of people out there - business and government, to the political left and right - who know how to do this stuff and do it well. Not being able to form a coherent plan to do it is a national disgrace.


Sal Panto, Jr. said...

In light of the rediculous rail study that was commissioned by the two counties and the LVEDC and then directed by others to reach a death sentence, the Easton-Phllipsburg Passsenger Rail Task Force that was formed by Dr. Dan Weiss of Lafayette, Mayor Wyant of Phillipsburg and myself, will begin to meet again. I also have fellow PA mayors Pawlowski and Callahan interested in being on the task force.

Our mission this time will not initially be on bringing rail to the Lehigh Valley but rather our immediate goal will be to work with Phillipsburg to get passenger rail to Phillipsburg. Once we get NJ Transit to there we will then work on getting it to Easton and then the total Valley.

The stakes are extremely high. The country is now starting to finally rethink the demise of our rail system and other regions are further ahead of us n the planning stage. This is not an overnight or even a decade project but something that we need to get on the books so that when the Federal government (as evidenced by our President who supports rail) starts to realize the economic impact and the environmental benefits we need to be ready.

This region is prime for rail and we will also be working to get rail to Bethlehem from Philadelphia.

We are trying to find compatible dates the first or second week of December for the task force to meet. I will keep you posted as to the date, time and place.

noel jones said...

Mayor Panto--thanks for posting--and for championing rail in the face of such powerful opposition from the powers-that-be. Please do keep us in the loop as planning for the Pburg line develops!

(this would have been much easier if Christie hadn't killed the tunnel to NYC...)

I heard from a friend that gas is over $3/gal again in New York. Is it asking too much that everybody get behind rail BEFORE it goes to $5?

laurabeth1976 said...

I think this type of project would be a benefit to everyone because it gives new york construction workers jobs, gives a way to avoid high gas prices, as well as a way to help protect the environment, and offers a fast way to travel. However, before this type of project is started, it is so important to really research the options and ensure that the price is fair. A great place to start is with a site like McGraw Hill's New York Construction Site. It is the only way to ensure that they will be treated fairly and that their safety will be valued. While I do work for them, I have honestly used them myself because they offer a lot of really useful information from what materials and manufacturers there are to what companies are available and what they are like. It helps you make sure you have hired a company that will take care of their workers, which helps ensure that the workers do a good job. You should check them out.

Anonymous said...

You are just plain wrong about the Class 1's especially UP. No one on the outside has any idea how much effort the UP has put into the project on the Chicago to St. Louis corridor for 110 mph. And the last time I looked, they were the only railroad who is willing to contribute a significant amount of their own money to a high speed rail related project. We deal with them on a daily basis and all you are doing is commenting on what they or their CEO has said in the public. I suggest you find his latest comments which were very supportive. The UP has done a lot more then any other Class 1 when it comes to serious modeling to determine trip times, capacity ,etc. They have put a lot of their resources to work and have spent a lot of their own money and manpower hours on our project. When it's all said and done, Illinois will have the first 110 mph corridor and it will run efficiently in terms of reliability. The UP is committed to that and it would be good if you got your facts straight.

noel jones said...

thanks for posting, laurabeth1976--the hope would be that NY/NJ contractors get work on that end, and that PA contractors would get work on this end too.

noel jones said...

Anon 9:44--thanks for posting--please indicate at the beginning of your comments if you're directing a response to a specific reader/commenter. In this case, i think you're referring to Dennis' post.

And I know that some people feel more comfortable debating anonymously, but this is a topic where I would hope everyone would feel comfortable owning their words and posting at least a moniker--this is an important public debate if we're ever to get passenger rail in our area, and readers get to know each other's "voices" by being able to follow a name or moniker through a topical thread.

Also, posting with one's name tends inspire everyone to be more civil in their arguments.

Dennis R. Lieb said...


If you have new information on UP I'm glad you shared it and that they are changing. Since you chose to attack my position without putting a name on it I am left trying to figure out whether you wish to discredit me for my position on UP without revealing yourself or because you have a conflict of interest (some connection to UP perhaps?). I'm not going to try to figure that out but I will stand by my position on UP.

This is a much bigger issue than the policy or rhetoric of one railroad, but if I have to I can state direct quotes from UP execs and anecdotal evidence of UP's inflexibility on passenger rail issues - right up to the past few years...Like it or lump it.

Mr Mayor,

Can't agree with you more about the LV Rail Study and the people who did it. We need a relocalized effort to make this work. Don't know if having the other mayor's on board is a help or hindrence at this point. In any event, we need to focus on the NJ/PA cooperation. If there is any silver lining to the ARC tunnel cancelation and other killed projects it may be the reallocation of previously approved funding (in the billiions) that may be freed up for us. Tying into a maxed out, single tunnel system in NYC may be a less than ideal option but it is all we have for now.

I wish the feds would just make this a priority and fund it. They print money for everything least we'd all get a benefit from this kind of printing.


Anonymous said...

I choose anonymity with the thought that I want to provide information and not attack any other person or their arguments.

Warren County, New Jersey is the government player in the rail game, not Phillipsburg, NJ. The county places pressure on the various state agencies and authorities for transportation enhancement.

Warren County sees three possible passenger train routes. The first, the Washington Secondary Line follows Route 57 from Phillipsburg through Washington to Hackettstown. The line is a Class 1 single track freight line owned by Norfolk Southern and connects with New Jersey Transit Montclair-Boonton and Morristown lines. These lines access Hoboken terminal. This line is one of three “candidate” lines for expanded commuter train service into Warren County. The other two proposed lines include the Lackawanna Cut Off and the extension of the Raritan Valley line to Phillipsburg. The last line is what has been discussed in Lehigh Valley service.

Warren County is obviously interested in the Washington Secondary Line because it would serve a significant population of the county from Stewartsville (suburban Phillipsburg), Washington and Hackettstown. (Service has been extended to Hackettstown).

New Jersey Transit has made a significant investment in the Lackawanna Cut off purchasing track right of way in northern New Jersey as well as advanced studies including environmental assessment. That line would cross into the northeastern corner of Northampton County. Pennsylvania planners have outlined station design beginning in Delaware Water Gap. Portland has been missed but could serve as a light rail terminal for the Lehigh Valley. The Secondary line mentioned above could easily connect with the Cut-off.

Then, there is the extension of the Raritan Valley Line which currently is described as a dream. No supporting study, plans, environmental assessments, track, etc supports this line. (Except some dreamers and a few who reject the only study that has been done.)

It’s hard to sell the third option when so much has been invested in the first two.

Phillipsburg has an unfortunate reputation in New Jersey as often being considered part of another state. True, it is included as part of the Lehigh Valley, Pa. It is apparent that there is some jealously and question whenever Phillipsburg seeks aid from Trenton. I would strongly suggest that Easton seek rail service with the Lehigh Valley through Harrisburg and Washington. I would not lobby Trenton for Phillipsburg’s behalf. It will hurt more than it will help. If we can get financial commitments from our state and federally we could interest an extension of the Raritan line. That may be a hopeless effort, but we have little choice if we ever want to see rail.

noel jones said...

Anon 3:49--thanks for the informative post.

Dennis R. Lieb said...


I appreciate the detailed follow-up. Some of the previous decisions make me want to scream of course. It is a symptom of our age to let the other guy worry about details; to do the ground work what should be our responsibility.

If we had gotten into the game sooner in Easton we wouldn't be competing with earlier half-baked schemes for rail that bypasses the Lehigh're just reporting what you know but Delaware Water Gap as a LRT connection for Easton!?! Somebody better get serious.

The Raritan Valley Line may not have been given a fair shake yet but dark horse candidates sometimes rally from the back of the pack...especially in these upsidedown political times. A big pot of ARC Tunnel money just got freed up for other projects.

Regardless of what else may have happened so far we still are no farther from or closer to rail than any other scheme floated so far.

This town was the railroad hub of northeast America for decades. Anyone who thinks it can't happen here isn't paying attention to history.