Saturday, February 27, 2010

America's Idea Of High Speed Rail

HNTB is a well known, employee owned, architecture and engineering consulting firm specializing in sports venues but also working in road/bridges, aviation and light rail. They also prepare and distribute, on line, a publication called THINK, and in that preparation conduct many opinion surveys. One of their latest concerns High Speed Rail.
New America THINKS survey results from HNTB Corporation illustrate transit and passenger rail remain top of mind after the Obama administration’s $8 billion high-speed rail grant announcement last month.

Nearly nine in ten (88 percent) Americans are currently open to high-speed rail travel for long-distance travel within the United States. While this is a strong majority, that support is down slightly from the 94 percent America THINKS recorded in March 2009.
This is much higher than I thought it would be and if I were a pessimist, I would swear that these were rosy liberal government projections. Don't get me wrong, I have been pushing (and dreaming of) High Speed Rail since the '70s, unfortunately, the federal money that could have (or should have) been spent on it was mandated for highways.
While general interest may have slowed, there’s still a great deal of support for passenger rail enhancements overall. More than four in five (83 percent) Americans agree public transit and high-speed rail infrastructure should receive a larger share of federal funding than they do now.
I guess my next question would have to be, Does congress know this? Then I realize that Congress doesn't care. There are no lobbyists from major corporations beating down their doors, throwing cash at them for their votes. Major corporations, the big three automakers and the large energy companies all realize that their fortunes could turn on a decision to increase mass transit opportunities in America.

Our American automakers at one time made what appeared to be obscene profits but in recent years have lost billions. Our trucking industry, at one point appeared to be choking the life out of America's freight railroads. The large oil companies are still raking in huge profits due to the world's unquenchable thirst for oil despite a demonstrated decline in availability. Even if you don't suscribe to the concept of Peak Oil, it is becoming clear that the way that thing were were simply not sustainable.

The American airline industry is imploding from similar problems of sustainability. The terror threats have only exacerbated the continuing delays encountered by the traveling public. An aging air control system and declining on-time performance figures posted by the airlines are making some people think twice about flying as a travel option. With a possible lack of available fuel (or at least much more expensive fuel) and few viable alternatives, airlines may be a dying industry except for coast-to-coast or overseas flights.

This may coincide with another study requested by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in California about the effects of High Speed Rail on the Bay Area. SH&E, a Virginia-based aviation firm has concluded that the three Bay Area airport could see a loss of 6 million passengers by 2035. That assumes that the system would be operational by 2020 AND that the airline industry will still be operating.

It is well documented that in Europe(particularly Spain) and China that the bullet trains have seriously eroded the airline industry's clientele. In America, even Amtrak's Acela service- a limited medium speed service- from New York to Washington has garnered approximately 62% of the traveling public between those two cities.

Lexington, of course, has been left out of any consideration for High Speed Rail, medium speed rail, commuter rail, regional rail or any other mode of mass transit in, around, or beyond the limited bus service that we have.

I tell you, we are going to have to start really thinking locally and begin to do some of these things for ourselves. Congress will only do it for those corporations who offer leverage. The idea of "government of the people, by the people and for the people" began to die shortly after Abraham Lincoln declared that it "should not perish from this earth". If we want it back, then we will have to take it back.

I wish us luck.


Ted said...

Think of it. If the US weren't involved in so many wars, the Fed could afford to build the entire US HSR system. So far, what little money it has committed is spread too thin for success. Is Washington paying attention?

Streetsweeper said...

Ted, Washington has not listened to anyone but the corporations since the "robber barons" of the late 19th Century. When we stop supporting the corporations, then OUR money will stop flowing to Washington to be used for THEIR purposes.