Mystery Train

How has California’s high-speed rail project survived for 14 years without a plan, a budget, or a single accomplishment?

If you were looking to take some easy shots at government waste and abuse, you’d have a hard time topping California State Auditor Elaine M. Howle’s recent assessment of the Golden State’s 14-year-old high-speed rail project. The California High Speed Rail Authority, she writes in a 47-page report issued at the end of April, “paid at least $4 million of invoices for which it had no evidence…that the contractors had performed the work invoiced” and “does not generally ensure that invoices reflect work performed by contractors.”

The Authority’s free-spending ways become even more clear in a spot-check by the auditor: “Of 22 regional contractor invoices we reviewed, the Authority paid 20, totaling $6.9 million, without documenting that the Program Manager had performed a required review.…It spent $46,000 on furniture for its Program Manager’s use based on an oral agreement.” The Authority’s plans also “lacked detail” about ridership projections for the train, about where its funds will come from, about whether state, local, or federal agencies or private partners will be paying for the project, and about how the Authority would manage risk.

As if to drive the point home, Howle singles out the leg of the bullet train line that is generally considered the simplest, cheapest, and shortest. “Creating a viable funding plan may be a challenge as matched funding for the least expensive corridor eligible for Recovery Act funds—Los Angeles to Anaheim—amounts to $4.5 billion, while projected costs total $5.5 billion,” Howle writes. She adds that “the regional contractor working on the Los Angeles-to-Anaheim corridor completed 81 percent of planned hours but spent 230 percent of planned dollars.”

The auditor’s report is full of such grotesque details. (Among other things, it appears the Authority has done no research on the project’s potential revenue, including such no-brainers as an analysis of ridership on existing high-speed trains.) If you want the short version, just read the audit’s title: “High-Speed Rail Authority: It Risks Delays or an Incomplete System Because of Inadequate Planning, Weak Oversight, and Lax Contract Management.”

And that’s just the bullet train’s most recent pan. Earlier in the year, the state’s legislative analyst’s office noted that the Authority’s plan contains no timeline and no specifics and that it “appears to violate the law” by using bond funds to subsidize its operations. (The Authority now claims to have corrected this problem, and it recently hired a $375,000-a-year CEO to help get the project on track.) Since 1996—twice as long as the Transcontinental Railroad took from approval to completion in the 1860s—the bullet train project has cost taxpayers more than $250 million, yet not one millimeter of track has been laid.

If all those taxpayers were in California, we could at least take comfort in knowing that only the guilty are being punished. But the bullet train is the centerpiece in President Barack Obama’s national rail plan, and this spring California became the recipient of $2.25 billion in federal funding. Together with $9 billion in bond funds that state voters approved in 2008, that takes care of a little more than one-fourth of the project’s projected $43 billion cost. (Comparisons with the Bay Bridge expansion and the Boston “Big Dig” suggest the final price tag will end up closer to $100 billion—and probably more, because the state’s dire fiscal situation and degraded credit status mean it will be paying higher interest rates in the future.) The good news is that the federal funds are contingent on the project being underway by September 2012, so they will probably end up not being disbursed.

The project is a high-decibel example of the magical thinking that takes hold when people talk about trains. A few years ago, when the rail bonds were being debated, I participated in the quaint ritual of an editorial board meeting at the Los Angeles Times in which we debated how to “weigh in” on this critical issue. While I, the team’s only mass transit rider, had the handicap of knowing what I was talking about, I was nonetheless pleased at the group’s readiness to acknowledge that the high-speed rail project offered only anemic ridership levels, endless subsidies, and a strong likelihood of never happening. But in the end, of course, we ran with an editorial titled “Believe in the Bullet Train.” The piece complained that “critics…base their arguments on the past, not the future.”

The bullet train also exemplifies the arrogance and Bourbon high-handedness with which grand plans get made. Several times the California High Speed Rail Authority has been caught mapping out bullet train alignments and then failing to notify homeowners whose properties would be slated for seizure via eminent domain. The current plan would have the 220-mile-per-hour train running through well-populated residential areas. It also pits the Authority against Union Pacific over track resources, meaning the bullet train would essentially replace freight—the one genre of rail transport that remains viable and important to the economy—with a passenger rail project that has no hope of ever becoming sustainable.

Finally, the bullet train is a case study in the immortality of a bad idea. While the train itself may never become a reality, sheer political will makes the train project impossible to kill. “The project has been fighting every year to stay alive,” says Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, a watchdog group that supports a rail project in principle but is critical of the Authority. “So they did what they had to do to stay alive, because that’s better than being dead.” 

After 14 years of no life signs, how can you tell the difference? Amtrak used to try and lure riders with the slogan “There’s Something About a Train That’s Magic.” In reality, we know that magical trains exist only in cartoons. 

Contributing Editor Tim Cavanaugh (bigtimcavanaugh@gmail.com) is a writer in Los Angeles. His website is simpleton.com.

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  • Suki||

    Good morning reason!

  • Jerry||

    Morning Suki.

  • Suki||

    Hi Jerry

  • ||

  • Rich||

    "I think we've all gone into a department store and seen a naked mannequin at one point in our lives."

    You know who else saw a naked mannequin at one point in his life?

  • Suki||

    Hi RS!

  • yusefyk||

    Please stop it.

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    Our Betters don't need to accomplish anything to be Our Betters. STFU and fork over some more $$ for the train.

  • Rahm Emmanuel’s kippah||

    My father worked for a railway. He was asked to implement GPS tracking of engines back in the early days of public access to the GPS system. (Contrary to public belief and any number of movies where they watch train locations on a screen, few railroads have or had direct tracking of their rolling stock.) At the time he estimated the cost per engine of the systems at around $150K, IIRC, including the infrastructure to track them (not just the GPS units on the trains). He was working on it when the railroad got a federal grant to do it and then the amount magically ballooned to well over $1m/engine and he got booted in favor of the expensive, well-connected outside consultant who knew jack about the actual task at hand.

    My father’s plan would have had the trains fitted within 18 months. The federal grant was for three years and at the end of the time not a single engine had a GPS unit and the money was gone.

    That experience taught me a lesson about what free money does and how it corrupts the process and may account for much of my libertarian sentiment today. When the railroad had to spend its own money to meet a real business need, it would have met its goals and gotten something. But with free money pouring in like rain, nothing was required and nothing happened.

    (My father retired shortly thereafter and when he did the railroad found that the three guys they hired to replace him couldn't cut the load and so had to hire him back on a three-year contract...)

  • ||

    That is a great story. I had similar experiences in the military with government contracting. When the units made small purchases with their own set amount of funds using an impact credit card, needed supplies always were on time and very cheap. When the amount got large enough you had to go through the contracting office. That meant it had to be bid and the contract was subject to all sorts of small business and minority set asides. So, if you were buying say a server and a bunch of desktop computers, rather than going down to a known business who would set the whole thing up in a week and come back and fix anything that was wrong, you had to bid the contract which inevitably resulted in some connected local good old boy small business getting the bid taking five times as long and totally fucking up the job. There is a reason why we get so little effective government for so much money we spend.

  • Jason||

    In other words, when the purchase was large the decision making was based on politics instead of need.

  • ||

    In other words, when the purchase was large the decision making was based on politics instead of need.

    When power becomes concentrated.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Fifty years from now, Tim, high-speed rail will be a reality, pretty much, in many areas, and boy will you feel embarrassed.

  • poopy||

    Rail will never work in this country because people don't want it and won't use it.
    They could build the greatest high speed rail system in the world and people would still choose to drive or take a plane.

  • ||

    Taxpayers subsidize every rider on Amtrac to the tune of $453 plus the fare the rider pays. That Amtrac ride from NJ to NY costs as much as a round-trip free-market flight coast to coast.

    Any politician who talks about rail should be immediately removed from office.

  • ||

    What's really irritating is that Amtrak has known for decades that the Northeast Corridor, as it stands, can never be a true high speed rail corridor (too many curves, through too many neighborhoods), yet they persist in buying into the fantasy. So you get the Acela, an overpriced, overweight system that increases the average speed to about 68 miles per hour between Philadelphia and NY, shaving off all of 15 minutes from normal train times.

  • ||

    But with *great* contracts to Acela!

  • Colonel_Angus||

    I wouldn't call airlines free market services. That's a whole other mess created by government market interference and subsidies through the entire history of airline travel. I compare it to the original railroad land grant bubble.

  • ||

    At any point in time, does that include economic self-sufficiency?

  • ||

    Does it benefit passengers more than driving and/or flying? It doesn't? OK, then shut your hole.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Dude, I think Vanneman was joking.

  • Jason||

    Kind of like how the market ready electric car is perpetually 50 years away...

  • Death Panelist of the Future||

    I'll stick with my 2047 Ford Hover Car XTi, thank you. It ain't much, but it gets me where I need to go, and I just paid it off.

  • ||

    Really? Where'd you get financing?
    I asked about financing mine and the bank told me to get stuffed.

  • ||

    Since the car is in the future, it's a backward loan: you start by paying principal and eventually all you're paying is interest. It is (will be) a new government-mandated program to keep the banks and auto companies solvent.

  • Chinny Chin Chin||

    Fifty years from now, Tim, high-speed rail will be a reality, pretty much, in many areas, this country's version of the Pyramids (vast crumbling edifices that never produced anything but amazement that they were built) and boy will you feel embarrassed.

  • JoshINHB||

    This is wildly optimistic.

    More likely 50 years from now congress will appropriate $10 billion to continue the studies.

    It's been 14 years already without even starting to build anything after all.

  • ||

    I think the $250,000,000 covered the cup holders - in all fairness.
    We all know how hard it is to spend money all day without a decent latte.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Forty years from now, we'll be dead from Global Warming in every area. So Cavanaugh will be laughing all the way to the bank.

  • JohnD||

    If you're expecting trains to have an impact on "Global Warming" I have a bridge I'd like to sell you... Duh!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    FOOLISH DENIER! YOU ARE POWERLESS TO STOP THE ONSLAUGHT OF GLOBAL WARMING CLIMATE CHANGE, TRAIN OR NO TRAIN! PRAY TO WHATEVER GOD THAT YOU WILL BE TAKEN QUICKLY BY THE RISING SEAS sometime in the next 50 years.

  • MJ||

    Unfortunately, Central Florida has bought into the high-speed rail boondoggle, so it's not just the insane states like CA. What's been amusing is wathching the legislators insist that the freight lines allow the passenger rail to use their track but also assume full liability for any accidents.

  • Orlando Shrugged||

    Too bad Florida has no mountain tunnels.

  • Florida||

    Sure we do: Space Mountain.

  • Orlando Shrugged||

    True. I used to print promotional posters for Disney. After the third or fourth Space Mountain-related death, I added the tagline (as a joke) YOU COULD DIE!­­™ They were not amused.

  • ||

    Do you have a link to these Space Mountain deaths? I've never heard of anyone dying on that ride.

  • Fatwa Issuer||

    I added the tagline (as a joke) YOU COULD DIE!­­™

    You'll be hearing from my lawyer.

  • Orlando Shrugged||

    In all fairness, by "Space Mountain-related deaths" I include Mission: Space, The Monorail, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Twirling Teacups. Also post-traumatic fright syndrome caused by seeing giant cartoon heads on human bodies.

  • ||

    Ah. Nevermind then.

  • Orlando Shrugged||

    This site could be fun:

    http://www.rideaccidents.com/

  • ||

    lol, the only profitable high-speed rail that will ever exist will be rollercoasters.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Florida's not an insane state?

  • ||

    No state without a state income tax can be entirely insane.

  • ||

    This is the state that couldn't even count votes correctly. I could definitely see them going the train route. But how the octagenarians will figure out train schedules is beyond me.

  • ||

    We didn't miscount votes. We rigged an election.

  • ||

    What's been amusing is wathching the legislators insist that the freight lines allow the passenger rail to use their track but also assume full liability for any accidents.

    IIRC the freight lines were built using eminent domain authority granted by the government. In exchange for this, the railways were expected to allow other lines' trains to use their tracks. The entity responsible for maintaining the track assumes responsibility for accidents caused by poor track maintenance, signal failure, or anything other than rolling stock failure or train operator error.

    This is not a defense of bullet train boondoggles, but a simple reality check.

  • ||

    Tonio|7.13.10 @ 9:49AM|#
    "The entity responsible for maintaining the track assumes responsibility for accidents caused by poor track maintenance, signal failure, or anything other than rolling stock failure or train operator error."
    Not arguing, just asking.
    What happens when trackage designed for 60MPH freight loads is asked to handle 150MPH (yeah, I know) passenger loads?

  • Colonel_Angus||

    The common carriers have all shifted liability directly to Amtrak. Even in cases where say CSX has been found responsible for Amtrak related deaths, Amtrak pays CSX to pay victims.

    Not all railroad lines were built with land grants.

  • ||

    You make it sound like Florida is not insane. I find that unlikely, especially when we're talking about central Florida.

  • Fluffy||

    The liberal fascination with high-speed rail is funny in the same way that the liberal fascination with high density "smart growth" is funny:

    After liberals destroy something with statism, they grow nostalgic for it and try to bring it back with...more statism.

    We already had a country with high-density urban areas connected by rail lines. The statist planners killed it because they hated it. Now that it's dead and gone, the statist planners have decided they love it again and want to bring it back.

    Actually, if I sat down to think about it, I could probably think of a lot more things that the liberals killed that they now want back. Localvorianism, multiculturalism, distributed power generation, the auto industry...the list goes on.

  • DJF||

    It was the “progressives” who demanded the taxpayer pay for paving the roads, this allowed autos/buses to out compete the railroads and trolley’s which had to pay for their own track and its maintenance. Not only did the US have a massive private passenger rail system it also had a huge privately owed trolley and interurban system in most cities. Many of the routes for railroad/interurban/ trolley’s being built or proposed using tax money today are former rights of way of private routes from a hundred years ago that were destroyed by the progressives road funding

  • jc||

    The highway system was a defense department initiative, created after we were blown away by the nazi created autobahn, during wwII

  • ||

    Correct, in general, except that Eisenhower's conviction that a national highway system originated with his accompanying the Transcontinental Motor Convoy of 1919. His observation of the German Autobahn system merely reinforced his belief.

  • ||

    +1 for interesting historical anecdote.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    It was still a massively overbuilt socialist system. A more reasonable highway system suitable for domestic defense could have been constructed privately.

  • Brett||

    The Insterstate Highway System was fully paid for by the frederal fuel tax which opperated like a user fee. A portion of fuel taxes now goes to mass tranportation, a much larger chunk goes to this use in Europe.

    There is no reason Interstate highways could not be privatized, but even as a government project it is sustainable, the same is just not true for rail.

  • DJF||

    And what about all the rest of the roads? The Interstate Highway System is not much use without them.

  • DJF||

    Of course there is a good reason why the Interstate Highway system should not be privatized since it would be the privatization of theft. The US government used its eminent domain powers to take the land they built the highways on and privatizing this would mean giving the stolen land to private individuals and corporations

  • ||

    At the time that most of the interstate system was built, upwards of ninety percent of highway right of way aquisitions were accomplished through straight purchase transactions, in that the property owner accepted the state's first offer to buy.

    All highway right of way purchases begin with a simple offer to purchase. Condemnation only comes into play when that offer is rejected.

    Contrary to popular belief, eminent domain is an extremely costly way to aquire property.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Privatize it anyway. And allow local streets to revert back to ownership by adjacent property owners as public easements, and allow the owners to maintain (or ignore) as they please.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Don't forget urban renewal, which was replaced by housing projects.

  • Jason||

    It's the progressive romanticization of the past... kind of like the Communist romanticization of the communist prehistory and the Fascist romanticization of the Roman Empire...

  • TXLimey||

    But if we don't build trains then how will we need a strong central government to make sure they run on time?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    High speed rail is based on the "Field of Dreams" strategy:

    If you build it, they will come.

  • Orlando Shrugged||

    In their pants.

  • The Man||

    What? When they have their hands in your pants already.

  • William Murderface||

    "I woke up with a clown's hand in my pants. That's what I did today."

  • ||

    When I was 11 years old and wanted to go to the movie theater I thought there should be pneumatic tubes connecting everything so people could just sit and ride really fast to wherever they were going. When I was 16, I started to drive. Pneumatic tubes became useless to me. Trains are the same for anywhere that has ample parking or an airport nearby.

  • ||

    Personally, I think the government should subsidize teleportation technology. May as well go all the way.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    "The current plan would have the 220-mile-per-hour train running through well-populated residential areas."

    Sounds awesome. This shouldn't be a valid argument against the trains if they were a private enterprise. Motherfuckers should stay off the tracks.

  • skr||

    it will never run that fast through populated areas. The speed is limited by law so they will travel at the same speed as conventional rail while costing much much more.

  • Jason||

    And if you have to stop at every podunk town whose votes Congressmembers needed, you're never going to get up to anywhere near high speed.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    100+ could be done safely in urban areas, even without a completely grade separated right of way.

    Federal mandated speed limits are based mainly on track condition and signal systems. Many existing lines ran at higher speeds before the feds mandated positive control signaling for anything higher than 79 mph- which was a huge factor in killing off private passenger routes.

  • Heartless Libertarian||

    "90% of Americans support mass transit for other people." -the Onion

    I don't think there's a mass transit system in this country that isn't subsidized to some level. If they charged enough in fares to cover their operating costs, they wouldn't have enough riders.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    Most of them don't have enough riders even with a subsidy.

  • ||

    High speed rail only makes sense if it crosses multiple faul zones. If we could just have a couple of lines from LA to Las Vegas, that would make sense.

    At least as much sense as hiring an utterly incompetent community organizer wannabe to be president.

  • ||

    It was 98%, but close enough. The Onion almost always gets everything right.

    "Improving public transportation will do a great deal of good, creating jobs, revitalizing downtown areas, and reducing pollution," Sager said. "It also means a lot to me personally, as it should cut 20 to 25 minutes off my morning drive."

    "People need to realize that public transportation isn't just for some poor sucker to take to work," Collier said. "He should also be taking it to the shopping mall, the supermarket, and the laundromat."

  • Fluffy||

    Here's my favorite morning link:

    http://www.burlingtonfreepress.....ning-steam

    The Congress might institute a system of production controls to punish dairy farmers who are too efficient. Here's the money quote:

    The legislation, also sponsored in the House by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., would charge farmers a payment if they produce more than a set amount of milk, Sanders said. That money would be distributed to farmers who stay within their allowable growth rate.

  • ||

    That is straight out of the New Deal. These people didn't understand economics then and they don't now seventy years later. They never make the connection that more efficiency is a societal good. They only see the downside to everything. You and I see more efficient farm production meaning cheaper food and a richer country. They just see family farmers who can't make it. Then when people can't afford food because of artificially high prices, their solution is just to redistribute money. Their solution is always more control. It is never more prosperity.

  • ||

    These people didn't understand economics then and they don't now seventy years later.

    They, the powers that be, understand the economics just fine. They just don't care.

  • ||

    Maybe so. Of course it doesn't really matter be it ignorance or malice the result is the same.

  • Jason||

    The important thing is people having jobs... cost of living be damned.

    Of course, then Congress will pass living wage legislation.

  • ||

    Have him executed at once.

    This sort of behavior is demoralizing for the ordinary soldiers and citizens who are trying to lead normal, simple, unexceptional lives. I think things are difficult enough as it is without these emotional people rocking the boat.

  • Brett||

    In Canada eggs, chickens, pork and milk are controled by a marketing board which issues quotas, for thousands of dollars. These quotas are intended to limit production giving the board monopoly power over price. Wheat exports from prarie provinces must be through the CWB. Beef is exempt from supply managment through because of groups like the Saskatchewan stock Gorwers Association and Western Stock Growers Association which went to great effort to stop supply managment in the 1970's.

  • Fluffy||

    And a second great quote:

    Larger farms in the Midwest and South, which have lower production costs, drive down the price farmers are paid for milk by increasing production, she said, putting small New England farms at risk.

    “There has to be a change,” Kennett said.

    Right. We MUST CHANGE a situation where operators with lower production costs outcompete operators with higher production costs.

    I know! We'll fine the guys with low production costs, and hand that money to guys with high production costs!

    "Ayn Rand villains aren't realistic depictions of human beings." - Assholes

  • East Coast Elitist||

    But if we aren't able to buy more expensive local produce, how are we supposed to know that we are better than the plebes who go to super markets?

  • ||

    How much is the arugula where you live?

  • Hate Potion Number Nine||

    Right on! Let's force smaller farmers into debt and poverty - but you're not social darwinists.

  • Fluffy||

    The only solution to overproduction is for the least efficient producers to go out of business.

    There's no "right" to produce a product in quantities greater than that demanded by the public and get paid for it.

    Some people who are currently dairy farmers need to do something else with their land, capital and time. Voila! Lower production. We don't need some Kafka Machine system where the efficient farmers are penalized to help the inefficient ones.

    Raise goats. Or llamas. Or buffalo. Or frickin' bears. "No! I must raise cows and milk them, even if there's already too much milk on the market! If you deny me this birthright you are a social darwinist!"

  • Hate Potion Number Nine||

    Define "efficient". If I flood a market with a cheap low-quality good (and quality is often costly) does that make me more efficient? Does that make me moral? All you need to do is look at the example of Microsoft, where cozy deals (not influenced by evil government regulations but by all-American business) allowed a greater market share than if MS had to stand alone on product quality.

  • East Coast Elitist||

    If the difference in quality does not justify the increase in production costs and therefore the increase in price of the product, then yes, producing "cheap, low-quality" goods is more efficient. And of course, there is nothing immoral about providing a good that people demand at a price they are willing to pay.

    All you need to do is look at the example of Microsoft, where cozy deals (not influenced by evil government regulations but by all-American business) allowed a greater market share than if MS had to stand alone on product quality.

    [Citation needed]

  • Fluffy||

    How about none of us define "efficient" and just let people who want to enter the business of dairy farming enter it, and let people who want to buy milk buy it, and then see who's still in business five years from now?

    If you don't like "labels" we don't have to call it anything at all.

  • T||

    Microsoft won, in part, on networking effects, which are independent of product quality.

  • Rahm Emmanuel’s kippah||

    where cozy deals (not influenced by evil government regulations but by all-American business) allowed a greater market share than if MS had to stand alone on product quality.

    Two points:

    1. If you think MS's position wasn't achieved in at least a substantial part through manipulation of government and regulation, you really don’t have a clue how the game is played. Patent trolling (MS engaged in it a lot) is an attempt to use regulation to game the system, and MS engaged in all sorts of litigation to get its way and then cried when litigation was used against it. But without government regulation that benefited it, MS wouldn't be where it is.

    2. “If I flood a market with a cheap low-quality good (and quality is often costly) does that make me more efficient?” No, but it means that you’re serving a market niche. If people want to buy the crap, why is it your job to stop them. If they don’t want to buy it and want to pay for better quality, that should be their choice. Your argument is that our merdiful overlords know better than we do and therefore our choices must be curtailed lest we make the wrong ones. I can think of a lot of people who would trade cheap and low quality for expensive and higher quality and that choice should be theirs.

    where cozy deals (not influenced by evil government regulations but by all-American business) allowed a greater market share than if [the small farmers] had to stand alone on product quality.

    If I just change “small farms” for Microsoft in what you wrote, there is a pretty good description of Welch’s bill. Small farmers will have a cozy relationship with government to make sure that their competitors who invest in better equipment, better feed, or whatever it takes to increase production will be handicapped by that relationship and can’t get larger market share.

    I really don’t get the mindset that says that we have to punish success in the name of “fairness.” It inevitably ends up rewarding mediocrity and retarding beneficial change. I don’t care how much you idealize Mr. Soderstrup and his cow as part of our heritage, but do it on your own dime, not on all of ours.

  • Hate Potion Number Nine||

    lol Again with the "evil little guys oppressing the big guys" routine. Seriously, who has more pull with the government? Farmer Bob Shitwhistle or Multi-national Monsanto? That pull should not be there at all - I'll agree with you there - but big money holds the cards here.

    I strongly recommend that you take a good long look at your corporate overlords and ask yourself how they became the helpless, poverty-stricken victims (as they say) and still control most of the wealth of this country.

  • Jason||

    Hate Potion Number Nine: The corporate structure is government interference in the market.

  • ||

    Hate Potion Number Nine|7.13.10 @ 12:07PM|#
    "I strongly recommend that you take a good long look at your corporate overlords and ask yourself how they became the helpless, poverty-stricken victims (as they say) and still control most of the wealth of this country."

    I strongly recommend you stop listening to the voice of Elvis' alien love-child in your head.

  • Rahm Emmanuel’s kippah||

    I strongly recommend that you go make these comments on a conservative web site where your characterizations of libertarian attitudes towards corporations may be true. You'll find little love for corporate welfare/overlords here. Instead you'll find consistent criticism of how they game the system. But when inefficient farmers try to directly steal the profits of more efficient ones, we’ll be consistent and criticize them too. There is a consistency to this: the gubmit shouldn't be the one picking winners and losers, whether the winners or losers are corporations or Good Famer Soderstrup and Bessie. Nor should the government be setting up milk quotas and price structures just to make our merdiful overlords feel good about how they are helping farmers (or something like that.)

  • DJF||

    “”””The only solution to overproduction is for the least efficient producers to go out of business.”””
    How about if we first make the most subsidized go out of business first. And that would include the subsidies for roads, ports, corporation personhood, the US Navy providing protection to trade around the world, etc

  • Tim||

    Not disagreeing with you but, in fairness to farmers, usually they can't just sell off lots because the fooking towns and states have hissies about "the loss of open land".

  • ||

    Henry Ford said 90 years ago that it makes more sense to join a society to change the course of the Sun than to attempt to stifle competition.

  • ||

    Didn't he also say Hitler got it right?

    Just sayin....

  • ||

    What about BEAR MILK? Do you think I could get a subsidy for not producing that affordably also?
    Man... I have a list of stuff!
    I'M GONNA BE RICH!

  • Bear Farmer||

    Jus' grab the teat and squeeze, son. Pay no attention to them teeth and razor sharp claws, ol' Bess prolly don't remember how to use them, nohow.

  • ||

    Speaking as someone who has taken a train from Cincinnati to Washington D.C., rail travel sucks. It is slow and will trigger motion sickness if you have any propensity at all.

    And for the asswipes that think it can be faster... every congressman, senator, and state is going to want it to stop in every little flyspeck of a town they can get away with. The fastest train is still slow when it stops every twenty miles.

  • ||

    It works in Europe, but the distances are smaller. And for whatever reason, Europeans seem to do it well.

  • kinnath||

    It works because traffic density is so bad, it is actually faster and cheaper for an individual to ride subsidize rails than to drive a car with gasoline at $8 a gallon due to taxes.

  • Mark||

    Right, but there gas is 3-4 times more expensive, and they subsidize the heck out of the mass transit. And people still drive if they can.

  • ||

    True. People are definitely poorer for their being trains in Europe. And Americans see the trains on vacation and think it is great. Or they are in the military and get to buy their gas on post at American prices. That is different than having to live there.

  • robc||

    When I lived in Switerland and didnt own a car (actually, I did own one, but it was sitting in the USofA) the trains were handy. Of course, the night we went into Zurich for a movie, I rode with someone with a car, it was more convenient.

    { Dances With Wolves - subtitled in French and German, even the parts in Sioux. Since I dont speak Sioux, big parts of the movie (or French or German) I lost big chuncks of the movie. I think I liked it better than way. }

  • Jason||

    The only German you need:

    Wo ist die Toilette, bitte?

  • Rhywun||

    That's because

    1. they have to - there's not enough room for American-style sprawl
    2. infrastructure is generally based on need rather than politics
    3. they're moving toward privatization in most countries
    4. fares range from somewhat higher to much higher than here

  • ||

    Also worth mentioning, is that in most of these places where they want to put in rail, high speed or not, you still need to drive to get to the train station.

    Here in OH the all but a couple of stops will be in big city downtown areas. So you will have to drive to the station, pay to park, then pay (subsidized) the fare. Then once you get to your destination city. You'll need a car again. But then, no politician or MSM type looks that far into the equation.

  • poopy||

    It is slow and will trigger motion sickness if you have any propensity at all.
    When I was a child my mother took me on a train from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
    I spent the entire time puking my guts out, both ways.

  • ||

    I like rail travel. Took a train fram IL to CO as a kid once, and regularly rode the train between Moscow and Leningrad. It was fun as a kid. And it was pretty damn convenient in the Soviet Union for me, because I didn't have a car.

    But because I have a car now, rail couldn't possibly be as convenient. In the end, when it comes to public transport, you have to go where They want you to, when They want you to. Further, rail is just not viable without the population density of the NE corridor or of Europe--even then, I'm not sure it could be sulf-sustaining.

    A Planet Moron take on this transportation of the future: http://tinyurl.com/28lgcfo

  • ||

    In Soviet Russia, you make train sick.

  • creech||

    Hell, everyone else's hobby is subsidized, why not the rail nut's?
    Robert Poole would probably be out there trackside with his camera, but at least he's against this expensive nonsense.

  • ||

    Is there a chance the track will bend?

  • -||

    I hear they're going to build it with Pelosi Metal.

  • ||

    It's really more of a Shelbyville idea...

  • ||

    not on your life, my hindu friend

  • ||

    This is so right on, I don't even know what to say. The fools in this country that spout on about the "bullet train" have probably never even been to Japan. In Japan, and in Europe, short distances and centralized population densities allow for an economically viable hi speed rail solution. Outside of the Northeastern USA, the enormity of the land and population spread simply forbid an economically viable rail solution here. Put another way, that's WHY TRAINS DISAPPEARED ON ADVENT OF THE AIRPLANE. Obama and his team of idiots can build whatever they want, and subsidize the ticket prices down to levels acceptable to the public, but they idea that it will provide fiscal/social benefit is just idiotic. Which is of course why it appeals to clueless/fiscally irresponsible progressives

  • ||

    But even in Europe, high-speed rail carries only a small fraction of passenger traffic. High-speed rail works better in France than anywhere else in Europe, but there is plenty of sprawl around Paris, a huge autoroute network, and the traffic around Paris is unbelievably bad -- significantly worse than L.A. The idea that Europeans ride trains instead of drive is totally nuts.

  • Jason||

    It's my understanding that the auto traffic is so bad is because the roads originated as carriage routes and are much too narrow for cars.

  • Jason||

    I've always thought the reason that trains disappeared is that to connect a city to all other cities via air you only have to build an airport. On the other hand, if you want to connect a city to all other cities via rail, you have to build a train station and n-1 tracks.

  • Senator Pork||

    How can we risk not having the longest, hardest train in the world? You want Chinese and Frenchies to beat us us?
    We gotta build this thing and give it nucular engines!

  • robc||

    Ive always wondered if without interstate subsidization, if most long haul shipping wouldnt be done by train, with trucks for local distribution.

  • T||

    What little I've seen on the subject indicates it would. There's more regulatory effects than just the subsidies that made trucks more attractive, if I recall correctly.

  • ||

    robc|7.13.10 @ 10:55AM|#
    "Ive always wondered if without interstate subsidization, if most long haul shipping wouldnt be done by train, with trucks for local distribution."
    First, I'm not sure the interstates are subsidized; IIRC, the fuel taxes more than pay for them. That's what the pols are grabbing for their high-speed-pork.
    Secondly, anyone who's driven in Europe knows full well that whatever the passenger ridership is, freight is simply *not* carried by rail. It's on the freeways in turcks and it's there to the extent that you either force your way into a line of trucks to get to an exit, or you get in the exit lane 3 cities before you want to exit.

  • Ron||

    It's my understanding as to why there are so many trucks on our freeway system is because freight rail, which is private,is running so well that it is actually overbooked even overburdend. They would build more freight rails but the enivro's scream every inch hence the massive cost and backlog. Much like our airline industry it too, being private is overburden, but again any new airport that would relieve the burden is stopped by enviro's.

  • ||

    robc, don't forget Intermodal freight transport.

    Domestically one of the most common ways is for a shipper to load a trailer at his site, have a tractor haul it over the road to a rail terminal, where the trailer is loaded onto a railcar for long distance shipping to another facilty where it is then offloaded and taken over the road again to either an end customer or to a distribution warehouse.

    In every phase the parties involved use the lowest cost transportation method available. If it were cheapest to move the cargo by road the whole length of the trip, that's what the parties would opt for.

  • ||

    Stalin would know how to stabilize those pesky milk prices.

  • ||

    There is not a single rail system in America that is self-supporting. None. Public support for rail should be considered verification of idiocy, and should result in institutionalization.

  • T||

    Wait, does that include cargo? Or are you speaking of just passenger?

  • Rahm Emmanuel’s kippah||

    Cargo is profitable because train distribution for bulk goods is incredibly efficient, much more so that trucks. But passengers aren’t bulk goods and most of the efficiencies don’t apply in the case of passenger trains. In fact you could argue that moving people is about the dumbest thing you can do with a train.

  • ||

    if passengers aren't bulk goods, then why is the organizer in chief taking AZ to court over its anti-illegals law?

  • ||

    High speed rail is a great idea and will eventually become reality. We need a comphehensive transporting system consisting of road, rail and air in order to maximize our limited resources. For those who foolishly complain about subsidies, all transportation in the US and the rest of the world is subsidized. Using the fair box recovery model to illustrate this point, users whether it's the highway, FAA airport system or Amtrak, pay about 65% of the operating costs. The rest is paid for out of the general fund, property taxes or sales taxes. Long haul trucking and airlines are subsidesed by we the tax payer. We also subsidize that cheap oil through large defense budgets. Cavanaugh talks a lot about nothing in his article.

  • Bikes on Trains||

    The reason high speed rail will not work in the US, is that most cities have unusable local mass transit. It works great for me to take a train to most mid-size or large cities in Europe because you can hop off the train and easily traverse the cities using subways/trolleys/buses. Honestly where in the US other then New York can you do this? Maybe san fran? If you rolled into san diego on a train how do you expect to get around. You still need to rent a car...so wouldn't you rather just drive your own car?

  • Jason||

    You should be using a taxi.

    By using your car, you are denying taxi drivers their income which interferes with interstate commerce (see Wickard v. Filburn).

  • ||

    That's alwasy been the problem. Once you get off at the train station, how to you get around then? Maybe every train station should have rental cars available (subsidized by the government, of course).

  • ||

    Don't we have rental cars at airports? Who subsidises the
    Airports?

  • Rahm Emmanuel’s kippah||

    And your response talks about a lot of nothing too. Few here would agree with the subsidies on the other things you’re talking about and “well they get it too” doesn’t count as a reason to do something. As I noted above, trains are wickedly efficient for moving dense goods long distances. People are about the least efficient thing you can move with trains...

  • ||

    PMH|7.13.10 @ 11:20AM|# "High speed rail is a great idea and will eventually become reality."
    Assertion.

    "We need a comphehensive transporting system consisting of road, rail and air in order to maximize our limited resources."
    So?

    "For those who foolishly complain about subsidies, all transportation in the US and the rest of the world is subsidized. Using the fair box recovery model to illustrate this point, users whether it's the highway, FAA airport system or Amtrak, pay about 65% of the operating costs. The rest is paid for out of the general fund, property taxes or sales taxes. Long haul trucking and airlines are subsidesed by we the tax payer."
    So we should pick one that needs really huge subsidies?

    "We also subsidize that cheap oil through large defense budgets."
    Lefty throw-away-line, meaning nothing.

  • ||

    Sir,

    we did pick the one that needs huge subsidies, that is the oil dependent road and air based infrastructure. What do you mean by "Lofty throw away line". This isn't a partison issue, it's an issue about our economic, environmental and national security. Engaging in the left-right red state blue state paradigm is truly a waste of time. A fact that cannot be denied is that we have to maintain a huge military presence in the Middle East to feed our oil addiction. We do have alternatives and solutions, but do to policy constraints initiated by those with a vested interest in the status quo we will continue to increase our trade deficit to the tune of $877 million a day at a current price of $75 per barrell.

  • ||

    PMH|7.13.10 @ 1:53PM|#
    "What do you mean by "Lofty throw away line". This isn't a partison issue, it's an issue about our economic, environmental and national security."
    And unicorns.
    I mean it's a lefty-throw-away line, just like I posted.

    "....We do have alternatives and solutions, but do to policy constraints initiated by those with a vested interest in the status quo we will continue to increase our trade deficit to the tune of $877 million a day at a current price of $75 per barrell."
    And Pixy dust is so much cheaper, right?
    You have stated no alternatives; like it or not, petroleum is one of the major the power sources we rely on and it's not going to change anytime soon.
    Until you do come up with alternatives that both work, *and* we can afford, you have no point.

  • ||

    That was a typo on my part. Sir it appears based on your responses that you are attempting to dismiss my points yet they can easily be fact checked by objective sources, so your attempts are quite futile. It's funny that you are implying that I'm a lefty, when in actuality, I've been a registered republican for most of my adult life. I use to buy in the big oil paradigm, and I use to believe that there were no alternatives. Yet after I opened my mind and did actual research and reading on the subject, it is easy to distinguish between emotionalized political opinion and objective fact. Sir, I suggest you open your mind and let go of you political ideology and place the well being of our great nation above the opinions of political pundants constantly bombarding the airwaves.

  • ||

    PMH|7.13.10 @ 2:57PM|#
    "I use to buy in the big oil paradigm, and I use to believe that there were no alternatives. Yet after I opened my mind and did actual research and reading on the subject,..."
    And found the Big Pixy Dust paradigm to be vastly superior?
    Look, you've yet to respond to the simple fact that there are no viable alternatives.

  • ||

    I already have and I've even reccomended some reading to back up my points which can easily be fact checked. You sir may want to consider opening your mind but if you choose to remain in the "Big Pixie Dust paradigm" world of denial then thats your choice.

  • ||

    PMH|7.13.10 @ 3:32PM|#
    "I already have..."
    Where?

  • ||

    Ooops.
    Found the claims that wind and sun are going to save us!
    No, they're not.

  • Rahm Emmanuel’s kippah||

    Not until it takes less energy to produce the bloody solar panels than you’ll get out of them over their life time. That's the dirty little secret with solar. Solar is good in places where you can't bring in electric lines, but it won't save us or give us energy independence, at least not without externalities (like covering the Mojave desert) that will make enviros heads explode. They tend to like the idea but not the reality. (Of course, there is the puritan strain of environmentalism that sees humans as inherently sinful beings and that only solution as voluntary extinction if we are to redeem this world.)

  • ||

    "Energy Victory", Robert Zubrin, "Carbonics" Steven Stoft, "Alcohol can be a Gas" David Blume, "Freedom from Oil" Sandalow, "Hot, Flat and Crowded" Thomas Friedman. to name a few. These references are on my other posts.

  • Ron||

    we were in the middle east long before oil became an issue. I do believe it was Trippoli(yes from the song) where three marines hired several local mercinaries (today we call them private contractors like Blackwater and Haliburton) to free American traders who were being held captive by some other local group. You see history does repeat itself.

  • Paul||

    Obligatory Simpsons' reference:

    The Monorail Song
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEZjzsnPhnw

    I swear this is what happens.

  • ||

    "High speed rail Teleportation is a great idea and will eventually become reality."

  • Jason||

    At which point the Progressives will institute another study on the feasibility of high speed rail.

  • Christ on a Cracker||

    They should take Ohio's example. The High-Speed Train running Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland couldn't get funded. So they replaced it with a 40MPH Choo-Choo guaranteed to have zero riders-but it will cost less and get funded.

  • ||

    In New York State, we have a similar situation. Shumer and Gillibrand, as well various state politicians, keep talkng about how we esperatelyneed high speed rail projects, and have put these projects in various budgets.....this is the third time in the past 5 or 6 years that money has been allocated for high speed rail. It's as if nobody has a memory. I do!!....where did the millions/billions go that were allocated for high speed rail in the past?

  • TK||

    I thought the article was going to be a point-by-point, well-reasoned article of why high speed trains are impractical. Instead, it's a strange mish-mash of complaints about obvious corruption in one high speed train project, followed up with conclusions that are completely beside the point of the assembled evidence. For a magazine called Reason, I would expect a better showing of reason.

  • ||

    +1

  • Rahm Emmanuel’s kippah||

    Did you really expect a BLOG post to be an academic treatise? If so, I doubt anything will satisfy you.

    If only there were an example in the U.S. to disprove Tim's point… Oh wait, there isn’t. Obviously he’s not making a survey of every failed high-speed rail boondoggle, but it doesn’t take long searching on Reason or visiting Reason.org to find multiple examples to demonstrate the points you don’t like.

  • ||

    Still, we could have taken that 700b in stimulus money that was blown, and had high speed rail from coast to coast. And at the end of the day at least we would have had something to show for it.

    Also, I imagine that train ridership will be going up when gas prices start their invevitable rise again once the economy starts to turn around.

  • Michael Ejercito||


    Also, I imagine that train ridership will be going up when gas prices start their invevitable rise again once the economy starts to turn around.


    Or would airplane ridership and bus ridership go up instead?

    Not too many people commute from coast to coast, you know.

  • ||

    I don't think airplace ridership will go up because airplane ticket prices are much more closely related to the price of fuel. Bus ridership will probably go up though.

    As for commuting, most people don't do it coast to coast, but high speed rail going amongst major areas would help people.

    I'm not saying high speed rail is the holy grail, but I am saying if stimulus money was going to be spend, then at least we would have gotten something useful out of it.

  • ||

    No transportation infrastructure pays for itself. Why do you think the interstate highway system suddenly needs a “couple hundred billion dollars” in repairs? Rail, Air, Highways.....They all got created and operate with a healthy dose of subsidies, sweetheart deals, and just plain graft. “laissez-faire” had nothing to do with any of it. But they all still ended up “promoting the general welfare”, didn’t they?

    I agree that a high speed rail network is too “pie in the sky”, but upgrading and electrifying the nation's rail infrastructure is actually a very good idea. 125 mph passenger trains and freight would share (and both help pay for) the system. And it’s the only realistic way to move people and goods without using foreign fossil fuel. The defense budget subsidizing oil prices is a true statement. Not a “lefty throw away line that means nothing.” You need to pay attention to facts, whether you like them or not.

  • Strange Brew||

    Yeah cause if we didn't have that huge defense budget our biggest oil supplier the evil Canadian empire would surly destroy us all and stop selling us oil... Or maybe the #3 supplier Mexico. Is this list really so scary? http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil.....mport.html

  • ||

    Sure. And if our Navy wasn't around and Iran closed the Straight of Hormuz and shut off the worlds single largest source of oil, I'm sure the nice Mexican's and Canadian's won't charge us any more. Maybe they'll even cut the price....

    The world's economy depends on "the free flow of oil." Which is guaranteed free of charge by the U.S. Navy. Wait, we pay for the U.S. Navy....

  • Strange Brew||

    I can buy it that we subsidize all international naval transportation, but its not really specific to oil is it? If not for the US Navy could you ship anything valuable via the sea? Wouldn't it be better to state that we are subsidizing all international trade via our huge defense budget?

  • ||

    Actually it is. Oil is the master resource, a strategic commodity, without it nothing else runs. We have to keep at least one carrier battle group in the persian gulf at all times. Keeping all of our awesome troups supplied in Iraq and Afganistan is not cheap.

  • ||

    Sir, while I applaud your EIA reference, I don't believe you have an adequate understanding of this issue. Oil is a fungible product making it a world market commodity. Of the top 10 countries with the largest reserves, 8 of those 10 are OPEC nations. They use their monopoly power (preditory pricing) to control the world market and undercut any alternatives in their infancy because they have the lowest lift costs as well as significant influence over energy policy decisions. Canada's lift costs are very high and could be undercut at any time. OPEC produces the same amount they produced back in the 1970's, which gives OPEC very high unit revenue. Robert Zubrin illustrates this issue in his book "Energy Victory" which I suggest everyone read. There are other great books out there that better articulate this issue, "Freedom from Oil", "Carbonomics", "Hot, Flat and Crowded" and "Alcohol can be a Gas" to name a few.

  • poopy||

    They use their monopoly power (preditory pricing) to control the world market and undercut any alternatives in their infancy

    What alternative?
    What else has an energy density comparable to fossil fuels?
    (that was a rhetorical question, the answer is nothing)
    Show me a battery that has an energy to weight ration comparable to gasoline. It does not exist. Wind is a joke, as is solar. Hydro can produce gobs of electricity, but it has geographical limitations (and it's not portable). Hydrogen does not have an energy density comparable to fossil fuels, and it's a big time pain in the ass to transport.

    There is no grand conspiracy keeping us dependent on oil.
    It just happens to be the best fuel source currently in existence.

  • ||

    The only system that can match (or better) liquid fossil fuels are electrified railroad systems. "Apples to apples", electricity is 1/10th the cost of diesel or gasoline or aviation fuel.

    Thank you for helping me prove my initial point!!

  • poopy||

    Where does this electricity come from?
    Fossil fuels?

    I agree that rail would be great.
    But I don't think people would use it.
    I think it would be great if we had rail lines linking cities, eliminating the need for air travel except for long distances when you're in a big hurry.
    But I don't think people would use it.
    I think it would be great if we had rail linking cities with robust public transportation systems within the cities, practically eliminating the need for personal vehicles.
    But I don't think people would use it.

    You can have what you think is the greatest product in the world, but if nobody wants it it is useless.

  • ||

    Coal, nuclear, hydro, natural gas, wind, solar....You have to acknowledge that very little of the electric grid is powered off of foreign fossil fuels.

    There can be a strong disconnect between "what makes sense" vs. "will people use it?" If people didn't natural do not-so-smart things we wouldn't have to deal with shows like "Wife Swap" and "Big Brother", because nobody would be stupid enough to watch them.

    But somebody has to think ahead. Civilization's access to "cheap liquid fuel" is ending. But right now, our economy is centered around it. 3-car garages, Walmarts and their huge parking lots, potato chips shipped from China "cuz it's cheaper...." That's all gonna change in a generation.

  • ||

    MikeinNeb,

    Very articulate explanation.

  • ||

    MikeinNeb|7.13.10 @ 3:25PM|#
    "...That's all gonna change in a generation."
    Did you know that for the last 60 years that I know of, we've only had a 20 year reserve of petroleum?

  • ||

    MikeinNeb|7.13.10 @ 2:53PM|#
    "The only system that can match (or better) liquid fossil fuels are electrified railroad systems."
    Let me know when they lay tracks between the farms and my local Safeway. Oh, and between my house and the Safeway.

    ""Apples to apples", electricity is 1/10th the cost of diesel or gasoline or aviation fuel."
    Apples to alligators.
    Get electricity to where it's needed, like in an automobile.
    Suddenly, it's way more expensive!

  • ||

    Wrong. Do the math. Try disconnecting your house from your electric utility and instead power it off a gasoline generator. Lets see how much your bills go down!!

  • ||

    MikeinNeb|7.13.10 @ 4:12PM|#
    "Wrong. Do the math. Try disconnecting your house from your electric utility and instead power it off a gasoline generator. Lets see how much your bills go down!!"
    Are you really this dense?
    Your claim is this: "electricity is 1/10th the cost of diesel or gasoline or aviation fuel."
    BS.
    That comparison is valid only for fixed locations. Squeezing enough electrons into a battery sufficient to travel reasonable distances isn't currently available at any cost

  • ||

    Whose talking about batteries Ron? Not me. And an electric cantenary line over a railroad is a fixed location. That's my point. The only realistic alternative currently to liquid fuel internal combustion engines is electrified rail.

    But if you want to match wits with Sarah Palin and figure that infinite oil is just one arctic drilling site away, you go right ahead!!

  • ||

    I don't buy into conspiracies either, but one cannot deny all the tax subsidies that the oil industry enjoys. Wind and solar are not a joke and are quite viable. Once we make the transition to smart grid technology, it will be much easier to incorporate them into our generation portfolio. As far as suposedly cheap fossil is concerned, have you considered the externalities associated with their use, like excess pollution, environmental degradation and economic drain of our resources. Check out this video which can easily be fact checked. http://www.setamericafree.org/problem.html

  • ||

    I'd be interested in seeing the exact figures of the tax subsidies that petroleum gets and compare that to the taxes levied on it at various stages in the production/distribution chain. Do you have figures?

    Wind and solar have absurdly low power densities. Biofuels are worse.

  • ||

    I would beg to differ with you on the low power densities though. Ethanol has a heating value of approxmately .97 therms while a gallon of gasoline contains 1.25 therms per gallon. The strength of Ethanol lies in it's high octain which would enable higher compression ratios 15:1 enableing higher levels of efficiency per therm. Wind and solar produce plenty of power efficiently, but based on how our grid currently operates, we are unable to match load to generation. Smart grid technology would solve this. As far as oil subsidies, there is a lot of good data on the web, but I'll provide a link to a recent NYT article http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07.....bptax.html

  • ||

    You are confusing power density with energy density. Power density is the energy flow that can be extracted from a given unit of mass, volume, or area. While ethanol's energy density is about 77% that of gasoline, it is derived from biomass such as corn, which itself has a very low energy density. That means that much more area is required to produce ethanol than gasoline--hence, the low power density.

    Thanks for the link. The linked article seems to indicate that the oil industry receives various and sundry tax breaks to the tune of about $4B per year, while paying roughly $140B per year in income taxes. If the subsidies were eliminated, the industry would pay roughly $144B in income taxes. That's not really much of a difference, and it's really a stretch to compare this to the level of subsidies that "renewables" get.

  • ||

    Is energy density a relevant metric to consider? When making a comparison to Oil based transportation we have to take into account the externalities (the cost not directly incurred by the buyer or seller) associated. The BP fiasco in the gulf is an extreme example of an externality, yet there it is. It is my informed opinion that we as a country need to pursue a clean energy future. If I were asked about this a few years ago, my answer would have been drill baby drill, but after being employed in the Transportation and Utility industries for the past 25 years, I can't deny the fact that our addiction to fossil fuels is killing us.

    Based on my research, renewables receive far less tax subsidies than the oil and gas industry. The API has a disproportionate influence on energy policy in this country.

  • ||

    Is energy density a relevant metric to consider?

    Well, you seemed to think so while you thought you had a winning figure there.

    Look into developing other forms of energy? Absolutely. Lots of the subsidies going to the energy sector are for this exact purpose. Whether those subsidies, or any others, are appropriate is another discussion.

    Wreck the economy now to displace relatively cheap, efficient, available energy sources for expensive and inefficient ones? I think we should pass on that.

  • ||

    Based on my research, renewables receive far less tax subsidies than the oil and gas industry.

    Please don't keep your research secret! I have a hard time believing that renewables receive less that $4B per year in tax subsidies and publicly-funded grant. And keep in mind, again, that some of the subsidies going to "Big Oil" is for R&D into renewables.

  • ||

    PMH|7.13.10 @ 3:08PM|#
    "Wind and solar are not a joke and are quite viable."
    No, they're not.

    "Check out this video which can easily be fact checked."
    The facts may be fine. The innuendos are stupid.
    'Did you know that NYC imports almost *100%* of its food!!!???'
    So.................
    What?

  • ||

    Ron L,

    You express a valid point that New York imports 100% of it's food, but we don't have to maintain a large military presence in the heartland to ensure it's steady delivery and I don't think there is a problem of people in the heartland plotting to kill New Yorkers. Though your point may appear valid, it is way out of context as New York unfortunately has endured the horrors of violence financed by our oil addiction.

  • ||

    Excellent reference. Imagine what that money could accomplish being spent here.

  • ||

    Laying railroad tracks to everyone's home?

  • ||

    Yea, sure. We can even lay tracks from your garage to your mailbox!!:)

  • ||

    As I said before Ron L, we need a transportation system in which all components are optimized by their particular strengths, so we won't be laying tracks to your house.

  • ||

    Define "optimized"

  • ||

    From what I've read though, really only Saudi Arabia could produce that much more than they are now, and it's doubtful that the Saudi's could really increase that much.

    The cheap oil is running out fast.

  • ||

    I lived in France for 11 years, and high-speed rail (180 mph) is a reality there, although heavily subsidized by the national government.

    High-speed rail is NOT a panacea, and is only justified if it can link two major cities in less time than it takes for a person to take a taxi to an airport, go through security, fly to the other city, and take a taxi to downtown in the other city. People will ride high-speed trains if the distance traveled is less than about 400 miles.

    High-speed trains also require relatively flat terrain and very gradual curves and slopes, and avoidance of congested areas, although they can be run slowly over existing rail lines near cities. In France, high-speed rail lines thrive between Paris and Lyon and Paris and Bordeaux, through gently rolling farmland, and could possibly be feasible in similar terrain such as between Chicago and St. Louis, or Dallas and Houston.
    But in California, the only two cities large enough to support the ridership (San Francisco and Los Angeles) are separated by mountainous terrain, which makes building the railroad prohibitively expensive.
    High-speed rail should not be based on some pie-in-the-sky "green" agenda. The decision needs to be based solely on whether the train can carry passengers from downtown to downtown cheaper and faster than a plane. If not, the train is not worth building.

  • Geotpf||

    The problem with the last calculation is that there are so many variables that it is impossible to give an answer. For example, let's assume this train gets built and open for business in about a decade. What is the price of a gallon of jet fuel in 2020? Who knows. It could be the price it is today, where the train could compete only if everything goes perfectly, or it could be ten times as much, in which case the train suddenly becomes very profitable.

    In any case, since the bond issue for this train was passed, something will eventually be built. Whether or not it's the complete system is unclear at the moment.

  • ||

    But Interstate highways are cheap to build and maintain. Only about 7 to 8 billion a year out of the general fund in addition to the fuel taxes already collected.

  • ||

    That is not correct.

    http://apps.asce.org/reportcard/2005/index.cfm

    Add in an additional $1.7 TRILLION to get it to a "state of good repair."

  • ||

    MikeinNeb|7.13.10 @ 3:42PM|#
    "That is not correct.
    http://apps.asce.org/reportcard/2005/index.cfm
    Add in an additional $1.7 TRILLION to get it to a "state of good repair."

    Are you purposely posting misleading 'facts' or don't you know better?
    There is nothing in that link that says a word as to whether the Interstates are self-supporting, the number you quote refers to the total infrastructure, and the outfit which prepared the report is little other than a lobbying group.

  • ||

    From the Texas DOT:

    Do Roads Pay for Themselves?

    1. What is a traveler paying for when he or she pays state gas tax at the pump?

    State motor fuel tax is collected from all over the state and goes into a single pool of revenue—about one quarter of which goes to fund education, and about three-quarters of which goes to the state's highway fund, where it is spent on transportation uses and some non-transportation functions of government.

    Then the state receives federal funds as the state's share of the federal fuel tax; about 70 cents of every gas tax dollar Texans send to Washington comes back for road use.

    The significant point here is that historically the fuel tax paid in any locality of the state is unrelated to the road projects in that locality. Every fuel taxpayer in the state paid something for any given road—which leads to the next issue.

    2. When is a given road actually "paid for?"

    Just like your car, it never is. You may have paid the note, but maintenance and fuel costs go on as long as you own the vehicle. Once a road is built, maintenance and rehabilitation costs last its entire life, generally about 40 years.

    The decision to build a road is a permanent commitment to the traveling public. Not only will a road be built, but it must also be routinely maintained and reconstructed when necessary, meaning no road is ever truly "paid for."

    Until recently, when TxDOT built or expanded a road, no methodology existed to determine the extent to which this work would be paid off through revenues.

    The Asset Value Index, was developed to compare the full 40-year life-cycle costs to the revenues attributable to a given road corridor or section. The shorthand version calculates how much gasoline is consumed on a roadway and how much gas tax revenue that generates.

    The Asset Value Index is the ratio of the total expected revenues divided by the total expected costs. If the ratio is 0.60, the road will produce revenues to meet 60 percent of its costs; it would be "paid for" only if the ratio were 1.00, when the revenues met 100 percent of costs. Another way of describing this is to do a "tax gap" analysis, which shows how much the state fuel tax would have to be on that given corridor for the ratio for revenues to match costs.

    Applying this methodology, revealed that no road pays for itself in gas taxes and fees. For example, in Houston, the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only generating $162 million in gas taxes. That gives a tax gap ratio of .16, which means that the real gas tax rate people would need to pay on this segment of road to completely pay for it would be $2.22 per gallon. This is just one example, but there is not one road in Texas that pays for itself based on the tax system of today. Some roads pay for about half their true cost, but most roads we have analyzed pay for considerably less. To conclude, in the SH 99 example, since the traffic volume for that road doesn't generate enough fuel tax revenue to pay for it, revenues from other parts of the state must be used to build and maintain this corridor segment. The same is true across the state, meaning that, as revealed by the tax gap analysis, overall revenues are not sufficient to meet the state's transportation needs.

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/.....0&.v=9

    So you are saying that the $1.7 Trillion is made up and we really don't need to spend anything?

  • ||

    MikeinNeb|7.13.10 @ 4:19PM|#
    "So you are saying that the $1.7 Trillion is made up and we really don't need to spend anything?"
    No, I'm saying you engaged in double-talk.
    That $1.7B has no relationship to whether roads pay for themselves or not. And if you don't know that, you'd probably be better off quitting while you're only a little behind.

    "State motor fuel tax is collected from all over the state and goes into a single pool of revenue—about one quarter of which goes to fund education, and about three-quarters of which goes to the state's highway fund, where it is spent on transportation uses and some non-transportation functions of government."
    And:
    "...70 cents of every gas tax dollar Texans send to Washington comes back for road use."
    So we have at least 30% of federal fuel taxes diverted to something else and 25% of state fuel taxes diverted, not to mention "...where [some of] it is spent ...... [on] some non-transportation functions of government."
    And then I'm told that taxes don't support maintenance?
    Well, they might, if they were spent on that.

  • ||

    I gotta say it again Ron, Do Your Math!!

    The example Texas DOT gives shows a typical section of interstate generating $162 million while requiring $1 BILLION to maintain over it's lifetime. The "skimming" you are referencing doesn't come close to covering that additional $838 million. That's why the bridge in Minnesota collapsed, Michigan can't replace an 80 year old bridge, Pennsylvania can't maintain their highway system....Revenues don't support the infrastructure. No matter what transportation infrastructure it is.

  • ||

    Let's assume you're correct. That means fuel taxes ought to rise to match the costs. It says nothing about blowing billions more on a system that won't deliver what it claims, nor will ever have the ridership claimed.
    But strangely enough, the costs claimed in your (unlinked) source are higher by a factor of 250 than California cost; they see $2,800,000 per mile for 30 years of maintenance.
    http://www.sacog.org/mtp/pdf/MTP2035/Issue Briefs/Road Maintenance.pdf
    And since the weighted rural/urban interstate construction cost is ~$21M/mi (including land acquisition), I'm beginning to think you're doing a bit more cherry-picking:
    http://www-pam.usc.edu/volume2/v2i1a3s2.html

  • ||

    Read the article. Costs are for construction and maintenance for 40 years of 15 miles of interstate. So even using your numbers, that's $357 million over 30 years. Not quite 1/250 after all. Plus, this is Houston. This isn't laying concrete in a cornfield in Nebraska. So I think the numbers stand as is.


    Here's the original location of that TxDOT "Keep Texas Moving" article.
    http://www.txdot.gov/KeepTexas.....02006.html

    The trouble is, they've decided to remove it from their website. I'm guessing it didn't prove popular with the "keep widening the highway politician's in Texas. The article is also discussed here: http://www.thetransportpolitic.....ment-47200

    Oh, and here's the 2005 Nebraska Department of Roads Annual Report which states that even back then that required expenditures were going to be 20% more than revenues for the next 20 years. Wonder what it is now?

    No transportation infrastructure is self supporting.

  • ||

    http://www.nlc.state.ne.us/epu.....5-2005.pdf

  • ||

    I'll try this one more time...
    http://www.nlc.state.ne.us/epu.....5-2005.pdf

  • ||

    Ron, we do post facts. MikeinNeb is probably a better researcher than me. He just provided updated data as we do live in a dynamic world unlike a static world that you seem to refer to.

  • ||

    PMH|7.13.10 @ 4:23PM|#
    "Ron, we do post facts."
    And occasionally, some few refer to the question at hand, while the supposed conclusions derived from those that do are false.

    "we do live in a dynamic world unlike a static world that you seem to refer to."
    That's a fantasy world you seem to be living in.
    The best you can offer so far is that fuel taxes might need to be higher than what they are, and while you resent paying for what you claim are the military costs of oil, you're more than willing to pay all sorts of unknown costs because, well, just because.

  • ||

    Ron,

    Your response borders on absurdity. How could you possibly know what an individual resents paying for? Maybe you need to offer something more than "Just because". I've offered a wealth of information as has MikeinNeb who provided a wealth in references and great information. God Bless and take care.

  • ||

    PMH|7.13.10 @ 5:29PM|#
    "I've offered a wealth of information as has MikeinNeb who provided a wealth in references and great information."
    Sorry, lots of bad 'information' and propaganda isn't a wealth of anything other than bad 'information' and propaganda.

    "God Bless and take care."
    And may the bird of happyness fly up your nose.

  • ||

    In any case, since the bond issue for this train was passed, something will eventually be built.

    If by something, you mean the careers of dozens of bureaucrats and consultants, I have to agree.

    If you mean some kind of railroad, I would say the jury is still out.

  • ||

    +1 , lol

  • ||

    The train in CA is a total boondoggle. The "High Speed Transit Authority" is constantly running one-way outreach sessions near my area in San Jose -- one-way because they speak but don't listen to feedback. They need to carve out a 120 foot right of way up through a densely populated urban corridor that will entail building bridges and underpasses for EVERY road that crosses it, since you cannot cross the high speed line with any other transit method. And even if they eventually build it at massive cost it will take almost as long to get from SF to LA by the "bullet train" as it would by your own car; and if you take the train you'll need to rent a car on the other end. Horrible, uneconomical, backwards looking.

  • ||

    And yet we can't get Interstate 15, a road used by 10s of millions, widened to 6 lanes from Vegas to LA. Ridiculous.

  • ||

  • Ted||

    Can't help but think of Simpson's episode about building a monorail. Loved the song about the monorail in the episode too.

  • ||

    The problem here is pretty simple. The planning oligarchy (not "community", "oligarcy") does not want to acknowledge that America does not have the population density necessary to support these high priced mass transit projects, be they light rail or "bullet" trains, unless they are very selectively placed.

    The landscape of urban America is by now littered with these absurd projects.

    Has it occurred to anyone to build mass transit projects where people are, and are traveling, already?

    Boston to Washington, with stops along the way in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Baltimore makes sense for high speed rail. Extending the line to Miami might make sense.

    An east-west line from Chicago to Philadelphia to connect to the East Coast line makes thin sense.

    A West Coast line would be of very limited value. Not enough ridership, even between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

    Enough money has been wasted on light-rail lines and subways to nowhere in numerous cities. Interesting that L.A. built a subway from downtown to North Hollywood.

    Maybe a cut-and-cover subway from downtown to Santa Monica via Wilshire Bl. or Venice Bl, or through the Hollywood neighborhood by some route would have been a better deal. A least it would have ridership, guaranteed.

    Where the people are is pretty much a known deal. I have been familiar with Santa Clara County in California since the mid-1970s. During that time, with all the population growth that has occurred one street -- Alum Rock Ave-Santa Clara St-El Camino Real (the name changes along the way) has remained the primary public transportation corridor all of that time. West San Carlos St-Steven Creek Bl has always been the second major public transportation corridor. An expensive light rail system north and south of downtown San Jose has proved to be of little use especially south of downtown San Jose. Look it all up on the online maps!

    A better idea is to improve transit times using existing equipment and infrastructure. It worked in Santa Clara County along the El Camino corridor just by running some limited stop buses. It changed the 14 miles trip from San Jose to Palo Alto from an ordeal both tortuous and torturous to a manageable trip.

    Probably, an efficient and inexpensive way to get between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles could be developed too, without any investment in new infrastructure.

    If all these planners want to do is to create pyschodrama with the intent of instructing the rest of us in how inadequate we are compared to the rest of the world, there are cheaper way to do. Cheaper than spending trillions on these transportation boondoggles they have become so fond of.

  • ||

    "A better idea is to improve transit times using existing equipment and infrastructure. It worked in Santa Clara County along the El Camino corridor just by running some limited stop buses. It changed the 14 miles trip from San Jose to Palo Alto from an ordeal both tortuous and torturous to a manageable trip."

    Absolutely! I visited Istanbul late last year and love their public transit system of "Dolmush" mini buses. Rather than a few large buses (that are mostly EMPTY of riders much of the day!) traveling a timed route to fixed stops, in Istanbul they have a larger fleet of mini-buses and vans that travel a fixed ROUTE and will stop ANYWHERE along that route to pick up and drop off passengers.

    Getting around Istanbul can be as simple as walking to your closest major street and then flagging down the mini-bus going the direction you need. When you get off, just tell the driver "I need to get off here, please." They pull over and let you out -- and it costs about 25 cents for the short routes, and a couple of bucks to go across the city this way.

    In San Jose you could replace all those huge (empty!) diesel buses with a fleet of smaller propane or electric mini-vans and mini-buses and easily take care of the riders needed -- in fact, if it were as easy and dynamic a ride as in Istanbul you'd probably attract more riders.

  • ||

    So have the limited stop buses for long runs, mini-buses for local getting around town, etc. My point is, we have a public transit model that is NOT well suited for the reality of a sprawling suburb city like San Jose. Rather than have our transit planners mimic other cities' typical big-bus systems (that themselves may be inefficient) they should adapt to the local reality instead of trying to force a solution that doesn't fit well to actual needs and conditions. This High Speed Rail bilge is more of the same old thinking.

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