OK, Maybe HSR Did Get Screwed Even Worse Than We Thought

Apr 12th, 2011 | Posted by

You go to sleep one night thinking “it could have been worse” only to wake up the next morning and learn that, in fact, it IS worse.

The HSR cuts in last Friday night’s budget deal appear worse than we had thought just last night. The total cut is now reported at $2.9 billion, with FY 2011 funding eliminated and unallocated FY 2010 funding reduced. From the House Appropriations Committee document, we can see the details – ALL $2.5 billion in FY 2011 HSR funding is gone (not just the extra $1.5 billion that the House Democrats had added last year on top of Obama’s $1 billion request) and $400 million in FY 2010 funding is rescinded, which presumably comes out of the leftovers from Florida.

This will hurt California’s plans to build, as Quentin Kopp pointed out – and his comments came before this latest news broke:

“And you’re only going to get a part of the billion (in California). Boy, oh boy,” said Quentin Kopp, former chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Officials are relying on federal funds to extend construction beyond the Central Valley, slated to start next year. “The totality of the effect could be a delay in building the section after Merced to Bakersfield,” and into the Bay Area and Southern California, Kopp said.

The big question now is whether the loss of the additional $1.4 billion, on top of the $1.5 billion we knew we lost, will hurt the Merced to Bakersfield plans as well.

There’s no doubt now; Obama has totally caved to the extremists on the right in the fight over high speed rail. HSR was a signature program of this president, but he’s thrown it overboard in a futile attempt to appease his Republican opponents. Future funding is therefore very much in jeopardy under a Republican Congress – or even a Republican House.

While I know some readers dislike what they claim as “partisan” comments, the fact of the matter is that when it comes to Congress, HSR does well when Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House, and does poorly when they don’t. There is some hope on the horizon, with PPP reporting polling that shows Dems could retake the House in 2012. Of course, for the sake of HSR, that would also require Dems to keep the Senate and the White House. If that happened, these crippling HSR funding cuts might just be a temporary nuisance and not a serious blow.

It’s not just about elections, however. We need to work hard to maintain and grow public support for HSR. As gas prices rise above $4 a gallon, the public will continue to demand alternatives. HSR advocates must be there to help show that there are choices, and to sustain and build the already-strong support out there for high speed rail.

  1. jim
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 12:05

    It isn’t “a signature program of this president.” Republicans saying so doesn’t make it true. He proposed the initial $8B as part of the stimulus and lost interest in it immediately thereafter. He did absolutely nothing to support Oberstar’s reauthorization bill, which would have provided significant HSR funding. There’s been no follow-through on the $53B proposal.

    Face it, Robert. He doesn’t care.

    Rose Reply:

    HSR *is* a signature program of Obama’s. As HSR was mentioned specifically in the last SotU to move the U.S. competitively into the 21st century, then that seems to be pretty signature.

    VBobier Reply:

    Gutless and spineless, According to this Blog here Republicans are calling for Supplemental Security Income to be ended and replaced with Block Grants to the States and they want a 25.6% cut, Seniors and Disabled people depend on this money and they would dare do this? Yes I have emailed My Republican Representative on this as I am Disabled and I have no where to go as this would cut My Federal income per month from $674 to about $501 a month which are supposedly 2007 levels, I would face eviction, No My relatives have no room for Me as I was told I’m just a stranger and Its like what did I do to deserve this? I can barely exist as It is, I have $200 in personal property taxes to pay for from 2007 that the county said were not sent out to Me, I have to spend money on A/C repairs to My 12 year old car @ Ford which for the Estimate is $98 and goes towards the repairs and I have about $118-$134 in DMV fees in September to pay for, I do need My car for food and maybe a Doctor(If there is a Doctor that will take Me anymore soon, As the House Republicans want to eliminate Medicaid(Medi-Cal in CA) too) and have a roof over My cat Grace’s head & My head too, As I live out in Yermo CA, I’m lucky If I can stand for maybe 3-5 minutes with no pain or sweat(Joint problems, weight[about 400lbs, I’m 6’1″ tall], concentration, anxiety, arthritis, thyroid, pain in My legs, eye problems, back pain[being off center like I were pregnant & I’m a guy], I’m 50[yeah a pretty girl will still get My attention]), Just working for a minute or two to build a replacement PC or vacuum the carpet means I need to run a floor fan at full power or the swamp cooler has to be on and Yes I can barely take care of Myself, As the pain starts around 3 minutes in and then I need to sit down, fast.

    nslander Reply:

    Specifically invoking high speed rail TWICE in a State of the Union address only to abandon it 2 months later reeks of something far worse than political cowardice. HSR undoubtedly was “signature”, as is this President’s contempt for the average American. Until we understand the President and the vast majority of all electeds nationwide act they way they do not because they are “spineless”, but rather because they are power-drunk narcissists who HATE us, we’re screwed.

  2. Alex M.
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 12:07

    While I hate losing funding as much as the next guy, isn’t this a little thing called compromise?

    Matthew F. Reply:

    It’s not a compromise when one side gives everything and gets nothing, and the other side gets everything and gives nothing.

    Brandi Reply:

    My feelings exactly.

    lyqwyd Reply:

    How much highway funding was compromized away? None, it’s actually still higher after the cuts than it was in 2010.

    I guess that’s change we can believe in…

    Matthew F. Reply:

    Now if only you could redefine HSR as a highway…

    Mike Reply:


    No, seriously, there might be some creative thinking that could happen here. A highway where you can drive 200mph and text all you want at the same time.

    lyqwyd Reply:

    I forgot to provide a link to the article related to the actual cuts.

    Summary: highways increase $4.1 billion FY 2010 to FY 2011, then was cut $3 billion in latest bill, for a net increase of over $1 billion, while HSR funding has been wiped out.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Had any FY 2011 money been left in, then it might be a compromise.

    This isn’t any such thing. It’s an outright cave.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Harken back to the 90s. The wingnuts pass all sorts of tax cut goodness and then slash programs that they don’t like. Doesn’t mean the President has to sign the budget.

    VBobier Reply:

    Problem is, I think President Obama will do just that… He should order the troops home from Everywhere, Now.

    Wad Reply:

    Then the military can lead a coup and put this Obama charade behind us.

    wu ming Reply:

    i think they’re bright enough not to want to saddle themselves with governing this insane country.

    Wad Reply:

    They have the world’s most advanced firepower, camaraderie, the world’s most advanced firepower, self-discipline and the world’s most advanced firepower.

    Governing’s going to be the easy part.

    wu ming Reply:

    after all, it went so well in iraq. talk to some military guys, the last thing they want is to mess with is running civil societies.

    Wad Reply:

    Yet Oath Keepers was formed in reaction to a black commander in chief.

    Donk Reply:

    Random thought, but what if he did order all of the troops home from around the world. There would then be a huge increase in unemployment. The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are like a huge federal stimulus.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Shhhh. The only time we are supposed to bring up that defense spending is stimulus is when whether or not the New Deal worked is being discussed.

    wu ming Reply:

    on the contrary, bringing them home ≠ firing them. the expansion of american base capacity to house them alone would be a nice little base town stimulus, and the national guard would be able to help with natural disaster response, instead of half a world away.

    Brandi Reply:

    Agreed and no the baseline is zero so it will be very difficult to ever get money for again. It becomes a new program a time of cuts. That’s why Obummer is the caver-in-chief. I thought some of the senators might have stuck up for some money but obviously is not something they really care about.

    No Fortunate Son Reply:

    Now that the baseline is zero, it will be near impossible to ever get funding again.

    I was not expecting the news this morning, and I can only pray that there is some change or correction.

    But this is the end of HSR in the United States, at least for a long, long time.

    I do not know what will become of CA’s money already allocated, or the $2B remaining to be allocated.

    But this is the end of the line. The GOP killed it.

    Winston Reply:

    I don’t agree with this line of thinking. Some HSR projects will die, but CA still has the 2010 allocations which are as much as the project can absorb till 2012 anyway. The real question is how do the Tea Baggers do in the next elections. If they do well then CA HSR will have to be real creative to get the job done and has a good chance of failing. If they get thrown out because they’re obviously batshit insane then the odds for HSR being funded are pretty good. Remember the Tea Baggers are incapable of governing and this will become clear very soon.
    In some ways the potential for limited funding may be good for CAHSR because it should encourage a greater focus on cost containment and make people really think about design details like station layout which is a good example of where some careful thinking could save a lot of cash.

    No Fortunate Son Reply:

    As much as I agree that this zeroing out funding for 2011 is the unarguable end of HSR in America, at least for decades, it appears that this came as a surprise to the Administration (see NY Times below), so I don’t condone the Obama Deran gement Syndrome and right wing framing.

    The irony is that most other programs suffered little to no cuts. As reported by the AP, Republicans are now fuming as what appeared to be $38.5B in cuts is mostly accounting trickery. Except, of course, for HSR.

    YESonHSR Reply:

    Being upbeat..at least with FLA giving up HSR funding we still are getting 2Billion..that could have been wiped out along with the 400million..that 2.5 was vapor money the 400 was not and thats a real cut ..with 2.4 we could have got 50% 1.2 that was needed..whatever we get may need a larger match ..ie the orginal ARRA dollar for dollar

    Matthew F. Reply:

    A little early to count those chickens…

  3. Daniel Krause
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 12:23

    I would say compromise is legitimate, but when military spending is increased by $5B (on top of a trillion in annual spending when including wars) and tax cuts for the wealthy are factored in, this is a total sham. When we are spending plenty of money on things we don’t need more of, or depriving the Treasury of hudreds of billions for people that don’t need tax relief, at the expense of solving our real problem, compromise in the area of HSR and other needed infrastructure is sad and cruel joke.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Wasn’t the US meant to be out of the Bush conflicts by now?

    Brandi Reply:

    The future is done. This country is on a road to third world status. Cutting innovation, education, science, and infrastructure? Ask any company if those are things you want to cut to remain competitive and I guarantee you the answer will be no.

    Matthew F. Reply:

    The reason we’re in this mess is, companies have the same backwards-looking philosophy. Research is seen as an expense to be cut, rather than your next decade or century’s income stream.

  4. RubberToe
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 12:26

    I hate to be pessimistic, but this almost looks like the end of the line for HSR in the US. Keep in mind, this is the first of three large chops that will be coming to spending. The next two are when the debt limit negotiations come up, and the last of the three being the 2012 budget. Given they cut HSR now, you would think that there will be no political consensus going forward to spend any money on it at all. Zero.

    The next target for the cutters will be to roll back all the stimulus money for HSR that would have started construction next year (2012). The argument will be that we can’t afford it, and since all future funding will dry up, there is no point in even starting construction on the “train to nowhere”. If there will indeed be no federal funding going forward, then you almost have to agree with that train of thought. California isn’t going to have the money to fund HSR construction by itself, and we are far short money wise of where we need to be to get private industry to come on board.

    If prop 1A had been on the ballot 2 years sooner (2006), we would have started the stimulus construction 2 years sooner too, in 2010 instead of 2012. That was the killer. With tracks being laid now, there would be much more momentum, with thousands of people working on it, instead of 200 engineers doing planning.

    I always thought that the sinking economy would be the death knell for HSR. If you read some of the books by the likes of James Kunstler and Bill Bonner, it isn’t only HSR that is going down the drain, but a whole lot more. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, it’s hard to argue that spending $1.5 Trillion or so a year more than you take in can go on for long without something seriously going wrong. We are following Ireland, Greece and Portugal down the austerity path, whether we like it or not. I can’t foresee anything happening between now and the 2012 elections that could turn things around for HSR.

    Come to think of it, HSR construction is supposed to start right around election time in 2012. Look for the Republican candidate to again use HSR funding from stimulus dollars as a lightning rod, similar to the governors of Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida, as a way to get elected and save us all by slashing the soon to be released HSR construction funds.

    I once thought that rising gas prices could be the key to getting HSR built. I’m not even so sure of that anymore. If the economy goes in the tank even further, with more out of work, gas consumption would go down accordingly. Less demand equals lower prices, though the Chinese might make up some of the slack, unless our unemployed here stop buying salad shooters…


    P.S. Sorry to be the pessimist, but this is really really not good news.

    Jack Reply:

    It’s just the end of Federal Funding for the next couple of Year. I don’t know if Japan is out of the running now given what happened over there, but China still wants to fund the entire thing. What’s sad is we have to look to other countries to build our infrastructure.

    Ben Reply:

    If you reduce unemployment to six percent and address the long-term costs of entitlements, our debt will largely take care of itself. You don’t reduce unemployment, however, with neo-Hoover austerity measures. You reduce unemployment by making strategic investments in infrastructure, clean energy, and education.

    VBobier Reply:

    Oh let Me guess get rid of SSI(Supplemental Security Income)? And make It into block grants while also reducing the money by 25.6% harming both Seniors and the Disabled? Anyone who does this is a CAD and an uncaring Jerk. If the shoe fits wear It.

    Spokker Reply:

    VBobier, you can get your fair share if you can convince this administration to bomb your house. Somehow keep the bombs from detonating and resell them to countries that hate us. If you get caught, just call Oliver North.

    VBobier Reply:

    Are You Joking? I’m not a criminal, Nor a Traitor… We’re over spending on the military and It should be reduced by at least $300 billion out of $730 Billion or whatever is correct.

    Brandi Reply:

    I agree with you HSR has been stopped dead in it’s tracks. Same with transit. The superrich can afford $10/gallon gas so they don’t care if everyone else is screwed. If California doesn’t start building within the next year. It’s over.

    YESonHSR Reply:

    I would not say that..we have 2Billion for this year and everything thats aready given to projects
    we will break gound next year ..we will have to see what is in the Transportation bill and 2012 funding to get an idea of how fast we can build the system..by next year bids will be coming in and we will see what money/amount is being put up..HSR may slow down outside of California but not CAHSR!!

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I really don’t agree. Tea Party rule won’t be permanent. The problem is that the progressives are reeling from the sudden shock – just as the right was this time two years ago – and hasn’t yet figured out the response.

    All the basic factors still favor HSR. This is a frustrating setback, but we can still get this done if we keep at it.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Now if somehow they got all the money from the ARRA and everything else then I would say it’s a huge setback and stopping the high-speed rail program… they did not get any of that and now we still have 2 billion that will be distributed this year.. a lot better than total zero..

    Spokker Reply:

    Tea Party influence may do more harm than good to the Republican party. This influence is causing a divide within the party and some of the more rational Republicans are sick of the Tea Party.

    VBobier Reply:

    And their oath to Grover Norquist over the Oath of Office that they took, Sounds like grounds for Impeachment possibly, I mean Who are they loyal to?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Spokker, I see where you are coming from, but do we have the time to wait this out?

    Spokker Reply:

    No, but our pussy president is unwilling to fight back.

    Obama: 80% of Americans will have access to high speed rail. And we’ll do it by slashing high speed rail funding!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Cut the crap. The pussy in the administration is the steely Secretary of State, who everyone believes would have fought back much more stridently.

    Beta Magellan Reply:

    I’ve always wondered what the basis for this assumption was—it always strikes me as a case of grass being greener on the other side.

    VBobier Reply:

    Yep, Secretary of State Clinton should be President, Not the JOKER in the White House, We were robbed, We looked for someone who could deliver and all We got was a worthless untrust worthy JOKER instead.

    wu ming Reply:

    fought back? clinton is a textbook DLC centrist, neoliberal austerity is their bread and butter.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Those people believe in neoliberal austerity, but they fight back against Republicans. It is a purely partisan matter – and became even more of one in the 2008 campaign, when Hillary promised to keep slagging the other side just for the hell of it.

    No Fortunate Son Reply:

    Listen, this apparently came as a surprise to the Administration.

    It was a last minute trick by the GOP, who actually wound up getting far less in cuts than they expected. Their is plenty of egg on their face too.

    VBobier Reply:

    Well the GOP has plenty of tricks to spare & has old folks & the disabled in their sights too.

    Donk Reply:

    The Tea Party is going to go down in flames in 2012. People love to complain about Obama spending too much money and that we have to cut the deficit, blah blah. But people are going to be pretty goddamn pissed off once all of their services and programs are cut. And the easy argument for Obama to make will be that he had to make all of those cuts favored by the Tea Party to accommodate tax cuts for the wealthy.

  5. yoyo
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 12:46

    Pave, baby, pave?

    thatbruce Reply:

    Highway and Military funding is Pavelov’s bell for the oil industry.

  6. orulz
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 12:54

    Travelrobb on railroad.net seems to have an alternate take on how this bill works.


    Basically, from Oct. 1 to April 8, HSR had been receiving money at the rate of $2.5 billion per year or a prorated $1.346 billion. From April 8 to April 15, that rate dropped to $1.0 billion, or a prorated $19 million, for a total of $1.365 billion. HSR is zeroed out for the rest of the year. The $400 million is really being taken away from the continuing resolutions which were technically extensions of the FY2010 budget, hence “previous year funds.”

    That leaves $965 million (the $1 billion we’ve been hearing about) for allocation by FRA in FY2011.

    Not sure if he’s right but it kinda makes sense.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I read that before posting. I’m not sure that’s right – doesn’t square with the $2.9 billion number we’ve been reading. It sounds like $400m is being taken from FY 2010 and all $2.5b is being taken from FY 2011. But perhaps he’s right and it’s the $2.9 billion number that is wrong.

    YESONHSR Reply:

    It actully sounds right…all Federal agencies have gotten money /budget since Oct1st with the numbers from 2010, they have that funding ..its the remaining fiscal year that has been changed..guess we wil see later in the week what the final amount is ..and it may only be the FLA money.

    Ben Reply:

    unless the money hasn’t been allocated yet, which i don’t think it has

    YESonHSR Reply:

    well looks like its true ..I dont understand why the house gets to dictate numbers and no compromise bill?? So the Senate and White House just say yes no matter where its from?

    Risenmessiah Reply:


    A comparison document created by the House of Representative lists the decrease in funding both against the FY 10 level of appropriation and FY 11 request. As it shows at the bottom of this list, FY 11 is reduce HSR spending by $2.9 billion AGAINST the enacted level of appropriation in FY 2010…


    The Federal Railroad Administration released also this statement:

    Currently, the Federal Railroad Administration has $2 billion available for high-speed intercity passenger rail projects across America. The Obama Administration looks forward to working with states eager to build the foundation for a world-class rail network that will provide 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail in the next 25 years. In FY 2010, Congress appropriated $2.5 billion for High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail. The six-month CR contains $0 for high-speed rail in 2011 and rescinds $400 million of the funding appropriated for the program in FY 2010. As a result, there is currently $2 billion in high-speed rail funding available, down from the $2.4 billion previously available. Last week, 24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak submitted 98 applications with funding requests totaling more than $10 billion.

    If you look at this document, however, you will see that the Administration already booked $2.4 billion in grants for FY 10. The catch, 0.8 billion was for Florida’s HSR: http://www.fra.dot.gov/rpd/downloads/Summary_of_FY10_Selected_Projects_1010.pdf

    So without confusing the situation anymore, basically that means that instead of being able to auction off all $2.4 million of the money Florida returned, they will only award about $2 billion instead. The only downside for California is that much of the FY 10 money (as opposed to the ARRA funding) required a state match and so we had much less competition for that $800 million than for the other $1.6….

    Alan F Reply:

    Yes, so there is now $2 billion to split among a lot of worthy projects with uncertain prospects for any additional real funding for several years. Question is whether it is better to:

    A) spread it around to encourage the states that get funds to fight for more funding in FY12 or FY13 but also to get improvements in service in the near term,
    or B) concentrate most of it into 3-4 projects that have a higher profile to build the case for HSR and intercity rail?

    YESonHSR Reply:

    I always had doubts about the 1Billion for 2011 .. the cut of 400 million from the FLA or wherever hurts…. this will make it very hard to fund anyone outside of 1 or 2 projects even if they give us 1.2 billion with a 30% match..less than that and we may just get to Merced only at this point with the Bakersfield expansion on hold as that seems more expensive

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Here’s what I think happens:

    California will get probably around $400-600 million for the express purpose of building Fresno to Bakersfield. Amtrak will get $570 million for the new bridge over the Hackensack.

    Then you figure around $120 million to Maryland, $120 million to Washington State, Maybe $90 million to Wisconsin…Vermont will get $60 million… Nevada, Missuori, and North Carolina will get something.

    Donk Reply:

    Yeah, unless the rest of the FL money doesn’t get pulled from the budget in the next 3 days, and if the unspent CA money doesn’t get pulled also.

    VBobier Reply:

    Yeah, Sad, But true, Although I do hope that the money does survive somehow, California and the US needs HSR, Among other programs that the shortsighted and stupid ass Repubs want to kill and they want to kill a lot, As they’d rather not fund any program that they hate money going to, But then the Tea Partiers are led by a bunch of yahoos who objected to this program or that one and who have done just that for Years, Libertarians. In this country It should be “one for all and all for one” and not one for none…

    Alan F Reply:

    Ok, how much additional funding does CA HSR need to complete the Bakersfield to Fresno with stations and run north to around where the wye to San Jose would be? Of course, until the value engineering and design is done, the cost for each segment is a ballpark figure only.

    I have been looking at the summary list I assembled of the state applications for the returned Florida funds. Even, before the Republicans in the House took back $400 million and took away the option of more grants in FY11, dividing up the funding was not going to be easy.

    Since I ride the NEC, I see Amtrak’s application of $570 million for the Portal Bridge north replacement as the one must grant project because that bridge needs to be replaced and there may be no other source for funding to do so for years. The PA application for the Keystone east corridor for $248 million is a good one because it will increase the speeds on the corridor to 125+ mph and reduce Harrisburg to Philly trip times by 20 minutes. Granting funding to both of those projects will also help out Amtrak’s capital budget which was cut. Those two take up close to $820 million of the available funding. Figure some funding should go to the Empire corridor, Chicago-StL, Chi-Detroit, New Haven CT to Springfield MA corridors as the goal for all those is 110 mph speeds.

    So if CHSRA gets $600 to $800 million, how much can they do with it?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    And someday they will route the traffic on the express to/from New York from Overbrook directly to North Philadelphia. I guesstimate would cut 30 minutes off the time to Cornwells Heights and points East/North. Run the trains to 30th Street through to Wilmington. Might have to bring back Clockers but originate in Wilmington.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/13/us/politics/13rail.html?partner=rss&emc=rss.. from this article in the New York Times looks like maybe the administration may have been surprised at this cut and had the wool pulled over its eyes by the House Republicans and the preset deal on cuts.. says here someone from the administration thought the 1 billion would remain after the previously agreed 1.5 cut… oh well you deal with the devil and you get burned. Some understand this entire budget scenario and how the House appropriations committee had been given carte blanche to anything they want and will be no compromise bill know anything else but yes or no?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    From the same paper, also of interest, with comments, too:


    Brandi Reply:

    I saw this but I don’t think it’s true. Everything else is pretty much saying otherwise . I wish it was but I don’t think so.

  7. nobody important
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 13:54
  8. political_incorrectness
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 14:16

    I will agree that instead of cutting HSR, why not cut all those highway widening projects, tax cuts for the rich, and increases in military spending. I would say this is a cave in since the Repubs get what they want all out.

  9. njudah
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 14:41

    We can wish all we like, but the sad fact is we have a president with no spine and no experience beyond “plays well with others” up against people who literally want to destroy his presidency, no matter the cost to the US as a whole. Because he continues to appease those folks, he loses on every “deal” he makes. And it doesn’t help that so many of his “supporters” bailed on voting, which gave us a Speaker Boehner in the first place. All that clucking of tongues by liberals has sure worked out, hasn’t it?

    Richard A Reply:

    The President is pragmatic. The High Speed rail concepts around the country are not even on the drawing board in most cases. Add in time for EIR reports and public meetings and it was highly unlikely that any project other than California would be in construction mode in the next fifteen months. Why should the President fight tooth and nail for the funds to sit in a bank account waiting for some local Republican to throw it back in his face? Without Democratic control of the House – wait eighteen months – the HSR plans would not generate that many jobs jobs. Improvements to existing Amtrak services does have an immediate benefit.

  10. Spokker
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 14:59

    So much for energy independence, eh? Obama was spewing the same nonsense as every other president about energy independence. But since electric railroads won’t be built, I hope those bombs being dropped on Lybia start drilling for oil because I have no choice but to go to the gas station today.

    Wanna take a bus, but transit funding is slashed too.

  11. Tony D.
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 15:08

    Just wait until the GOP proposes eliminating mortgage interest deductions to support even more tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy! When will the American people wake up from this far right, Tea Party nightmare?

    So what do we do now? I still say the hell with our federal government, for now at least. Let’s look overseas and at the private sector to fund the rest of our system. Japan won’t be down forever and the private sector is salivating to get in on HSR.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    I look at the bright side. If you eliminate the mortgage interest deduction, you pretty much guarantee the real estate and mortgage industry will contract significant. Then, our sons and daughters will no longer be tempted by the lure of easy money in real estate and try to find…gasp…other types of employment.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Outside of places like California and the Northeast, where real estate prices are high, the mortgage interest deduction doesn’t matter much. It makes more sense to NOT itemize and use the standard deduction instead.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Um, what? People in Texas don’t spend that much less of their income on housing. They still spend a good $10,000 a year or so on their mortgage, at which cost it’s far preferable to itemize.

    Matthew F. Reply:

    But do they spend $10k/year on their mortgage INTEREST?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Mortgage interest and property taxes. Property taxes in many places are…. ridiculously low.
    … 225,000.00 at 4.75 for 30 years has a first year interest charge of 10,612. Lots of places where median price is less than that. After you’ve been paying that mortgage for a few years the interest portion of the payment starts to decrease.

    Here, go play with it.


    Alon Levy Reply:

    Property taxes in Houston are higher than in New York. The median’s a bit under 200,000, but there are plenty of people well above it, benefiting from vast reductions in tax burdens.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Property taxes in New York City are moderate. Property taxes in New York State not so much. Median house price in Houston’s MLS area is 115,900, average is 214,039. If your double wide is only assessed at 100k and the mortgage is 75k, what’s your property tax bill gotta look like to make itemizing a better option?

    Donk Reply:

    The point here is that because property values, and subsequently mortgages, are much higher on the coasts, the mortgage interest deduction is one of the few federal laws that benefit people in CA and NY. This is one of the few examples where we actually get something back after sending most of our federal tax dollars to other states.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    On the contrary: the high property values proportionately drive up rents and therefore living costs, which means that regions with high property values pay more for the same standard of living, rather than less. The deduction independently ensures that individuals who own expensive houses get to pay less taxes.

    Donk Reply:

    Well right, but because homes in general cost more in these areas, the federal government is effectively subsidizing your higher cost of living. Most other federal tax laws screw you if you are making more, in that you don’t qualify for many of the taxes breaks that someone in the same profession would get if they lived in Ohio (since you make more $$$ but also pay more $$$). So yeah, this one tax law does benefit people who are wealthy, but also benefits middle class people in wealthier areas.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s not quite true – the difference in housing costs as a percentage of income isn’t large enough to make homeowners in New York and California pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes as homeowners in Texas with equivalent living cost-adjusted income.

    In addition, in those high-cost coastal areas, home ownership is much lower than the national average. Middle-class homeowners get some subsidies; middle-class renters get nothing.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Not to break up a good fight, but I should add that both of you are missing the real nut of the tax debate:

    In states like California and New York, the mortgage deduction is not that important for “wealthy” people because it’s far more lucrative to deduct your state taxes as paid against your federal tax burden than your home because in California and New York income taxes are high. By the same token, many people in CA and New York have inconsistent income (Michael Moore for example, paid not that much taxes before Fahrenheit 9-11 and the year later paid a ton…Google employees paid out the nose in 2006 when the company went public).

    Meanwhile, in Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Washington State, Texas, North Carolina you have lower or no state income tax, so the only way to reduce your federal income obligation is by receiving income through capital gains, or, muha, muha, buying a huge house for cash and then using a HELOC or other instrument to manipulate your “income” against other holdings. (Florida also has lucrative homestead exemptions).

    Now you could simply make the deduction applicable only to people making less than $250,000, but it wouldn’t be much of boost to federal revenues…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Two separate commissions have already recommended eliminating the mortgage tax credit, once under Reagan and once under Bush Jr. In both cases, the President insisted on keeping the deduction on the grounds that it was an important part of the American Dream.

    Wad Reply:

    Tony D. wrote:

    When will the American people wake up from this far right, Tea Party nightmare?

    Sorry, Tony D. Democracy, like computer programming, operates under the principle of Garbage In, Garbage Out.

    America voted in free and fair elections to be represented by a kakistocracy. We must now reap the whirlwind.

  12. Michael SD
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 15:49

    A steep price to pay for planned parenthood.

    Brandi Reply:

    Sad part is the EPA and Planned Parenthood will surely be offered up in either debt ceiling debate or the debate on FY 2012. They have just been given a temporary reprieve. It’s funny how you can control 2/3 of the government and still give up everything in the name of compromise.

    VBobier Reply:

    Among other things Republicans hate with a vengeance.

    joe Reply:

    To the contrary, both sides are in agreement, we cut spending, cut taxes and shift the tax burden to the poor and shrinking middle class. It takes two to make it happen, one side to shift to the extreme and the other side to meet it half way.

    VBobier Reply:

    Republicans in DC take a dim view of those that they see as Leeches who aren’t through no fault of their own aren’t able to support themselves. Block Grants have been used to squeeze people and to deprive them of their rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, Not to mention Welfare which is in the US Constitution, By setting up a limit and then dropping that limit over time to goad people to leave, Its like: If You can’t work, You can starve and do without any shelter. All this shows is Republicans in power are Heartless, Cruel and Cheap. But then It’s really easy when Yer seen as just a Number and not a person. They also hold Military Dependents hostage by not passing a budget until they get what they wanted and only what they wanted.

    joe Reply:

    The majority of spending cuts this time hit the middle class, and very poor.

    We’re dealing with a class of elite in both parties eager to protect their accumulated wealth and status by negotiating and posturing.

    Chicago’s late Richard J Daley’s sons including the POUS’s chief of staff are wealthy men who have more in common with those that blew up the banking bubble than the people they represent. …and they are the Dems.

    Matthew F. Reply:

    When group A wants something to be done, and group B wants nothing to be done, failure to reach an agreement still works in favor of group B. They can sit there and vote No forever, and they still win.

    That’s the problem with the current situation.

    Spokker Reply:

    Our financial problems would be worse without Planned Parenthood. Without their outreach, we would have a ton more poor people to take care of today. This organization, those similar to it, and everything they do is something to fight for.

    synonymouse Reply:

    They don’t have Planned Parenthood where our population is coming from. Remember when one of the Gandhi’s had the audacity to push birth control, they had a fit and a riot.

    If you build Borden to Corcoran and it sits there forelorn the Repubs will hold it up as an example of how the machine spends money like a drunken sailor and has nothing to show for it the next day but a rusty train track from nowhere to nowhere.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Quite, and remember how Deng tried to put in a “one child per couple” policy and the Chinese overthrew …

    … oh, wait, that one policy got through.

    Spokker Reply:

    Rising incomes tend to have the same or better effect as a one child per couple policy. People voluntarily choose to have less children as the opportunity cost of children increases. Increasing the rights of women helps too.

    Also, condoms are one of the best uses of public money I can think of. Hand them out freely and in vast quantities.

    VBobier Reply:

    I think conservatives hate contraception, But then the less loonies from the far right, The better.

    joe Reply:

    The Stork and the Plow : The Equity Answer to the Human Dilemma
    By focusing on the issue of equity between nations, classes, and gender groups, the authors confront the nexus of population, environmental decline, and global resource control.


    VBobier Reply:

    Interesting sounding book, But I’m not able to buy that as My scheduled monetary activities don’t allow for this. Besides I have no children, So Its rather pointless for Me to buy and read It.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    THey don’t hate contraception, they use it all the time. Including the methods they publicly deplore ( ever wonder why they haven’t managed to make abortion illegal? ) They fear that someone someplace is having a good time. Wellll.. they just fear almost anything.

    VBobier Reply:

    Well if so, then their hippocrits and yes the pun is intentional.

    Donk Reply:

    Exactly. The #1 stress on the environment is the world population. The way to control these are with education and contraception. However, contraception is severely being hindered by the Pope, whose voice can sway the practices of billions (?) of people on this planet. Therefore, by this logic, the Pope is the world’s #1 pollutor, and his voice alone has the largest negative effect on the environment.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    That hasn’t stopped Catholics from using birth control.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    US Catholics != Congolese Catholics.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Or how Kerala and Tamil Nadu educated women and got their birth rates down to first-world levels without coercion…

    Spokker Reply:

    “They don’t have Planned Parenthood where our population is coming from.”

    Mexicans? Planned Parenthood is the greatest thing to ever happen to the Hispanic community! Now all we need to do is convince Latinos to reject Catholicism’s views on birth control and we’d
    be all set.

    “If you build Borden to Corcoran and it sits there forelorn the Repubs will hold it up as an example of how the machine spends money ”

    I, as a person of below average intelligence, understand the concept of phased implementation. I wonder why it is so difficult for the anti-HSR crowd.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Have fun with the demographic and economic collapse that would result.

    Spokker Reply:

    If unplanned children who eventually become the responsibility of the state and/or become criminals is your idea of economic growth, then count me out.

    VBobier Reply:

    What no planned parenthood? Whatever will You do? No more mice, Curses…

    spokker Reply:

    Yeah, those cunts don’t like trains anyway.

  13. D. P. Lubic
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 16:21

    Will this become international? Will our best, brightest, and young go to China, India, or even the continent of Africa?


    Wad Reply:

    If only, D.P. If only.

    That was the essence of my commencement speech to a group of college graduates. I included the text in MetroRiderLA. Read it at the end of The Year in Transit.

  14. D. P. Lubic
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 17:08

    Well, what do we do now?

    Spokker Reply:

    Build the Central Valley segment to nowhere and then blame Republicans for it not being finished.

    Peter Reply:

    I approve this message.

    wu ming Reply:


    Ken Reply:

    Nah, Republicans will just say “you just built a train to nowhere, see it was a waste of tax payer money and it proves our point” and any rebuttal would be died out by FOX News.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Apart from yelling a lot, ‘we’ need to contact our local representatives and nicely request that HSR funding be restored (psst CA4HSR, that’s your cue).

    In the larger scale of things, comments made on this particular blog don’t change the status-quo one way or the other, unless someone is silly enough to start using Echelon keywords and/or goes off the rails by demanding that everyone performs various illegal activities.

  15. Andre Peretti
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 17:48

    If you leave it entirely to private investors they will create a business, not a public service. If they calculate that serving certain communities increases costs with little gain in ridership, they will by-pass them. Town-and-country development won’t be their prime concern.
    Unless companies are willing to forget about profits in California and make it a prestige operation. In that case, CHSR will probably be Chinese.

    Peter Reply:

    Just so long as they don’t use shoddy materials forcing us to rebuild all concrete structures in 50 years instead of 100…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Town-and-country development won’t be the government’s prime concern, either. A central government prefers prestige projects to making it easy to start a business in the provinces. France has been turning the provinces into colonies of Paris since the Revolution. Don’t expect California to be any different.

  16. Donk
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 21:54

    The Democrats should propose to tax churches. That will piss off the Republicans and put them on the defensive. They have to do something to reverse the momentum. Churches are nothing but businesses anyway.

    VBobier Reply:

    Too broad, How about a thorough investigation by the FBI of Koch Industries… I believe conspiracy to bribe public officials is a crime. I think Its long overdue.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Not since the Citizens United decision.


    VBobier Reply:

    It didn’t involve money, Which is what a bribe or gift is, Nice link.

    The case did not involve the federal ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to candidate campaigns or political parties.[5]

    joe Reply:

    You have corporate donations protected as a 1st adm speech but there are still ways to run afoul of the laws.

    “A Wisconsin railroad executive has agreed to plead guilty to two felony counts charging him with illegally funneling more than $50,000 in campaign contributions to Gov. Scott Walker (R).”

    egk Reply:

    Is it possible that Gardner supported Walker actually in hopes of getting rid of HSR in Wisconsin – popular media write that Gardner stood to gain from the Wisconsin project, but, as we here all know, it isn’t at all clear that freight rail likes having pesky passenger trains around. Could it be that Gardner wanted Walker and his no-train policy elected? (Something that started the anti-HSR ball rolling, I’d say.)

    joe Reply:

    ” If Gardner had funneled the company donations through a group like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or another front group, or if his company had taken out ads in support of Walker, his actions would not have attracted legal scrutiny.”

    Alex M. Reply:

    Some churches are (Mormons, I’m looking at you). But please do not lump all churches together. There are plenty of churches that aren’t businesses.

    Donk Reply:

    Sure there are plenty of little churches that I would exempt from being taxed. But the ones like Saddleback in OC are purely 100% businesses and should be taxed. And it is hypocritical to single out the Mormon religion. A religion is a religion – it is not fair that it is PC to bash Mormons but not PC to bash the rest.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Proposing a tax on churches would energize the Republicans, lose most independents, and much of the Democrat minority base. It’s about the most politically brain-dead thing you could do in this country.

    Donk Reply:

    That’s why I am not in politics.

    Ken Reply:

    Taxing churches then means the scrapping of the fundamental idea of separation of church and state.

    thatbruce Reply:

    In the quote Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, the word ‘free’ refers to speech, not beer.

    You are free to start, join and practice any religion you like, and the US government cannot prevent you from doing so. The corporate representation of the religion however, just like other corporate entities, can be subject to taxes levied by the Government provided that they do not interfere with the free (as in speech) exercise of the religion. ie, taxing poor churches out of existence would break the separation of church and state, taxing rich churches in line with their geographical neighbors would not break the separation of church and state.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Since tax measures have to originate in the House, its kind of hard to see how that one gets out of committee.

  17. Leroy W. Demery, Jr
    Apr 12th, 2011 at 23:08

    I’d like to remind you all that California is the land where constitutional amendments “and” general-obligation bond issues (e.g. Prop. 116 of 1990) can be placed on the ballot by initiative. That combination might be unique in the U.S.

    A related story dates back to the Reagan years (“ancient history” by now). Once the Democrats regained control of Congress in 1986, they began appropriating more money for urban rail than the administration requested, and “earmarked” large sums to specific projects – against FTA (then UMTA) opposition. In 1987, Reagan vetoed the surface transportation reauthorization bill, stating that it was too expensive and too packed with pork. He singled out two projects as illustrations: Boston’s “Big Dig” and L.A.’s Red line. Congress overrode the veto – and every member of the CA congressional delegation voted to override.

    I could go on, but the record is clear – the current setback is only temporary.

    StevieB Reply:

    Almost half the states allow the initiative and referendum process. The Initiative & Referendum Institute has a graphic showing which type each state allows. The direct government reforms started in Oregon in 1902 spread next to California and then to many other states during the Progressive Era of the early 20th Century.

    Beta Magellan Reply:

    Hope you’re right, Leroy.

    In any event, I’ve been told Massachusetts and the Reagan Administration had a pretty testy relationship over highways. As the story’s usually told, the Feds threatened to shut of MA’s highway funding due to non-enforcement of speed limits and seatbelt laws, causing Bay Staters to accuse Reagan of trying to punish them for their principled liberalism (as manifested in the freedom to drive fast without a seatbelt on public infrastructure).

    I have, it should be noted, only heard this from people who commuted on I-93 in the 1980s.

  18. D. P. Lubic
    Apr 13th, 2011 at 00:49
  19. Donk
    Apr 13th, 2011 at 00:54

    Bill to de-fund California’s high speed rail dies in committee

    “Long Beach Democrat Bonnie Lowenthal, who chairs the transportation committee, told Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, who sponsored the bill, that she would vote against the bill.”

    Huh? Is this Alan’s wife? She voted against the bill?


    Wad Reply:

    Alan and Bonnie Lowenthal are divorced.

    VBobier Reply:

    At least one Lowenthal has some sense to vote No to kill this defunding measure.

  20. D. P. Lubic
    Apr 13th, 2011 at 07:19

    Off topic, but we need something inspiring to look at–DC Metro animated map, showing its history since 1976:


    Loren Petrich Reply:

    Great map. I remember making that sort of map long ago, though I never put it online.

    It would be nice to make similar animated maps for other transit systems.

  21. Jerome Alton Carney
    Apr 13th, 2011 at 10:28

    I have no doubt that Obama’s fully committed to HSR, but right now he’s got his eye on the long game, which means he’s focusing on rallying independents for 2012. For the next few months, you can expect his administration to cater almost exclusively to centrist concerns. Yep, the slated cuts are gonna be a speed bump, but HSR advocates need to get on with the business of building public support for high speed rail, so that HSR becomes a centrist concern.

    Remember: a Republican administration in January 2013 in Washington could easily squash HSR development, since all corridors will for the most part still just be in the planning stages – even in California, shovels won’t be turning dirt until late 2012. But come 2017 it’s going to be a lot more difficulty for a newly elected Republican administration to walk away from HSR when hundreds of miles of track have already been laid and supporting infrastructure is starting to pop up.

  22. Ken
    Apr 13th, 2011 at 11:07

    And in Texas, they’re proposing to increase the speed limit to 85 mpg so people will use up more gas by revving their gas pedal more, ever so making big oil companies more rich.


    thatbruce Reply:

    So it’s just above the advisory speed for the German autobahns, and only slightly faster than the speed that LA drivers tend to cruise at. Ho hum.

    VBobier Reply:

    Yeah sounds like the I15 beyond Barstow/Yermo CA at times these days, Two or sometimes three lanes to the border with Nevada, Means You get passed a lot out here, I like to avoid the right hand lane as that’s where autos and trucks enter and exit, plus It’s the Truck lane most of the time and their restricted to 55mph or at least that’s what their supposed to drive at, But at the same time there are those that just want to get to Las Vegas as fast as they possibly can and their liable to use any lane to do so with.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    European freeways routinely support speeds close to 100 mph, in countries that don’t enforce speed limits, such as Italy.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Design specs for the Interstates is 100MPH. And before there were speed limits it wasn’t uncommon…. the Interstates didn’t have speed limits out West…

    egk Reply:

    Are you kidding? From the FHWA: “Examples of design standards for the Interstate System include full control of access, design speeds of 50 to 70 miles per hour (depending on type of terrain), a minimum of two travel lanes in each direction, 12-foot lane widths, 10-foot right paved shoulder, and 4-foot left paved shoulder.”

    Autobahns are straight and flat in ways that make it possible to travel relatively safely at speeds of up to 125 mph, when the road is empty.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    That’s the minimum spec. Out in the wide open spaces of the Great Plains and West where they can build straight flat highway for tens if not hundreds of miles the spec is for 100MPH.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In the non-wide, non-empty, mountainous spaces of Liguria, you can do 140 km/h on a four-lane Autostrada in bad weather and 160 in good weather. You could do the same on the six-lane A8 in PACA, until Sarkozy decided to enforce the speed limit of 110 as a way to pretend he cares about the environment.

    Eric M Reply:

    egk said:

    “Autobahns are straight and flat in ways that make it possible to travel relatively safely at speeds of up to 125 mph, when the road is empty”

    Autobahns are not straight and flat. In fact, they are curvy which had a profound side affect that people didn’t realize for a long time. It kept the drivers more focused instead of getting tunnel vision, which can happen on highways like I-5. I routinely drive 150mph (yes mph, not kph) during the summer months when in Germany (winter is different in Bavaria because of winter tire requirements and common sense). I would say the average speed of everyone else driving is 100mph, except for buses and trucks.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    Many French drivers think the 130km/hour (81mph) induces lack of vigilance and causes accidents. They say it is ridiculously low for the cars and road surfaces we have today. You feel like you’re not moving at all.
    Up to ten years ago, you were allowed to shortly trangress it when overtaking. The result was that the left-hand lane was turned into a racing track. Some drivers even considered you were hogging the fast lane when driving at 160km/h (100mph) and overtook you on the right. My English friends were scared to death when driving in France.
    Two years ago, the weekly L’Automobile had a test. Two journalists drove about 500 miles at night with the speed limiter set at 130km/h and medical apparatus to measure their reactions. One of the findings was that each slept a total of 3 minutes. More worrying: one of them had 29 seconds of uninterrupted sleep towards the end of the trip.

    thatbruce Reply:

    I like the German rule of no overtaking on the right on the autobahn.

    Eric M Reply:

    You know that is suppose to be a rule here too, along with the left lane being only for passing. Sad that everyone here thinks they need to hurry up and get into the left lane, than pace a car next to them. Arrgggg!!!

    thatbruce Reply:

    Goodness no, that would be dangerous.

  23. Paul H.
    Apr 13th, 2011 at 14:54

    After reading the comments on this page, a lot of you guys are WAY to fatalistic about this being the end of HSR in the US. It’s not even close to being that. We’ll have a new transportation bill and HSR will get tens of billions of dollars out of it. That will happen. Even Republicans aren’t stupid enough to not invest in bullet trains. These budget negotiations are one thing, a full-fledged transportation bill is something completely different.

    Matthew F. Reply:

    “Even Republicans aren’t stupid enough to not invest in bullet trains.”

    Wanna bet?

    Beta Magellan Reply:

    Agreed, provisionally—funding HSR via discretionary funds is not a good long-term strategy. However, a new transportation bill will likely require either raising new revenue, which will be near-impossible for the next couple of years, or accepting a shrinking transportation budget.

    Ken Reply:

    “Even Republicans aren’t stupid enough to not invest in bullet trains.”

    That’s what the lot of people here have been saying for a long time when I was the only one saying that they’ll just flip-flop when interest money comes flowing their way. And now look at how many people here hate the Republicans.

    Wake up, the Republicans just want to cling onto their old ways so they can milk out as much money from everyone.

    Jerome Alton Carney Reply:

    It’s not a question of stupidity, on the contrary: Republicans intend to be strategic enough to not invest in bullet trains. Their aim is a return to power, and that means kitchen-sinking — with extremely well-rehearsed rhetoric — every major initiative that the Obama administration sets out to accomplish. HSR just happens to be an especially convenient target, since it directly benefits relatively few of the corporate and industrial interests that make up the GOP’s pool of financial backers.

  24. Tony D.
    Apr 13th, 2011 at 16:39

    OK, barring any change of heart from the GOP on HSR (don’t hold your breath), here’s my proposal:
    Prop. 1A- $9.9 billion
    Fed money (to date)- $4 billion
    Japan (once they recover)- $20 billion
    Private investments (be it CalPers, Virgin American, other wealthy entities)- $10 billion
    Perhaps it’s time to liberate ourselves from the feds and their “Tax cuts for filthy rich and roads for Afghanistan” policies and take matters into our own hands.

  25. D. P. Lubic
    Apr 13th, 2011 at 16:42

    In other news, courtesy of an e-mail:

    During the 2010 legislative session, the Kansas legislature and Governor Parkinson created a new, state passenger rail program through SB-409. Albeit unfunded, the program could help keep the Southwest Chief Amtrak passenger train operating through western Kansas, southeast Colorado, and northern New Mexico. Not only is this some of the more scenic geography in Amtrak’s system, it is also necessary for intercity transportation needs of Hutchinson, Dodge City, Garden City and rural parts of Colorado and New Mexico. Without some action soon the Southwest Chief could be rerouted through northwest Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle.

    The situation is similar to that being faced along the Empire Builder route in North Dakota. The Empire Builder runs from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, OR. On Tuesday, Amtrak officials met with various communities in Devils Lake, North Dakota as referenced in the attached article, to discuss developing an Empire Builder Coalition. Similarly, a lingering question along the Southwest Chief route is not if, but when will Amtrak be forced to move. Amtrak supports several business unit coalitions across the nation to address such issues. The same could and should be happening along the Southwest Chief route.

    Last year, the BNSF Railway reduced passenger rail speed limits from 79 mph to 60 mph along portions of the route between Newton, Kansas and Lamy, New Mexico sometimes referred to as the Raton Pass route or the Santa Fe passenger-main. The route long served multiple Santa Fe passenger train operations, and arguably the most famous of all US passenger trains, the Super Chief. The Super Chief is sometimes called the “Train of the Stars.” This icon of the rails was once popular with movie stars traveling between Chicago and Los Angeles.

    Amtrak’s creation in 1971 resulted in the discontinuance of all but the Super Chief/ El Capitan, now known as the Southwest Chief. Freight traffic has not been significant over the portion of the route between La Junta, CO and Albuquerque, NM since the Santa Fe’s main freight line was opened through Amarillo at the turn of the 20th Century. Grades through Amarillo were reduced with this line completion, providing relief for heavy freight trains. Less affected by the severe grades, passenger trains continued over Raton Pass.

    The Raton Pass route is now at the end of its usable passenger rail lifespan. Raton Pass has not seen significant maintenance attention and upgrade since the 1950’s. Cash starved Amtrak cannot provide the funding necessary to keep the route operating long term as-is. Like any for-profit business, the BNSF Railway must find ways to cut costs to maximize shareholder return. This means that further downgrades are expected as the Southwest Chief route continues to deteriorate. At some unknown date Amtrak will likely be forced to go the way of the freights through Amarillo where maintenance is paramount.

    A possible solution would be to develop a passenger rail compact between the states of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. The state of New Mexico already owns and operates its own passenger rail service through the Belen – Albuquerque – Santa Fe commuter train. The commuter train service, known as the New Mexico Rail Runner, uses a segment of Southwest Chief rails between Albuquerque and just west of Lamy. The state has been in negotiations to purchase the a segment of the BNSF Railway between Lamy and Raton for several years, but talks may have recently stalled.

    A potential Amtrak expansion route between El Paso – Albuquerque – Pueblo – Colorado Springs – Denver could also be at stake. Colorado should consider beginning its own passenger rail program similar to the Kansas and New Mexico programs. Front Range Colorado population has swelled to the point where alternatives to automotive traffic are urgently needed.

    So how about it Amtrak? Why not start a Southwest Chief Coalition?

    Evan Stair
    Executive Director
    Passenger Rail Kansas


    In search of $100 million to fix Amtrak’s route

    Devils Lake, ND —
    Amtrak representatives Ray Lang and Marc Magliara were in Devils Lake Tuesday to discus present and future service through Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby.
    Right now, overland flooding north of Fargo and west of Rugby is forcing the passenger train to use other routes. When the dike near Harwood is removed and the washout west of Rugby cleaned up, service is expected to be restored here. That could happen shortly, according to Lang.

    But there is another long-term problem that will come into play soon, and that’s the grade raise over 17 miles and a couple of bridges in the Churchs Ferry area. It is being caused by flooding Devils Lake. An engineering report has been completed of 70-80 pages entailing the cost of the project, which will be very costly.

    The track is owned by BNSF Railway,. whose ultimate decision it will be to temporary halt service here. The complete report says it will cost $77 million for the grade raises and bridges, and another $28 million for new rail. Right now, BNSF is enabling Amtrak to maintain service on the line, but the decision to temporarily pull the plug could come suddenly – and quickly.

    “We definitely want to stay on this line, so what we do will be termed a temporary suspension,” Magliara said. “The work to restore it involves a lot of money but it’s possible to raise.” The two men raised the possibility of a possible coalition with the city, Grand Forks and Rugby.

    They also dispelled the rumors and stories of a possible move to the Surrey Line, which goes through New Rockford. The two men said water now covers the concrete portion of the bridge near Churchs Ferry, and they said it will be the bridge inspector’s call as to when service might be disrupted.

    “It’s just a matter of inches right now,” said Lang. “It’s up to BNSF and the call could come quickly and suddenly.” “We’ll just continue to operate until we can’t.”

    Joe Belford of the Ramsey County Commission, who has been on top of this fight for years brought up the idea of a coalition. The idea of another meeting involving high-level government officials, similar to the one held here a year ago when people lined College Drive holding shovels, was also brought up.

    “We feel this problem is fixable,” said Lang. “But a meeting and a coalition would also help greatly.” “Everything helps.”

    Devils Lake had 6,148 boardings during fiscal year 2010. Grand Forks had 19,751 and Rugby 6,409. Amtrak placed orders for goods and services in North Dakota worth $71,100.
    At the end of last year, there were 11 Amtrak employees in North Dakota with total wages of $576, 514. Minot, Williston and Stanley have had work done on their Amtrak facilities.

    The rise of Devils Lake is expected to be relentless and when it rises further the route will be closed. Last fiscal year, the Empire Builder carried 533,000 passengers, the most of any train on Amtrak’s national network.

    The amounts needed to restore the line to credibility are unfunded by BNSF because it says the through route is not needed for freight purposes. Both the current route and the detour are serviced through overnight hours.

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