With One Year Left, Republicans Continue Blocking Obama’s HSR Plans
President Barack Obama is nearing the end of his tenure in office, with just over a year left to go before a new president is inaugurated on January 20, 2017. There’s no doubt that he, and many of us, hoped high speed rail would be further along and in more states than it is right now.
The Hill calls his plans stuck in the station (heh, get it?) and sadly, that’s an accurate description. But their article fails to explain why that’s the case – that Republicans are ideologically opposed to HSR, despite its many merits. Instead, they let Republicans spout off as if they’re disinterested and neutral observers, letting them make false and misleading claims:
A little over a year later, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) rejected $2.4 billion in federal dollars for the project, citing concerns about the cost of operating the trains once the federal money for construction ran out.
Republicans in Congress have expressed similar concerns about the California high-speed rail project, which has received more than $3 billion in federal dollars.
“Not only do they lack a business plan, but they continue to waste taxpayer dollars without being held accountable,” Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) said about the California high-speed rail proposal in an interview with The Hill.
“They’re decades out [from offering passenger service],” continued Denham, who has repeatedly offered legislation to deny additional federal funding for the California project.
Denham said the private sector’s interest shows the future for rail is not with the federal government — and likely not for passengers in California.
“It shows there is a future for high-speed rail in the U.S.,” he said. “It needs to be in areas where there is proven ridership numbers and proven routes and speeds. California has no proven ridership numbers, and they continue to blow through deadlines.”
Rick Scott only killed HSR in order to please his right-wing allies, and the article should have noted that every HSR system in the world generates a profit and does not require operating subsidies.
The Hill’s willingness to just let Jeff Denham say whatever he wants without checking his facts is disappointing if not surprising. California HSR has proven ridership numbers, validated by every peer review conducted to date. It serves the right route with the right speeds, comparing favorably to HSR routes in Europe.
Denham’s repeated efforts to defund and destroy California HSR are responsible for many of the project delays, and if the federal government had come through with its share of HSR funding as was intended under Obama’s 2009 plan, the private sector would likely already be opening their checkbooks – though it is worth keeping in mind that so far, no HSR system anywhere in the world has been solely privately funded.
President Obama’s HSR plans stalled not because it was a bad idea, but because Republicans did very well in the 2010 elections. By taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives and of several state governments – including Wisconsin, Florida, and Ohio, which rejected HSR stimulus money – Republicans were able to please their oil company allies and stop Obama’s HSR efforts. It’s unlikely that federal funding for HSR will materialize until Democrats retake Congress.
While one can and should fault Obama and Congressional Democrats for not having provided long-term HSR funding in 2009 or 2010, Republicans would surely have gutted it anyway.
HSR’s fate is part of the larger national political story, of an extremist Republican Party that is ideologically opposed to government funding of passenger rail.