Cynical Synapse

Tue, 19 Jul 2011

House Republicans Use Flood Relief for Political Gain

Filed under: Congress, Deceit, Government, Hypocrits, Passenger rail, Politics, Stimulus — cynicalsynapse @ 6:00 am

high speed rail awards

On Friday, 15 July, the US House voted to redirect high-speed rail funding to flood relief in the Midwest. In the balance is about $1 billion in high-speed rail funding Florida said no thanks to but which is not yet obligated to other projects even though the Department of Transportation has named new recipients. The vote on House Resolution 2354 was largely along party lines with 219 for (mostly Republicans, 196 opposed (mostly Democrats), and 16 not voting. The same is true for Michigan’s delegation, with only Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI-3) breaking party ranks. Rep. Mike Rodgers (R-MI-8) did not vote. Even though Rep. Mark Walbergh’s (R-MI-7) district stands to benefit, he voted to strip the high-speed rail money.

Before the vote, Rep. Louise Slaugher (D-NY) said redirecting the high-speed rail funding was “misguided”.

[Cutting high-speed rail funding] will eliminate thousands of jobs, will halt a large number of rail projects across the country and we are way behind every other nation, industrial nations anyway, and hurt local and station economies. This is the latest in the majority’s agenda that can best be described as penny-wise and pound-foolish. The high speed and intercity passenger rail program is critical to our country’s competitiveness. It puts Americans back to work, it revitalizes our construction and manufacturing sectors, boosts the domestic economy and helps in U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Amtrak Acela express train

Full disclosure: I am a rail enthusiast and it saddens me the US has a passenger rail system that even third world countries would denounce. In an effort to avoid full-body scanners at the airport, I found out it would take me 40 hours to get to Orland from Detroit by rail. Excuse me? Nonetheless, passing HR 2354 is unadulterated political grandstanding. It is unlikely the Senate will pass the bill, so House Republicans are simply using flood victims as human shields. And, even if the Senate did pass the House bill, Pres. Obama would probably veto it.

Amtrak is not perfect, but it suffers from a dirth of Amtrak haters in Congress. While politicians decry subsidizing Amtrak, how many billions are spent on airports, air traffic control, and highways every year? Conventional wisdom holds we cannot build our way out of road congestion. The US transportation network faces a lack of focus and strategic planning that seriously hampers the country’s global competitiveness. While there is a failure to integrate transportation planning and funding, there is also a lack of strategic foresight. This is exacerbated by the short-term mindsight of our elected officials who rarely see beyond the fiscal year, let alone to the far reaches of an entire term in office.

Previously on passenger rail:

Sat, 19 Mar 2011

TSA Jackboots Assault Train Passengers

Filed under: Business, Citizen rights, Duh, Government, Life, Oppression, Passenger rail, Railroads, Rants, Transit, Travel — cynicalsynapse @ 6:53 pm

VIPR team expands

Frequent readers may know that I am a railfan, meaning I like railroads. That may bias me, but I also believe passenger rail is essential to America’s prosperity. We cannot spend out way out of road congestion and there are physical constraints on air travel. A coherent rail passenger policy, including high-speed rail, is essential to our country remaining competetive in the not-so-distant future. Unfortunately, many myopic politicians can’t see past the measley Federal subsidies to Amtrak. That’s different from airport and highway subsidies how? Never mind Amtrak ridership has been rising since 2000. But, I digress.

Most frequent readers probably know of my disdain for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). On February 13th, the government thugs took over the Savannah GA Amtrak station to screen passengers. Two big problems. First, TSA was screening passengers after they got off the train. Second, passengers don’t have to go through the station to get to or from the train platforms. More pointless security theater.

subject to mandatory screening

While TSA claims they made prior arrangements with the rail passenger agency, the Amtrak police chief says TSA’s actions were illegal and a surprise to Amtrak. In fact, Chief John O’Connor thought initial blog posts on the TSA extremism were a joke. He noted Amtrak police operate within the Constitution and TSA agents have no right to go beyond that.

TSA justifies their actions, saying people didn’t have to enter the station. I’m sorry—doesn’t that prove the idiocy of TSA’s whole concept? If you don’t want to be screened, just go around the station. If you don’t want a full-body scan, just go to one of 85.6% of airports that don’t have the scanners.

TSA at Tampa bus terminal

February’s assault on Savannagh was part of TSA’s VIPR program. While it sounds good, VIPR—Visible Intermodal Protection and Response—teams are randomly executed and consist of ad hoc groups. These include Air Marshals—to provide TSA with armed agents on the ground—and bomb detection teams. They descend on bus terminals and wherever else they happen to want to.

Not satisfied with harassing the flying public, TSA has teams of shock troops running amok to subjugate bus riders and intimimdate train passengers. Didn’t we used to claim these were the evils of communism? Can anyone show any tangible security benefits to the TSA’s excesses?

Previously on security theater:

Wed, 08 Dec 2010

Engler, Part Deux! Rail Be Damned!

Filed under: Budget, Detroit, Government, Michigan, Passenger rail, Politics, Railroads, Transit, Travel — cynicalsynapse @ 10:07 pm

High speed rail

Michigan stands to lose out on $161 million in Federal high speed rail money because Michigan Senate leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester Hills) did not allow the bill to come to a vote. Bishop’s cheap shot is almost as dispicable as former Gov. John Engler’s (R) last minute veto of regional transit for metro Detroit.

Bishop had said he’d allow the State Senate to vote on the measure already passed by the State House.

I don’t ask the state taxpayers to finance anything unless a business plan is presented that gives us some indication that it brings value.

Possible Woodward corridor transit

Apparently, anti-transit behavior is a Republican trait. Cece Grant, a native Detroiter and Michigan organizer for Transportation for America, summed it up this way.

The legislature failing to act is really putting us at a competitive disadvantage to the other states. It’s saying we’re stuck in the past.

There’s no way for your employees to get back and forth to work. We’re not a mobile society. We don’t have bustling thriving downtowns.

Amtrak train

I look at it another way. I don’t support the full body scanners or “enhanced” pat downs at airports. But at 5-1/2 to 6 hours for a train ride to Chicago, rail is not competitive. On the other hand, high speed rail, with travel times between Chicago and Detroit around 3 hours, is competitive with both air travel and driving.

Without transit, and without high speed rail, Detroit is neither attractive nor competitive. In fact, Detroit is no better off than Mogadishu.

Previously on high speed rail and transit:

Sun, 28 Nov 2010

Rick Snyder on High Speed Rail: Crickets

Filed under: Government, Hypocrits, Life, Michigan, Passenger rail, Politics, Railroads, Stimulus, Take action, Travel — cynicalsynapse @ 2:23 pm

Midwest High Speed Rail Initiative

Michigan is sucking eggs in the quest for Federal dollars to develop high speed rail. Grants this year total only $200 million out of a request for $993 million. And none of that money is actually being used for high speed rail. From the Stimulus bill, Michigan got $40 million for new stations in Troy and Dearborn plus renovations to the Battle Creek station. The October grant—which requires Michigan to match $30 million&mash;covers purchasing Norfolk Southern’s track from Dearborn to Kalamazoo and upgrading it to 79 mph. It also includes reconstructing connecting track in West Detroit. None of this is the 110 mph or faster promised by high speed rail.

Amtrak owns the line between Kalamazoo and the state line near New Bufalo. In partnership with Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Amtrak’s Michigan line has been upgraded to 95 mph speeds along some segments. That’s almost high speed and plans call for raising the segment to 110 mph. Why Michigan didn’t get any Stimulus money for this is beyond me. Where are Sens. Carl “Leave ’em” Levin (D) and Debbie “Stab me now” Stabinow on this? How about US Reps. Fred Upton (R-06) and Mark Schauer (D-07)?

Amtrak 452 F59PHI

A recent poll of over 24,000 by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found 62% would ride high speed rail if it was available and competetive in time and price with flying or driving. I’ll bet the number would go up if it meant avoiding full body scanners and/or “enhanced” pat downs. Amtrak wants to cut time from Detroit to Chicago from 5-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours. I’d call that competive with driving. Round trip on Amtrak costs $62-84 depending on times. Airfare starts at $190, so travel by rail is more cost effective than flying. The problem is 5-1/2 hours takes too long while 3-1/2 hours makes skipping the security lines at the airport worth it.

Amtrak on its Michigan Division at Durand

Republicans John Kasich and Scott Walker, Govs.-elect in Ohio and Wisconsin, are hostile to high speed rail. In fact, Mr. Kasich wants to give up a $400 million grant for new passenger service from Cleveland to Columbus to Cincinatti, the 3C line. Despite popularity for a new Milwauke to Madison line, Walker wants to forego $810 million in high speed rail grants. Both expected to be able to repurpose the money for roads. Says US Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood: Not!

Like pirhana swarming to fresh blood in the water, a dozen states are asking for the $1.2 billion to be rejected by Ohio and Wisconsin. LaHood said there are “a lot of states that would like to have access to that money.”

What’s the word out of Michigan? Nothing. From Gov.-elect Rick Synder? Crickets. Good start on your 10-point plan, Gov. Nerd. Michigan needs the jobs and the infrastructure. Tell the “tough nerd” to take his hat off and belly up to the table with his empty plate and get Michigan’s fair share.

Previously on high speed rail:

Tue, 26 Oct 2010

Good Money After Bad

Amtrak on it's own rails at Dowagiac

Lest there be any doubt, I am a strong proponent of mass transit by rail and intercity rail passenger service. But…

The announcement of US DOT investing $150 million plus in Michigan’s high speed rail corridor is a misnomer. The grant is for Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to acquire and rehabilitate track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo. When done, the track will allow passenger rail speeds of 79 mph. First, that’s not high speed. Second, the track is already rated at 79 mph for passenger trains. Besides relieving present owner Norfolk Southern of maintaining the track, the only tangible benefit in the grant is improving connecting track in West Detroit. The grant also includes $3.2 million for planning the Detroit-Chicago high-speed corridor. Isn’t it already planned? Work has already been done on the Amtrak-owned Kalamazoo to state line portion. What more planning needs to be done?

railroad diamonds

Just over $7.9 million will be spent on connections between Detroit area trackage and the main line in West Detroit. That part probably makes sense. But here’s a piece no one is talking about: Michigan needs to fund $30 million to get the grants. Any bets on how likely that is, given the current budget situation?

Interesting, too, is how the value of the grants is $150 to $161 million and how Sens. Levin (D) and Stabinaw (D) and Rep. Dingell (D) are all claiming credit. Regardless, they’re claiming credit for spending taxpayer dollars on something that provides little, if any, tangible benefit. In fact, if anything, it saddles taxpayers with maintaining Norfolk Southern’s right-of-way. And, if I had to bet money, I’d bet they had little or nothing to do with it. Otherwise Michigan would have been awarded these grants in the first round when Stimulus was big in the news. The fact they’re claiming responsibility just before the election is unadulterated, disgustingly sick, opportunistic grandstanding.

money up in flames

So far, Pres. Obama’s stimulus-related high speed rail initiative has amounted to jack nothing for Michigan in regard to improved travel times. Remodeling some stations and taking over a rail line is still the same 79 mph route. You won’t get people out of their cars with that. And it’s still shorter to fly, even with all the so-called security crap.

Previously on high speed rail:

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