Ready or not, here comes high speed rail

Definition of a boondoggle: A government program with no chance of succeeding but where huge amounts of money are spent anyway.

Definition of insanity: (See "boondoggle").

Wall Street Journal:

Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a $53 billion plan Tuesday to upgrade and build intercity passenger-rail networks.

Mr. Biden, along with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, announced the plan at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. The six-year program is designed to give 80% of Americans access to passenger-rail service within 25 years-a goal President Barack Obama set in his State of the Union Address-and to create jobs.

"In a global economy, we can't forget that infrastructure is also the veins and the arteries of commerce," Mr. Biden said. He frequently travels between his home state of Delaware and Washington on Amtrak trains.
The administration has already devoted $10.5 billion to passenger-rail programs, with the bulk of the funds going toward California and Florida high-speed rail projects that are currently in the planning stage.

Under the new plan, the administration would provide $8 billion for passenger-rail projects in this year's budget, set to be released next week.

The plan faces hurdles, including how future funding will be paid for and whether it can gain enough support in Congress. Republicans have criticized rail projects as wasteful spending and have called for canceling rail construction as part of a broader plan to reduce the deficit.

Let me state this as delicately as possible; Americans hate taking long trips on trains. They have made their feelings known on this issue by ignoring AMTRAK like it had the plague. A recent study showed that 41 of 44 AMTRAK routes lose money with the worst performance being the route between LA and New Orleans. Each ticket on that route receives a subsidy of $467.

It doesn't matter how fast you make them, how many amenities you add, how many slick commercials you run, or how many Vice Presidents shill for the boondoggle; Americans won't make train travel profitable.

A look at who gets most of that $53 billion will tell you why it is being proposed; unions and subsidized freight companies who want the government to pay for the upgrade in infrastructure. It's the same old Washington racket gussied up with "future" rhetoric.

Spare us the BS and just kill the thing.

James Courcelles adds:

This high tech White House is the first to tweet and text.  Wow.

Look around your house or office:  The Xbox Live game from Microsoft offers the chance to play a live video game, on demand, against another player across town or around the world.  The  iPad II from Apple will offer on demand, 2-way, high-def, completely mobile, face-to-face human communications with a forward facing camera.  The umi telepresence from Cisco offers similar instant communications into the corporate boardroom, classroom or home office.

The Democrats just don't get the message.

The authors of the "shovel-ready stimulus" that admittedly didn't work, have left us standing at the station.  In the last two days, NY and Philadelphia hosted four Democrats giving press conferences on new "job-creating and ambitious" projects that lead us into the 21st century.  

The Democrats sent the VP and Transportation Secretary to an Amtrak station in Philadelphia while 2 US Senators held forth in NY.  Democrats in NJ and NY eagerly pledged up to $10 billion to revive a Hudson River rail tunnel project which republican governor Christie recently canceled because borrowing the $3-5 billion in costs could not be justified.

VP Biden echoed the President from his State of the Union address: "a 6-year, $53 billion high-speed intercity passenger rail plan is an enormous step toward...essential high-speed rail projects. It clearly demonstrates the Obama Administration's commitment to putting this program on the fast track to success...we do big things in America...we can't compete in the next century without this transportation project."

We have teenagers in Cairo tweeting the world, begging for support from the free world.  Our children have playdates with kids half way around the world in places they will never visit.

While our leaders in DC are eager to borrow tens of billions of dollars to "win the future," leaving the rest of us waiting for the train.    

James Courcelles, an independent writer, who can be reached at  

Lee DeCovnick adds:

My grandfather survived the hellish Meuse-Argonne during the First World War. (The famous 77th Infantry Division, "New York's Own"). He was the epitome of the short-tempered, street tough New Yorker. His gravely voice, corroded from mustard gas, constantly railed at the obscene waste in government spending; his colorful vocabulary was never at a loss to describe his raw anger at the corruption inflicted upon the taxpayers by the politicians.

Almost 50 years after his passing, only the names have changed; the extravagant spending, the corruption, payoffs and the kickbacks continue unabated. We read this from CNN Politics.

Washington (CNN) - The Obama administration is proposing to spend $53 billion over the next six years to help promote the construction of a national high-speed, intercity passenger rail network, Vice President Joe Biden announced Tuesday.

The proposal represents a significant expansion of the $10.5 billion already spent on high-speed rail expansion since Obama entered office, including $8 billion in the 2009 economic stimulus package.

So let's be clear, this Administration plans to spend a total of $63.5 billion on high-speed rail starting in 2009 and ending in 2017.  That's assuming there are no cost overruns.  (Insert laugh track here.) Taxpayers might as well take that cash and burn it in giant bonfires in the middle of the Nevada desert.

High-speed rail is what countries build when they want to create a "Hero Project" so their current " Beloved Leader" can point out his wonderful accomplishment. In reality high-speed rail will only work in our heavily urbanized Northeastern corridor. Unfortunately high-speed rail also requires massive ongoing government subsides to fund basic operational costs. Chairman Obama must truly believe we are all idiots if our country goes along with this classic government boondoggle.

What else could the US do with a cool $63.5 billion? 

The government could give every one of the 307 million folks living in the United States a check for $206.84.

The US Navy could purchase 4 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, including the Carrier Air Wings and still have a few billion dollars left over for crew training and deployment.

America could fully fund the undergraduate degrees, med schools and residency programs for 75,000 new doctors. That could solve a few issues related to healthcare.

This country could built and staff 36 brand new teaching hospitals or refurbish 3,175 existing hospitals with a grant of $20 million dollars each. That too could solve a few more issues related to healthcare.

NASA, one of the few government agencies that spins off innovative ideas that create entire new industries, has a FY 2011 budget of $19 billion dollars. $63.5 billion could double NASA's budget by every year for the next three years.

The woefully under funded National Park Service provides a wonderful natural narrative for millions of Americans. Their current budget is $3.14 billion for FY 2011. Let's double that amount for the next 10 years. Can you image the transformative effect this would have on the NPS and the land under their care?

$63.5 billion dollars could easily built and staff 750 technical schools to reach out to all those teenagers who are left behind in our failed high schools. These tech schools would give them practical job skills such as airplane and engine repair, wood and metal fabrication, plumbing, electrical, concrete, HAVC, and carpentry. Tech schools could also develop basic retail skills, train para-medics and EMT's, and teach computer programming and networking without the need for a four-year college degree.

Obama's request for billions of dollars for high-speed rail should provoke an unequivocal "hell no" from the GOP. But I'm wary that some new Congressmen might visualize themselves at the controls of a shiny new train, rather then seeing the big picture. What is that big picture?  Congress must start slashing the federal budget with a chain saw rather then a scalpel. Their failure to do so invites even more monstrous deficits, hyper- inflation, double-digit unemployment that lingers into well into the next decade, and the further erosion of our national security infrastructure.
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