Biden: Hey, let’s spend $53 billion on high-speed rail

posted at 4:13 pm on February 8, 2011 by Allahpundit

Why not? The federal budget is now like a teetering Jenga tower that stretches into the Earth’s upper atmosphere. There’s no question that it’s going to topple pretty soon, so in the meantime, why not have fun and see how many more pieces we can stick on there before it does?

Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced an ambitious $53 billion program to build new high-speed rail networks and make existing ones faster over the next six years.

Biden, who estimated he has ridden Amtrak between Washington and his home in Wilmington, Delaware, some 7,900 times, made a strong pitch for rail transportation to enable the United States to compete and lead internationally.

“This is about seizing the future,” he said, making the announcement at Philadelphia’s busy 30th Street station with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Japan and China are already building high-speed rail, and “there’s no reason, none,” that the United States cannot do the same, Biden said.

Actually, there are reasons we can’t do the same. See this recent Michael Barone column for a primer. Our version of “high-speed” rail won’t be nearly as high-speed as theirs, making this option uncompetitive with air travel over even moderately long distances, and the property-rights culture in those countries isn’t as strong as it is here, which means all sorts of tangles for the feds in finding land to lay dedicated track. There’s also the teensy matter of our crippling leviathan deficits, which explains why GOP transportation honchos John Mica and Bill Shuster are already giving Biden the thumbs down on today’s announcement. Interestingly, as recently as a week ago, both men sounded bullish on HSR. I wonder which member of the GOP leadership was tasked with having a little chat with them about spending.

Here’s Reason TV from last March with a quick-and-painless guide to America’s latest boondoggle in the name of Progress. Note well the bit about Amtrak subsidies for a sneak preview of the sinkhole that high-speed rail will become. Serious question: Is there any federal spending initiative that Democrats won’t defend on grounds that it’ll either create jobs or (giggle) end up turning a profit “eventually”? Theoretically, there has to come a point where the budget grows so bloated that even leftists agree that pursuing risky new projects is imprudent for the time being, until we retrench fiscally and reprioritize. And yet, evidently, we haven’t yet reached that point. Where is that point, exactly?


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This is not only a payoff to SEIU but also a payoff to cities. Where are airports in most large cities? In the suburbs. Where are train stations? In the inner city. Who gets hurt when people are forced to take the trains instead of flying? People in the suburbs/exurbs (Republicans). Who benefits? Democrats running the inner cities.

angryed on February 8, 2011 at 5:56 PM

Austin has been “building” light rail for years, had it up and running off and on for one month only to find that it wasn’t running: rails not installed correctly, switches at intersections not functioning, no warnings, no stops as scheduled. People rode it the first week while it was

“free” (tax funded). But as soon as riders were required to buy passage, it ran empty. Back to fixing what was just bought and paid for, requiring more expenditures, as if it will EVER actually function on a regular schedule if at all. Five miles from city limits, it costs $12. per ride into downtown each way, and it’s not a straight shoot, and it isn’t any faster than taking the bus. Now who is really going to take the rail at that cost and on that schedule?

maverick muse on February 8, 2011 at 4:59 PM

Ahh but you see this is step 1. Step 2 will be taxing the hell out of cars and gas. So when gas is $20 a gallon, $12 for the ride will seem like a good deal

angryed on February 8, 2011 at 5:58 PM

Your suppositions ignore the fact that I was confining MY suppositions to the Eastern Seaboard, which isn’t exactly like crossing Montana. You will note that I otherwise concur with the majority.

Logistics. Exactly.

manwithblackhat on February 8, 2011 at 5:44 PM

Apologies for not reading more closely. It could work between the population centers, if left to private industry and competition; but that option has been severed from the realm of the possible by years of government subsidies and mismanagement.

If the population will support it without subsidies, I’m right there with you. I loved the ease (and economy) of moving from town to town when I visited Italy back in the ’90s. It’s a beautiful thing; it just won’t work here for most of us, for various reasons, and the Las Vegas Line is an idiotic proposition for a myriad of reasons. Why does that wasteful brick of a proposition stay alive? (—cough—Harry Reid—cough—)

I would love to see some rail passenger lines available; I just don’t think that the government should be tilting the market one way or another.

(Of course, that cat’s already out of the bag with GM & Chrysler, no?)

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 6:04 PM

How about just securing the borders and turning the water back on in California first…?

Seven Percent Solution on February 8, 2011 at 6:05 PM

Damn, where have I seen that Amtrak logo before?

pain train on February 8, 2011 at 6:08 PM

It will be fat greedy union built and fat greedy union operated. That’s why the democratics are all for it.

slickwillie2001 on February 8, 2011 at 6:11 PM

Damn, where have I seen that Amtrak logo before?

pain train on February 8, 2011 at 6:08 PM

You owe me a monitor; I just spit a hole through mine.

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 6:12 PM

Look at Atlanta, and their rail system.
They wouldn’t run it to the stadium, because the city receives money from the parking at the stadium. So the most popular venue they ignore.
But not to be outdone, the “minority” community was in an uproar so they ran a line to a government housing project.
The rail line makes no money, is at a constant loss, and serves no real purpose besides being a monument to government excess and political “engineering”.

right2bright on February 8, 2011 at 6:14 PM

Look at Atlanta, and their rail system.
They wouldn’t run it to the stadium, because the city receives money from the parking at the stadium. So the most popular venue they ignore.
But not to be outdone, the “minority” community was in an uproar so they ran a line to a government housing project.
The rail line makes no money, is at a constant loss, and serves no real purpose besides being a monument to government excess and political “engineering”.

right2bright on February 8, 2011 at 6:14 PM

Now that makes perfect sense…

…if you understand the entitlement mindset enabled, nurtured and encouraged by the diseased social engineers of the leftist bent.

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 6:25 PM

Jerry Jone’s ChromeDome cost $1billion, and Uncle Sugar is gonna build a nationwide rail network with $53b. Yeah, riiiight! They won’t hestitate to waste all of that just on the blueprints then demand more.

Limerick on February 8, 2011 at 6:30 PM

Himmler liked trains, too.

Vashta.Nerada on February 8, 2011 at 5:24 PM

As did Benito Mussolini. In fact, he made them run on time, or so they tell us.

Del Dolemonte on February 8, 2011 at 6:38 PM

Just give every man, woman and child who would use high speed rail $1 MILLLON and we’ll save like $50 billion.

DrW on February 8, 2011 at 6:38 PM

Was arguing with someone on rails/high speed rails and found this article:

http://www.economist.com/node/16636101

journeyintothewhirlwind on February 8, 2011 at 6:41 PM

Good one Groucho !!! (nyuk, nyuk) :D

er… what you’re serious ???

cableguy615 on February 8, 2011 at 6:44 PM

Hey, just think of all the Mexicans that project would employ!

Dr. ZhivBlago on February 8, 2011 at 6:45 PM

Holy Cow! This article is the first time I have ever seen Mica come out against this stupid rail system. I have been writing him about it for a while but he has been on board with it. This is good news indeed.

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 7:13 PM

I haven’t quite gotten a good grasp on Obamanomics yet. Is light rail going to save us money by spending money, or is this part of investing wisely and winning teh future?

bitsy on February 8, 2011 at 7:23 PM

Theoretically, there has to come a point where the budget grows so bloated that even leftists agree that pursuing risky new projects is imprudent for the time being, until we retrench fiscally and reprioritize. And yet, evidently, we haven’t yet reached that point. Where is that point, exactly?

I haven’t met one yet…well, aside from defunding the DOD…but they already have plans to spend that in addition to all of the other spending. Marxists aren’t good on budgets.

AUINSC on February 8, 2011 at 7:24 PM

YES YES YES.
YES YES YES.
YES YES YES.
YES YES YES.
YES YES YES.

Let’s build more government infrastructure by UNION WORKERS and promoted by UNION Leadership.

Let’s also make sure this gets kicked back to the Chinese construction industry in some ways (since they’re financing it).

Can we involve GE?

Let’s also frame this as an “investment” in our future.

And by all means let’s get Joe a faster train home to Delaware. I’m thinking one more train ride on January 20, 2013 for him back to Dover.

PappyD61 on February 8, 2011 at 7:34 PM

Many contributers have cogently pointed out that costs will far exceed the 53 B estimate. Half a TRILLION is more like it when you consider a double set of tracks that can handle 300 MPH trains, people to build , maintain and guard these tracks (imagine sabotage at 300 MPH) plus the manufacture of the trains themselves-engineers, architects, UNION labor (including fringe benefits, featherbedding, pension and medical plans–not the “cheap shit” like Obamacare.) Not to mention the billions of dollars in litigation tort fees for thousands of dead and dying incurred at dizzying speeds with resulting property damage. And all for a rail system with a hundred years history of financial failure.

MaiDee on February 8, 2011 at 7:39 PM

Wouldn’t it just be cheaper to build Biden HIS OWN TRAIN to Delaware? Even at a Billion $$$$ it would still be a winnner.

PappyD61 on February 8, 2011 at 7:47 PM

When God was handing out brains, Joe Biden thought he said trains and said “give me a slow one”.

PatMac on February 8, 2011 at 7:56 PM

As the Economist points out,China’s high-speed trains are not income makers, but cost more and more money, and squeezing out the low-income travelers as cost rises.

As for Japan, whose landmass is slightly smaller than California, they created dedicated track for their high-speed rail. Between the cost and environmental red tape, that’s not going to happen in the States. Short-distance, high-speed rail does well; but the longer the line is, the less competitive it is to flying.

The money proposed by Biden wouldn’t cover the groundbreaking for such an extensive rail system. Take it from California, which is spending $4.3 billion on a 65 mile stretch of track, within an overall train improvement plan costing $42 billion. (via M.Barone, NRO)

Of course, all this conversation is craziness when everyone knows we don’t have money to throw into such projects.

DeoGratias on February 8, 2011 at 7:57 PM

PatMac on February 8, 2011 at 7:56 PM

ROFL..That was a good one!..:)

Dire Straits on February 8, 2011 at 7:59 PM

Biden: Hey, let’s spend $53 billion on high-speed rail

NEXT: Government-subsidized Buggy Whip Factories…to provide replacement jobs for the 100,000+ lost (so far) to Obama’s shutdown of the energy industry.

….you can use them on your Volt when it dies in the middle of the street on your way to work the unemployment office…

landlines on February 8, 2011 at 8:16 PM

I was driving Highway 17 last weekend and managed to get stuck behind a bus. An Amtrak bus. So Amtrak, which gets my tax dollars to subsidize an inefficient mode of transportation, uses my money to buy buses and compete with private companies.

Likewise, the San Francisco transit authority, which runs the bridges across the bay, decided it also needed to run a high-speed ferry from Marin to San Francisco which looses money by the barrel.

All these government transportation bureaucracies always turn into little fiefdoms which take tax dollars away from voters, siphon market away from private enterprise, and continually expand to take up more resources and require more infrastructure, more buildings, more employees (unionized, of course), and more tax dollars. I say: Let’s strangle this one in its crib before that happens.

Socratease on February 8, 2011 at 8:17 PM

I haven’t quite gotten a good grasp on Obamanomics yet. Is light rail going to save us money by spending money, or is this part of investing wisely and winning teh future?

bitsy on February 8, 2011 at 7:23 PM

You sound up to speed to me.

petunia on February 8, 2011 at 8:17 PM

I guess this is a sputnik moment when we lose all sense because Japan and China have a toy we don’t have.

petunia on February 8, 2011 at 8:18 PM

As for Japan, whose landmass is slightly smaller than California, they created dedicated track for their high-speed rail. Between the cost and environmental red tape, that’s not going to happen in the States.

One thing about high-speed rail is that you have to design the tracks so that they make wide enough turns to keep the train from coming off the tracks. That means you won’t be able to pick your route around important structures or people who don’t want to sell their land, but instead will have to cut almost a straight line through everything. That means significant increases in expense for the land, lawsuits to obtain right to it, and political backlash against the trains which will require more political payoffs to keep people happy. I’m sure none of these were factored in to the cost estimates of these projects.

Socratease on February 8, 2011 at 8:29 PM

OK, let’s tax Democrats for the funds needed.

SC.Charlie on February 8, 2011 at 8:39 PM

If the population will support it without subsidies, I’m right there with you.

Transportation infrastructure, whether it’s a highway system or light rail, is rarely done without government subsidy. We keep forgetting that our road system is NOT “pay as you go,” but we assume that a rail system can succeed just as easily that way.

I loved the ease (and economy) of moving from town to town when I visited Italy back in the ’90s. It’s a beautiful thing; it just won’t work here for most of us, for various reasons …

… one of which I indicated earlier. Gasoline has long been more expensive in Europe than in the USA. (I’m sure you noticed that people all drove smaller cars when you were there.) Also, most of the nation’s urban growth has been since the end of WW2, which has been designed around the car. That investment happened in exchange for alternate forms of infrastructure, most notably rail. And now we’re paying the price.

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 6:04 PM

manwithblackhat on February 8, 2011 at 8:42 PM

“Seizing the future”? Aren’t trains like a nostalgic 1860′s kinda thing?

Look at the weather we had in the north east, NONE of the frickin trains ran on time, all the switches and signals were frozen or broken even days after the snow clean up.

Seriously?

Alden Pyle on February 8, 2011 at 8:50 PM

OMG! Obama will mandate everyone purchase a ticket.

Question: Will the NAACP make Clarence Thomas sit in the back of the train??

TN Mom on February 8, 2011 at 9:29 PM

Rail is just a way to convey huge amounts of taxpayer money to UNIONS and UNION employees. High speed rail just does it faster. Is there any rail outside of the heavy urban commuter corridors that pays its own way? All is subsidized through more taxpayer money. Hell, the buses in Tampa and St. Pete run less than half full during busy hour.

Dandapani on February 8, 2011 at 9:40 PM

Rail is just a way to convey huge amounts of taxpayer money to UNIONS and UNION employees.

And, as everyone knows, highways in this country have never been built with union labor.

manwithblackhat on February 8, 2011 at 10:12 PM

Had Biden actually PAID what it cost to ride AmTrak those 7k times, he wouldn’t be pushing HSR today.

GarandFan on February 8, 2011 at 5:20 PM

I saw Joe Biden on several of those train trips back in the 1990′s. He took the Metroliner, which was the expensive express version of AmTrack at the time.

My roundtrip Philadelphia – Baltimore Metroliner ticket cost about $90 back then.

Biden’s Delaware – Washington DC Metroliner ticket would have been even more expensive, and that’s not including AmTrack’s government subsidy.

How many people would pay that much for a daily commute, unless they were being reimbursed by the taxpayers?

wren on February 8, 2011 at 10:19 PM

Did anyone else see this “debate” between (D) Maloney and (R) Ryan? Besides looking like a freak of plastic surgery overkill (barely open eyes and pouting fish lips), Maloney is just a wind-up flogger of Dem talking points who thinks that her fillibustering is logical.

The comments afterward are good, too.
http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/259299/ryan-vs-maloney-robert-costa

onlineanalyst on February 8, 2011 at 10:30 PM

Why are Democrats so obsessed with trains?

joejm65 on February 8, 2011 at 4:19 PM

They failed to understand the point of Atlas Shrugged.

They also have a one-track mind. (The last word, mind, is a hyperbole in describing Dems.

onlineanalyst on February 8, 2011 at 10:34 PM

I hate to admit it, but I’ve been thinking along the same lines that Sloe Joe seems to be here. Why shouldn’t I go ahead and max out my credit cards buying guns, ammo, gas storage containers and food stores and prepare for the coming collapse. What the hell. We’re all going to be bankrupt soon anyway.

Spider79 on February 8, 2011 at 10:36 PM

… one of which I indicated earlier. Gasoline has long been more expensive in Europe than in the USA. (I’m sure you noticed that people all drove smaller cars when you were there.) Also, most of the nation’s urban growth has been since the end of WW2, which has been designed around the car.

I have found nothing to support this notion.

That investment happened in exchange for alternate forms of infrastructure, most notably rail. And now we’re paying the price.

Perhaps you’re equating the lack of options besides light rail with true choice, under which fantasy pretendish haze, light rail or some other rainbow-colored option might present itself in an economic manner; one in which government intervention, assistance, if you will, was not coerced at the sharp end of a 1099 document.

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 10:42 PM

In other words, O black-hatted one, I reject the notion that the evolution of transportation in Europe HAD to evolve around three-cylinder death-traps because… whatever your mashed-up point was. In fact, cooperation and information-sharing would have more than likely produced something that had at least the specter of success hiding in its shadow.

The fact of the matter is that the EXTRAORDINARILY HIGH COST OF LIVING was itself a product of the quasi-socialist bent of European politics and the unrealistic assumption that the United States would forevermore bear the cost of providing a militarily “safe” Europe.

In other words/worlds, they rode their rainbow-colored zebra to death with the bit square in the jaw of the donkey.

(with their eyes wide open, I might add)

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 10:56 PM

Biden: Hey, let’s spend $53 billion on high-speed rail

Only if we can use it to run you and Barry out of town.

mizflame98 on February 9, 2011 at 12:04 AM

Biden, who estimated he has ridden Amtrak between Washington and his home in Wilmington, Delaware, some 7,900 times, made a strong pitch for rail transportation to enable the United States to compete and lead internationally.

Unless they’re planning on putting a long rail bridge over the ocean, I don’t see how it will help us lead internationally.

mizflame98 on February 9, 2011 at 12:12 AM

Why are Democrats so obsessed with trains?
joejm65 on February 8, 2011 at 4:19 PM

It’s an economical way to send large groups of people to the gulags.

mizflame98 on February 9, 2011 at 12:19 AM

$53 billion is bad enough. But these new trains will cost $53 billion the way Amtrak costs $0.

That is to say, the latter’s trains cost us nothing to build (they’re already built) and still have require $40 billion in subsidies (so far).

Biden knows this, as his folksy daily trip from Delaware to DC has been the primary anecdotal impetus for giving Amtrak hundreds of millions each year on average.

HitNRun on February 9, 2011 at 12:54 AM

Oh, and I forgot to mention that we could spend $53 trillion and still wouldn’t have “high speed” rail by the standards of Europe and East Asia, because Joe Biden would insist the trains stop in (at least 2 of:) Wilmington, Dover, and Newark, and the US is awash from sea to shining sea with bacon bagging pols who would insist on the same.

In short, only the Obama administration would think it clever to send the man who personally epitomizes all the reasons why the idea is poor to sell it.

HitNRun on February 9, 2011 at 12:59 AM

Hummm, Seattle has/had a monorail and now has/had a metrorail. How’s that working for ya’?

Caststeel on February 9, 2011 at 1:12 AM

Here’s another reason not to do it. I just chose a date one week from now and searched for flights from JFK to BOS. $96 on Jetblue – takes an hour (36 minutes in the air) and receives no government subsidies.

The shortest trip on Amtrak takes just over 3.5 hours and costs $99 before the government subsidies.

Given the choice, who would take the train besides morons and aerophobes?

Speaking of morons, why is the left so fascinated with trains anyway?

Wingo on February 9, 2011 at 1:34 AM

Hummm, Seattle has/had a monorail and now has/had a metrorail. How’s that working for ya’?

Caststeel on February 9, 2011 at 1:12 AM

And they spent a crap load of money on it (light rail). After years and years of studies and wasted taxpayer money they FINALLY built it. Never mind the fact that the rail lines did not run on commuter routes so it did nothing to decrease traffic. Also never mind the fact that nobody uses it.

tbear44 on February 9, 2011 at 5:05 AM

Hey why not? They could have two, one for working folks and the other a “pot” train, with govenment subsidized marijuana as part of the stumulus program. It could just go back and forth at high speed and then the numbers of riders per mile would look good at budget time where even rational folks would have to hail the success of this sixties dream.

Don L on February 9, 2011 at 6:03 AM

Maybe Biden is trying to revive the Supertrain! NBC always had the right vision when it comes to high speed rail.

gatorfanatic on February 9, 2011 at 7:34 AM

right2bright on February 8, 2011 at 6:14 PM

Here in Raleigh, NC they have been trying to do the same thing. Build a light rail system, but one that avoids the airport to preserve to preserve the parking lot revenues. The stupid project would go from downtown Raleigh to the Research Triangle Park. The RTP is a huge area, so to use the train for commuting, one would have to drive and fight already miserable traffic to get downtown, park for the day, take the train and then find local transport in the RTP. And of course do the reverse procedure at night.

MJBrutus on February 9, 2011 at 7:45 AM

I’m all for building HSR as long as some corporate entity who has to answer to stockholders is in charge of it instead of the bumbling buffoons we have in DC, whose only interest is political. That’s the only way it would work, in the private sector where people will be held accountable.

scalleywag on February 9, 2011 at 7:58 AM

Spider79 on February 8, 2011 at 10:36 PM

“Note to self …”

manwithblackhat on February 9, 2011 at 8:43 AM

HSR: don’t need it… gonna be a money sinkhole…

Khun Joe on February 9, 2011 at 9:01 AM

Did Biden walk home from the station? He rode home every day because he didn’t want to live in DC and raise his kids there. Meanwhile, the Tampa Trolley to Ybor City, if it’s still running, is losing money. Dem mayors thought it was a good idea.

Kissmygrits on February 9, 2011 at 9:24 AM

Apparently Joe didn’t get the Lionel he wanted for Christmas years ago and he still pines for it.

mark of fish on February 9, 2011 at 12:03 PM

In other words, O black-hatted one, I reject the notion that the evolution of transportation in Europe HAD to evolve around three-cylinder death-traps because … whatever your mashed-up point was.

I’d tell you again, but busy I’m trying to figure out YOUR point, especially since I’ve been rejecting the same notion. Whatever factors led to Europe’s transportation infrastructure in comparison to ours, it is an example of how we might have been better off had we foreseen the outcome sooner. The USA consumes one-sixth of the world’s resources. Do you really think our dependence on the automobile to go anywhere for any reason is not a factor in that? How long do you think it will continue with China and India gaining ground as developing nations?

manwithblackhat on February 9, 2011 at 12:24 PM

Why not make it $58B–one billion per state!

DailyDanet on February 9, 2011 at 12:51 PM

If “high speed” rail was such a great idea, why hasn’t private industry built it already? If the federal government is going to spend money it doesn’t have on technological projects, at the very least they should be cutting edge projects that open up whole new industries, such as the Internet or space travel or GPS. Why in the world is it necessary to have the federal government build something that would be considered cutting edge only in the 19th century?

Fred 2 on February 9, 2011 at 3:57 PM

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 6:04 PM

manwithblackhat on February 8, 2011 at 8:42 PM

You know guys, I just can’t quite get what you two are at odds over.

Badger40 on February 9, 2011 at 8:25 PM

We need to be more than the “Party of No”. We need to be a people or no! I mean I know we have a new tone, but we need to roll up a newspaper and bop Obama on the nose every time he tries to spend our money… NO!

The Expert Knows

HAExpert on February 9, 2011 at 11:33 PM

Theoretically, there has to come a point where the budget grows so bloated that even leftists agree that pursuing risky new projects is imprudent for the time being, until we retrench fiscally and reprioritize. And yet, evidently, we haven’t yet reached that point. Where is that point, exactly?

As long as they call it “investing for the future,” we’ll never reach that point.

tom on February 10, 2011 at 5:10 PM

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