A recent Anderson Cooper segment on CNN mischaracterized Washington State's use of federal stimulus money to improve the Cascades Talgo service as failure to produce a European style high speed passenger train.  The usual suspects pounce. "$800 million have been used to reduce the length of the trip from Seattle to Portland by 10 minutes." No, the money made additional train frequencies possible, and provided additional sidings, in order that the 10 minute reduction in trip time was actual, not notional.
Paula Hammond, former secretary of transportation for Washington state, argues that there are other benefits from the project, such as expanded routes and more reliable scheduling. She explained that the state never intended to build a system like the famous “bullet trains” of Japan and Europe. Notwithstanding grandiose D.C. promises, in the Northwest region, said Hammond, “we want the ability of our communities to be connected so that we can provide travel, a daily business trip between Seattle and Portland, and the opportunity not to have to fight traffic.”
That, despite having devoted nearly all of the stimulus money, close to half a billion dollars, to road projects that will have almost no effect on the volume of traffic drivers have to fight.  Despite the campaigning at Destination: Freedom for a true high-speed Passenger Rail service, toward which the stimulus money is at best the earnest money deposit, the high benefit-cost ratio projects remain the regional rail corridors of California, the Carolinas, radiating out of Chicago, and in the Pacific Northwest.  Most of these corridors are short enough that spending the really big money on German-style fast electric trains will reduce trip length by a half hour or so, end-to-end, and such trains will be hard pressed to realize their potential between intermediate stops.  But the possibility of doing business and returning the same day, or sometimes by early afternoon, and getting work done on the train, without the airport hassles or the road distraction, makes the provision of 110-125 mph diesel trains a task worth pursuing.

No comments: