The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

For transportation advocates and professionals, journalists,
and elected or appointed officials at all levels of government

Publisher: James P. RePass      E-Zine Editor: Molly McKay
Foreign Editor: David Beale      Webmaster: Dennis Kirkpatrick

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October 5, 2009
Vol. 10 No. 42

Copyright © 2009
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 10th Year

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IN THIS EDITION...   In This Edition...

  News Items…
Louisiana Opts Out Of FRA’s First Round
   Of Obama High Speed Intercity Rail Programs
  Expansion Lines…
New Jersey Transit Operates Beyond New York City For The First Time
  Commuter Lines…
MBTA Installs First Bicycle Cage In Boston
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Stimulus Lines…
State’s High-Speed Rail Plan From Nashua To Concord Derailed
  Across The Pond…
German Elections Increase Pressure On Deutsche Bahn
Trains, Planes, Automobiles And The Decline Of Detroit
U.S. Is On A Low-Speed Track To High-Speed Rail
  Publication Notes …

NEWS OF THE WEEK... News Items...

Louisiana Opts Out Of FRA’s First Round
Of Obama High Speed Intercity Rail Programs

From The New Orleans Times-Picayune And By DF Staff

BATON ROUGE, LA ---- “Despite an impassioned last-minute plea Thursday from Rep. Joseph Cao, (R-LA),” reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “[Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s]  administration is sticking with its decision not to seek $300 million in high-speed rail money for a New Orleans-to-Baton Rouge rail link.”

Reporter Jonathan Tilove wrote this past week in New Orleans Pulitzer-Prize winning newspaper, “Rep. Anh ‘Joseph’ Cao “has been looking for ways to keep potential money for the Louisiana project on track,” noting that the deadline for funding for this type of rail corridor project would pass October 2.

“But,” the paper reported, “Gov. Bobby Jindal did agree Thursday to a request he received earlier in the day from the Capital Region Legislative Delegation to create a Passenger Rail Feasibility Working Group to study the economic impact and long-term financing strategy for passenger service between the two cities, perhaps with an eye to applying for future rounds of federal money.”

Louisiana businessmen and other observers noted that this route has been studied several times, in several different forms, for 30 years, but that the President’s program was the first to offer significant capital funding for it, and for other potential rail corridor projects that have languished across America because, unlike the highway system, there has never been a “trust fund” to pay for the work. President Obama’s decision to provide at least a start for such projects, his $8 billion “High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail,” program announced in April, was the first significant Federally-underwritten rail initiative since President Abraham Lincoln’s decision to build the transcontinental railroad in 1863.

NCI President Jim RePass noted, “The President’s plan follows closely the proposals first promulgated by the National Corridors Initiative 20 years ago, to approach the rebuilding of the nation’s rail system using a corridor-based model, wherein city pairs 100-500 or 600 miles apart would receive high speed rail corridors built largely with Federal funds to improve both freight capacity and passenger rail service, and then would be operated either by Amtrak, an Amtrak partner, or an independent rail agency, with a revenue source for operating costs coverage identified in advance.

The operating cost issue was the stumbling block for the Jindal Administration, which was reluctant to apply for the Federal funding unless a firm source of sufficient operating funds, in the case of the Louisiana project initially estimated at $14-$18 million per year, but now estimated to be $15million, were identified in advance.

A University of New Orleans study being assembled currently is expected to look at that issue closely, in a project on “value-capture” that will investigate the very issue raised by the Governor, “How do these corridors pay for their operating costs, once the Federal money has been spent?”

“On Sept. 11, Cao, along with Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville,” reported The Times-Picayune,” wrote Jindal a letter asking him to reconsider and apply for the federal money for the New Orleans-to-Baton Rouge line, which has strong political and business support in and around the two cities:

“The proposed rail would stimulate economic development in the region and improve future hurricane evacuations,” they wrote the governor. “Forfeiting this opportunity now could set the project back decades.”

The paper reported also that Louisiana Transportation Secretary Bill Ankner “is pursuing possible future rounds of funding for rail at the federal level.”

The Times-Picayune also reported: “In their letter to Jindal, the Capital Region Legislative Delegation, led by Rep. Stephen Carter, R-Baton Rouge, and Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, wrote that ‘while we should not pass up an opportunity to submit an application for these federal grant dollars, we also understand that we may not fit all the criteria partially because there is no defined long-term funding strategy at this time.’

“They proposed that the working group would includes representatives of the governor’s office; the congressional delegation; regional legislators; officials from Jefferson, Orleans, East Baton Rouge, Ascension and St. John the Baptist parish governments; the state Transportation Department; Greater New Orleans Inc.; the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce; and the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission.”

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EXPANSION LINES... Expansion Lines...  

New Jersey Transit Operates Beyond New York City
For The First Time

Football Specials Bring Connecticut Fans To Meadowlands Stadium

By David Peter Alan

NEW YORK CITY, SEPTEMBER 20 -- Going into New York City is nothing new for New Jersey Transit. The Garden State’s rail service provider has been going into Penn Station since it began rail operations in 1983. Before that, the Pennsylvania Railroad and its successors went in to the city starting back in 1910 when the original station opened for service.

Sunday, September 20th, marked the start of a new era for NJT when they provided service beyond New York City and into Connecticut. Nutmeg State residents boarded New Jersey Transit trains in New Haven bound for Secaucus, New Jersey, where they would change trains and continue on to Meadowlands Stadium to see the New York Jets play the New England Patriots. It was an historic moment when Metro North crews took the trains to New York’s Penn Station and then handed them over to NJT crews to complete the trip to the stadium which is walking distance from the Meadowlands train station.

Passengers had to change at Secaucus because the Metro North line to New Haven and the Amtrak Northeast Corridor Line are electrified. The tracks between Hoboken and the Meadowlands are not. A small army of NJT managers, police, customer service agents and ticket examiners were on hand at Secaucus to see that fans got to the game and other riders were not overwhelmed by the crowds. One NJT manager, who was on duty on the Secaucus platform, told this writer that NJT was using operating moves that had never been used before.

Not only were the football trains a new experience in through-running for NJT, but for Metro North as well. This marks the first time that Metro-North ran to Penn Station in revenue service and handed trains over to NJT crews. Amtrak does this every day in its Northeast Corridor operations from Boston and Springfield, over the Hell Gate Bridge and to New York and points south of there. For NJT and Metro North, though, regional through running was a new experience.

NJT operates a number of special trains between Hoboken and the Meadowlands for football and soccer games, concerts and other special events. This operation began earlier this year, and trains are often scheduled on an event-by-event basis. New York or New Jersey fans either catch the trains at Hoboken or transfer from other trains at Secaucus. The trains from Connecticut to New Jersey are new as of last Sunday, and they will run for several more games this season.

Rail advocates in New Jersey and New York have promoted such through-running for regular operation in the New York City area. “The football trains are a start, but they are only a start” said George Haikalis, Chair of the Regional Rail Working Group and a longtime proponent of regionalization of rail operations in the tri-state area. Haikalis also said: “The football specials prove that through-running between New Haven and Trenton is feasible and can be implemented without delay. With the savings in time, equipment and money that through-running could bring, it is vital this operation be implemented on a daily basis as soon as possible. We should have through-running to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the original Penn Station next year.”

The fans seemed to enjoy their game day, since they had a train to take them to the stadium and the Jets won 16-9. These fans were the big winners, and so was New Jersey Transit, who got them there and back to Connecticut successfully.

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, which is an organizational member of the Regional Rail Working Group. He is not a football fan, but appeared at Secaucus to observe the new operation on its first day.

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COMMUTERLINES... Commuter Lines...  

MBTA Installs First Bicycle Cage In Boston

From MBTA Press Release And DF Staff

A Portion Of $4.8m Investment Of Stimulus Funds
Will Improve Bike Services

Boston, MA – Massachusetts Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi, local officials, and bicycle advocacy groups gathered last week at Forest Hills Station on the Orange Line in Boston to unveil a new, state-of-the art bicycle commuter cage.  Aloisi also highlighted a planned investment of federal stimulus recovery funds to improve and expand bicycle services for MBTA customers. The MBTA is one of the first transit agencies in the U.S. to construct this type of bicycle cage.

All Photos: NCI - Dennis Kirkpatrick

The old and the new. The existing bicycle rack (foreground) will remain for occasional users and the newer bicycle cage will accommodate the frequent and daily user.

Following the success of the MBTA’s first bicycle cage at Alewife Station on the MBTA’s Red Line subway in 2008, Forest Hills station was identified as the next station to be equipped with a cage.  The location was selected based on bicycle parking demand, and to fulfill environmental justice goals.

Over the last two years, the MBTA also began equipping select commuter rail coaches with dedicated bicycle racks, and a growing percentage of its bus fleet is equipped with front-end bicycle mount racks.

“Promoting cycling as a healthy and environmentally responsible alternative to driving,” Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi said, “For too long we have under-invested in transit and bicycle facilities.  In order to encourage customers to take advantage of a wide range of transportation options we must first provide them with the appropriate facilities and services.”

The Interior will accommodate as many as 100 bicycles of all shapes and sizes.

In addition to bicycle cages at Alewife and Forest Hills Stations, federal funding for additional locations will become available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  The MBTA will use $4.8 million in stimulus funding for a variety of programs to enhance and expand bicycle parking facilities at MBTA stations.  The ARRA program will fund the construction of up to 10 additional bike cages and up to 50 covered bike racks at transit stations system wide.

According to Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino, “Offering a bike cage at Forest Hill MBTA Station is a terrific idea. It will decrease the number of cars being driven into the surrounding residential neighborhood by Downtown Boston commuters, and it offers an alternative to riding the bus for the first part of the morning commute and the last leg of the evening commute.  I look forward to seeing more bike cages installed at MBTA facilities around the City.”

State of the art police emergency call box and card entry system.

Rules of the road - so to speak. Do’s and Don’ts

The brand new bike cage consists of a chain link fence enclosure with a security gate.  Features include lighting, security cameras, rain canopy, and an emergency Transit Police call box. It was built to accommodate up to 100 bicycles and will provide customers with a safe, secure, and sheltered location to park their bicycles. The secured cage is accessible only by riders with a “Bike Charlie Card” which provides a higher level of security with the camera surveillance system. Riders then walk just 50 feet into the station lobby under a canopy. The special access cards for bike riders are available from a customer service agent at Alewife and Forest Hills stations, and at the Downtown Crossing Station Customer Service Center.

Area State Representative Liz Malia said, “Putting bike cages at T stations is a great way to make using public transportation and being environmentally responsible easier. I’m so glad that the Forest Hills station was chosen as the location for Boston’s first bike cage.”

In a related development, the City of Boston is also in process of creating dedicated bicycle lanes on select streets that radian outward from Forest Hills Station to the suburb community of Roslindale. Streets now in process of being painted with dedicated bike lanes are Washington St, South St (outbound), Corinth St (inbound) and Belgrade Avenue. These streets represent a segment of major bus trunks that service Forest Hills station from the southern perimeters of the city.

Notices were sent to area neighborhoods in late September and painting has already begun. The addition of more dedicated bike lanes is under consideration.

Green around green adjacent to the station building.

Dedicated bicycle lanes. This image is one mile from the station on Washington Street.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)78.8580.57
Canadian National (CNI)47.5147.88
Canadian Pacific (CP)44.8545.85
CSX (CSX)41.6542.82
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)29.4330.53
Kansas City Southern (KSU)25.1225.91
Norfolk Southern (NSC)43.2643.96
Providence & Worcester (PWX)10.2011.10
Union Pacific (UNP)57.3859.50

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STIMULUS LINES... Stimulus Lines...  

State’s High-Speed Rail Plan
From Nashua To Concord Derailed

DOT Blames Pan Am Railways

From Fosters Daily Democrat On The Internet

CONCORD, OCTOBER 1 — Plans to create a high-speed rail corridor from Nashua to Concord were derailed Wednesday after state Department of Transportation officials said they would not apply for $300 million in federal economic stimulus funds.

DOT Commissioner George Campbell laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of Pam Am Railways for refusing to participate in talks with the state to create the 39-mile “Capital Corridor” project.

“By walking away from this unique and exiting initiative, Pan Am has effectively closed the window on strengthening New Hampshire’s economy. Our citizens and businesses along this corridor deserve better transportation choices than they have today,” said Campbell in a prepared statement.

Pam Am Railways was an important player in the process because it is the host railroad along the corridor, Campbell explained.

Campbell said the state is discussing with Amtrak its interest in operating passenger rail along the “NH Capital Corridor.” Currently, Amtrak’s Downeaster train serves riders with five daily round trips between Portland, Maine, and Boston, the story continued.

The project would run on 78 miles of upgraded track between Boston and Concord, connecting Concord, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport and Nashua with Boston’s North Station. New Hampshire applied for $1.4 million in planning funds.

Mark Richardson, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association in Weare, said in May the proposed rail corridor could serve up to 600,000 riders per year, who would generate economic development for downtown businesses along the route.

“It reinvigorates the downtown areas and makes them livable and workable areas,” Richardson said. “Obviously, this is a setback.”

Chris Clement, deputy director of the state DOT, described the setback as “a blip” that will force the state to go down a different path.

He said DOT officials have already had good conversations with Amtrak officials and Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman told Clement he is interested in the project.

The state can also apply for federal funds next year when the federal government is expected to make another $8.5 billion available for high-speed rail projects, Clement said.

David Fink, president of Pam Am Railways in North Billerica, Mass., said he would be willing to negotiate with Amtrak if Amtrak approached him about using the rail line between Concord and Nashua for passenger rail.

But Fink said during such difficult economic times the state should not be wasting its time on high-speed rail.

Fink had walked away from negotiations with the state in June. Some officials believe it was his way of getting back at the state for not allowing him to bid on a separate rail line.

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ACROSS THE POND... Across The Pond...  

A View from Europe


German Elections Increase Pressure on Deutsche Bahn

New Center-Right Coalition Government will push for privatization

By David Beale, NCI Foreign Correspondent

Hannover – Germany went to the polls last Sunday to elect a national government for the next four years. Unlike in the USA there is no direct election of the highest office in the German federal government, rather voters have to choose from candidates running for seats in the “Bundestag”, the lower house in the German parliament, as well as indicating their general preference of which party they want to lead the federal government. The election result was not really a surprise to anyone, the center-right CDU-CSU party along with its preferred partner, the FDP (free democrats) won a narrow majority in this election, thus bringing an end to the awkward “black/red” coalition government of the CDU-CSU and the left leaning SPD (Social Democratic) party. Thus Angela Merkel, current Chancellor of Germany will remain in the top office, and for this four-year term she will be surrounded with like-minded social conservatives and pro-business cabinet ministers, unlike the past four years when she had to share political power with pro-labor and left leaning members from the SPD.

What does this result mean for rail transit in Germany? To be sure public spending and investment in public transit in Germany is no where near the political hot potato that it is the USA. Regardless of which political faction has been in charge, the country has invested many hundreds of billions of dollars or euros into public transit over the past 60 years and much of the country enjoys state-of-the-art public transport and passenger trains today as a result. There is widespread support to maintain the network into the foreseeable future, but there are differences in how to pay for it as well as how to manage it. This is where the political divisions in German politics regarding public transport begin to emerge.

The most visible and perhaps most far reaching implication of this election result will be a renewed push for the German federal government to spin-off Deutsche Bahh AG (German Railways) into the private sector. The railroad and logistics firm has remained a fully government-owned company to this day, long after other once government-owned companies such as Deutsche Post (mail, packages and logistics), Lufthansa (passenger / freight airline and aircraft maintenance) and Deutsche Telekom (telephone, internet and EDP services) became fully privatized. A planned partial privatization and IPO (initial public offering) of DBAG on the Frankfurt stock market was called off in mid 2008, when the global financial crisis began to reek chaos on stock markets around the world.

Elsewhere around Europe other rail companies are under pressure to severe their ties to the State and become private companies, with varying degrees of completion so far. In Britain the process is perhaps gone the farthest, only the network / infrastructure actually remains in government hands. Also in Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and Poland privatization of government owned railroads has been moving forward. In France, Hungary, Belgium and a number of other countries, the move towards privatization is going at a snail's pace, primarily due to powerful labor unions which oppose separating the railroad from state control. In France's case, the effect has been a railroad that does relatively well serving the passenger market, but is rapidly loosing ground to trucks, sea / barge freight and air freight on the cargo side.

In Germany the main challenge will be to keep rail competitive with highway trucking of freight as well as dealing with limited state and local public resources for public transit, which competes with education, housing assistance, streets and roads, and social spending for rather limited local tax revenue. In Germany relatively little freight moves on rail unlike in North America. Trucks command more than 90% of the freight market and customers of DBAG's rail freight division, such as automotive suppliers and automobile manufacturers, chemical / petroleum companies and the steel industry have been hit hard by the current recession, thus tempting DBAG to make drastic cuts in this part of it business. The country, in fact all of Europe, need a comprehensive policy to make rail freight more competitive with highway trucking. The test of the new “black-yellow” coalition now elected to run the German federal government will be to see if they make policy decisions which will bolster environmentally friendly rail freight. It will be a difficult challenge to balance sometimes self-destructive tendencies of German rail labor unions, resisting the impulse to make a fast buck from selling off DBAG to the private markets and bending to the wishes and demands of the powerful highway trucking industry.

Photo: David Beale for NCI.

Unified Transit – A DB Regio train arrives in Haste during a run between Bielefeld and Braunschweig (Brunswick) via Hannover on the 3rd of October 2009 – German Reunification Day, the day Germany commemorates the unification of West Germany (BDR) and East Germany (DDR) nearly two decades ago. A few years after Germany became re-unified, the East German and West German state railroads, Deutsche Reichsbahn and Deutsche Bundesbahn, were merged into Deutsche Bahn AG, a for-profit stock-held company that still remains 100% owned by the German federal government. The construction in the foreground is a local project to increase the number of car parking spaces in the Haste train station commuter parking lot.

German Political Parties – a brief summary

CDU - Christian Democratic Union – the CDU along with its closely-allied CSU party in southern Germany form Germany's largest center-right political power. Despite the word “Christian” in their names, the parties are not particularly religious nor bound to Christian dogma. The CDU-CSU are on the record for privatization of DBAG, but they are also generally supportive of rail transit, but have a track record of cutting public budgets on transit spending if under pressure to keep deficits from growing or taxes from increasing. The CDU-CSU is perhaps the closest relative to the U.S. Republican Party of all German political parties, however the CDU-CSU have not followed the conservative social agenda which is the hallmark of the U.S. Republican Party, and the CDU-CSU tend to be also to be left of most American Republicans on a number of economic and financial issues.

SPD – Social Democratic Party – the SPD has its roots in West Germany's post-war left leaning political scene and provided post-war West Germany with many political leaders and policy makers. It enjoys strong support from labor unions, which are themselves a powerful force in German politics, but unlike in the USA and U.K., tend to follow a far less militant style of dealing with company management and political leaders. The SPD has been a traditional backer of public transit, but on a state and local level when the money gets tight they have track record of voting to accept lowered levels of operational spending on public transit rather than cutting spending on social programs and unemployment benefits. In the most recent election the SPD took a beating at the polls, loosing more than 10% of the vote compared to four years ago. Most of this loss was the gain of the even more left-leaning Green and “Neue Linke” parties.

FDP – Free Democratic Party – the FDP is also known as the “Liberals”, but that label has nothing to do with the meaning of this word in American English, rather “Liberal” in Europe means being for deregulation, pro-business and libertarian approach to government policy. The FDP ran this year, as it has in the past, on a platform of lowered government spending, decreased taxes and less government involvement in the nation's economy. The FDP is perhaps the most eager to see DBAG severe its ties to the federal government. On social issues the FDP is very much libertarian and far to the left of American politicians such as gay rights and religious issues. The party's long-running leader is openly gay and is in a same-sex marriage.

Neue Linke (also called “Die Linke”, the German pronoun ”Die” is pronounced like dee) – this party was formed out of the remains of the PDS party, which itself was founded on what was left of the Communist Party in East Germany, along with more left-leaning members from the SPD and Green parties. The “Linke” (German word for left) is very much left-leaning. Its leaders advocate a platform which includes increased government control over private industry and strict limits on executive compensation. They advocated a complete withdraw of German military presence from Afghanistan and some of its members want Germany to leave NATO. They are more or less pro-mass transit but they have a skeptical view of privatized rail companies, many of which provide a very significant proportion of the local and regional rail transit (under contract to state and regional governments) across Germany. The “Neue Linke” made big increases regarding voter support in the past two election cycles, and is poised to take over the lead from SPD on the left of the German political spectrum.

Greens – this party has been a force in German politics for the past three decades, although they rarely attract more than 10 to 15 percent of the vote. Their political power comes from their willingness to align with the SPD (rather than with the CDU-CSU), thus allowing the SPD to form a coalition government. The Greens are very much pro-transit, but have had their significant differences with German transit projects in the past, when party members felt that a proposed rail line or corridor threatened the local environment. Most notably members of Germany's Green party along with other environmentalists helped doom a plan to build a mag-lev train between Berlin and Hamburg, which many environmentalists opposed on grounds that the mostly elevated mag-lev line would damage the local environment. Likewise many Green party members are opposing “Stuttgart 21”, a massive but controversial plan to convert Stuttgart's surface level central train terminal into an underground through-train station.

Other political parties – Germany has numerous other political parties active in various elections, but most of which fail to attract enough votes to obtain a seat in a city council, state legislature or the parliament. They range from parties for retired people / pensioners, to animal rights parties to religiously-based parties such as the Bible Christian Party (PBC).

One exception to the above statement is the NPD – National German Party. The NPD has a right-wing anti-immigrant platform that attracts heated and energetic attacks from the left and even the center in German politics. The NPD has succeeded in electing a small number of members to a few city councils and a couple of state legislatures in Germany. The NPD would like to see an immediate stop to all forms of immigration to Germany and mass deportations of all who do not have permanent resident status. Some members go as far as advocating the stripping of German citizenship from long term immigrants and their children and grandchildren, who are mostly Turks, Bosnians, Afghans, and Palestinians who immigrated to Germany in large numbers from the late 1950s through the late 1980s. The NPD's view on public transit are not widely discussed, due their controversial stance on immigrants, but generally they support public spending on anything that keeps their base of working-class members in guaranteed employment. Due to anti-Jewish and pro-Nazi statements made by certain NPD members on a frequent basis, the party is permanently under observation by law enforcement officials, while many members of the SPD, Neue Linke, Greens, and even a few from CDU-CSU parties continue to try to enact legislation that would make the NPD illegal altogether.

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EDITORIALS... Editorials...  

Trains, Planes, Automobiles
And The Decline Of Detroit

By Jim RePass, Publisher

The newsweekly Time this week has an extensive analysis on the city of Detroit, and its transition over the past half-century from the hard-working, populous, bustling and prosperous center of the American automobile industry to the blighted, half-abandoned shell of a city that it is now.

There are many reasons cited as the cause of Detroit’s decline, but among the many there should be a particular notice given to one: Detroit chose, many years ago, not to be served by a commuter rail system, but instead to have access only by the proud, iconic symbol of the city: the automobile.

This pride in its progeny extended to many elements of urban life in Detroit, including and especially representative of its car-centric urban design, symbolized most sadly and eloquently by the awful Renaissance Center built by Henry Ford II some 30 years ago to “revive” an already clearly faltering city-center, via the device of a huge and forbidding high-rise edifice designed to specifically repel pedestrians and all other street life, in favor of a design that prevented access by any but automobile traffic through one of its tall, blank, exclusionary street-level walls.

What Detroit did to itself is, in the extreme, an example of what happened to most American cities 1956-1976, when the bulk of the Interstate Highway System was built, emptying cities of the middle and upper classes while trapping the carless or car-poor working classes in the city centers, at the same time as urban transit and commuter rail was increasingly de-funded or abandoned altogether.

The consequence was, well, Detroit, writ large.

Over the past 15 years, thanks to the work of people like the Late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and long-serving Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), transit systems and commuter rail have made a slow, grudging comeback, often working against a hostile Congress dominated by rural interests, especially in the wildly non-representative United States Senate, where states with a population like Montana’s (967,000) have exactly as much clout as a state with the population of New York (19.5 million) or California (36.7 million). While that is a debate for another day, it does help to explain why the Congress has been so chary with funding for rail, but so generous with highways.

Detroit is indeed a symbol, but it is also a warning: just the other day, Chicago was shocked --- shocked! --- To have not only NOT been chosen as the site for a future Summer Olympics, but to have received the least number of votes against its world wide competitors (Rio won), and been eliminated in the first round. One of the major reasons: Chicago’s transit system has decades of backed up maintenance needs, and trains that sometimes have to go 5 or 6 miles an hour on their routes --- not exactly the formula for a successful Olympics --- yet Chicago is one of the BETTER American cities when it comes to transit, relatively speaking.

It is instructive therefore, sadly instructive, that Chicago has been debating whether to build a third major airport, at a cost of $10-$20 billion, even as transportation advocates have been desperately seeking to convince regional leaders that the same functionality could be provided, at a fraction of the cost, and a tiny percentage of the carbon cost, by a regional intercity rail system. Perhaps the long hard work of people like the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, or the Environmental Law and Policy Center, will bear fruit, and the Chicago region will get the transportation system it needs to grow, again, as a successful commercial center. Until that time, neither Chicago, nor Detroit, need apply as a site for a future Olympic Games. Those games will more and more be going to more advanced countries. Like Brazil.

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U.S. Is On A Low-Speed Track
To High-Speed Rail

By David Sarasohn, The Oregonian

[We Thank Kevin Brubaker, Deputy Director Of The Environmental Law & Policy Center In Chicago, For Forwarding Us This Very Important Editorial.]

OCTOBER 1 -- Celebrating our victory in the Cold War — how we’ve done since then is a little more complicated — we like to think about the unfortunate Russians, these days watching their Soviet-era infrastructure crumble and slowly riding nowhere on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

In fact, some people were discussing that just the other day — on the brand-new high-speed rail system between Moscow and St. Petersburg. What they were discussing was the country that really has transportation problems.

As Ansgar Brockmeyer, head of public transit business for Siemens, the German company that built the new line, explained to The New York Times, the United States “is a developing country in terms of rail .”

That’s us. Leading the world in cell phone game applications, but the Namibia of high-speed trains.

And these days, Russia isn’t the only place making that point. On President Obama’s Copenhagen campaign trip for the 2016 Olympics, he faces a competing bid from Rio de Janeiro boasting that by 2016, Rio will have a $9 billion high-speed rail connection to Brazil’s other major city, Sao Paolo.

Chicago’s transit package is a little different.

If the city is awarded the Olympics, says Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House subcommittee on highways and transit, “I’m going to draft a letter of congratulation to the president, saying how interesting it will be for people to see the Chicago Transit Authority propping up the El in places with wooden beams, and the places where the trains can’t go more than six miles an hour.”

(At six miles an hour, it would take 65 hours to get from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and 36 hours to get from Sao Paolo to Rio.)

“The world will float into Chicago, and get onto a transit system with a $9 billion maintenance backup.”

Chicago, of course, has no unique claims here.

“I give a lot of speeches on transportation infrastructure,” says DeFazio. “I begin by talking about our Third World status.

 “The last time, Earl (Blumenauer, D-Ore.) came up and said, this is insulting to Third World countries.”

China, for example, is still considered in some ways a developing country. But right now, at a cost of $700 billion, China is building 13,000 miles of high-speed rail — more than exists in the entire world at the moment. Symbolizing China’s ability to do this is a magnetic-levitation rail system running between Shanghai airport and downtown, a system nobody will ever confuse with the Chicago El.

France and Japan are in the process of doubling the 2,000 miles of high-speed track running through each country, while England is about to build its first route. Meanwhile, Spain, a country well below the highest economic levels, is rapidly expanding its high-speed system.

 “Spain was where we’re at now 20 years ago,” says DeFazio. “They built one network, everyone loved it, and now they’re building a national system.”

At last count, the United States has zero high-speed miles. This year’s stimulus package included $8 billion for high-speed rail — for which, says DeFazio, the feds have received several hundred billion dollars’ worth of applications, including a Northwest route from Eugene to Vancouver, B.C.

“By back-of-the-envelope estimates, a national system would cost $400 billion to $500 billion. That’s a huge amount,” says DeFazio blandly.

 “That’s almost 70 percent of what we spent in one day to bail out Wall Street.”

Like everything else in Washington, how far we’ll get down that track is now in the air. DeFazio has steered through his subcommittee the every-five-years transportation bill — the main reason anybody would want to be chairman of the highways and transit subcommittee — containing $50 billion for what he calls a “down payment” for a national system.

But the Obama administration, fearful of complaints about spending levels, has suggested an 18-month delay. The Senate sometimes seems as if it’s going along with the administration, and sometimes seems as if it’s ready to cooperate with the House and take up the bill before that.

Maybe the situation will all be figured out soon. Or maybe not.

Because unlike the route from Moscow to St. Petersburg, nothing about the U.S. transportation system is high-speed.

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