Monday, March 7, 2011

Why High Speed Rail Will Return: Third World Infrastructure Surpassing Florida's

The Interstate Highway System sits at the pinacle of our nation's transportation infrastructure.  I recall driving from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. in the early 1990's with my wife's cousin from Uruguay.  The system's efficiency and design--linking major metropolitan areas and beltways--impressed him.  Soon thereafter, when I drove through Uruguay from the Argentine border to Punte del Este on the Atlantic Ocean on winding, two-lane country roads, I could appreciate his view of our interstate system.  Indeed, the Interstate Highway System works efficiently--outside of urban areas during rush hour.  Inside urban areas, the daily result is often looks like this:

Congestion, whether caused by rush hour demand, vehicle crashes, or both undermines the time efficiency of highway travel between and within major cities.  Columnist George Will proclaims that the automobile represents freedom and liberty.  It does, but not always.  Don't get me wrong.  I love cars.  I love mine.  I love driving mine--when I actually move and when I'm not exhausted by my long commute.  We enhance freedom and liberty by giving people transportation options, when the automobile is part of a more balanced transportation network.  My kids--like most others today--have less freedom and liberty than I had because they can't walk or bike to school.  The elderly, who can no longer drive and are trapped either in subdivisions or in old age homes, have less freedom and liberty than those of earlier generations, who could walk safely to a grocery store.  When people take high quality rail transit (when it's available), they free-up road capacity so we can enjoy our cars more and so that goods can reach market more quickly.  Only a minority of Republicans nationally oppose Federal high speed rail funding.

Governor Rick Scott's rejection of high speed rail was rich in ironies.  I found it ironic that, the day the Florida Supreme Court denied two State Senators' Petition to require him to accept federal funds (the correct legal result), I paid $3.79 a gallon for a fill-up.  I found it ironic that we're sending transportation dollars awarded to Florida to other States while Middle East destabilization is driving up fuel costs (which harms our economy no less than a tax increase). 

I found it ironic that Robert Poole and the California-based Reason Foundation (which most Floridians had never heard of before) could have more influence with a flawed anti-high speed rail report than the combined influence of the Mayors of Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland, and Miami, the Republican chair of the House Transportation Committee, John Mica, a strong majority of the Republican-dominated Florida Senate, every major newspaper in the State of Florida, and the Governor's own Department of Transportation (which increased its high speed rail ridership estimate from 2.4 million to about 3.0 million). 

Ironic that Florida's infrastructure is falling behind that of the Third World. 

Argentina is moving ahead with a high speed rail line linking Buenos Aires to the major cities of Rosario and Cordoba. 

As Brazil readies to accept bids for new high speed rail line, a Korean consortium offers its case for winning the bidding process:

China's new bullet train:

The new South African high speed rail:

Although not part of the Third World, here's a news report on Russia's high speed rail line:

Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, the Czech Republic, Morocco, are among other developing nations either planning or already operating high speed rail.

A decade from now, with Florida falling farther and father behind the rest of the world, especially the Third World, we will see another push for high speed rail.  Unfortunately, the capital costs of construction on the State budget will far exceed, by billions, what Floridians would likely have had to pay this time -- $0.00.

One final irony--a decade from now, Florida taxpayers will still pay, through their Federal income taxes, interest on the $2.4 billion in borrowed Federal stimulus dollars approved for Florida high speed rail, but without receiving any of the benefits. 

UPDATE--March 9, 2011--A ridership study commissioned by the Florida Department of Transportation found that Florida High Speed Rail would have turned a $10 million operating profit its first year.  No surprise to the prospective bidders, who make high speed rail operating profits worldwide. 

UPDATE--Sept. 1, 2011--Click HERE for a link about Turkey's new high speed rail line.

UPDATE--Oct. 26, 2011--Click HERE for a link about Uzbekistan's new high speed rail line.