Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Turtle Train Problems Revealed in Public Records Request on Amtrak Study

Turtle Train Problems Revealed in Public Records Request on Amtrak Study

Ohio Media Opposes Reporting Opposing Views on Misguided Snail Rail Plan

by John Michael Spinelli

May 5, 2009

COLUMBUS, OHIO: Discouraging information contained in Amtrak's preliminary study on restoring passenger rail service between Cincinnati and Cleveland was revealed to Ohio taxpayers through a public records request, the Associated Press reported Monday.

In an AP story run in the Dayton Daily News , it was learned that a preliminary study performed by Amtrak for the Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC), the state agency that hired it and that manages the upgrade of thousands of miles of freight rail tracks, confirms that the time to creep along the approximately 250-mile route connecting Cleveland and Cincinnati, via Dayton and Columbus, will take six hours to complete or an hour and one-half longer than driving the distance by car.

More complications came into view with the one billion dollar plan that will take a decade or more to get up and running. It was learned that new train stations will need to be built in Cincinnati and Columbus and other potential stops where passenger trains have not run nearly a half century.

Ohio Taxpayers can only wonder where such funds will come from to build train stations in cities where budgets are already under pressure and where the idea of raising taxes to pay for them is as likely to happen as the priesthood letting a gay atheist into its ranks.

Matt Dietrich, ORDC's executive director, was as unconvincing in this story as he was in person, when he stumbled for answers to simple questions posed to him by state senators holding hearings on the recently passed state Transportation Budget. In committee, Mr. Dietrich, who runs an agency that supposedly has studied this issue for many years, had little in the way of hard facts to support his contention that bringing back slow, costly trains is both a good idea and one that can pay for itself over time.

The phrase "rough estimate," appearing again in this AP article, will go unchallenged by the Ohio Media, who by not challenging such vacuous statements will allow Mr. Dietrich and other government spokesmen to continue to hide the real financial and operational pain that once learned by Ohioans, will doom the turtle train to the past to the scrap heap of a bad idea gone worse. This juggernaut plan to squander one-time federal stimulus dollars on a train system that won't travel much faster than Civil War era trains must be stymied now so wiser, more enlightened minds can enter the debate about what train system Ohio needs that will match up in performance to the demands of the future.

If Gov. Ted Strickland thinks the turtle train to the past is the best train technology available, then he has been sorely misinformed by Dietrich and others, who should know better given their jobs descriptions and assumed expertise on issues related to rail traffic.

At a time when Ohio is looking into the great abyss of a state budget gone very sour, why are public officials like Mr. Dietrich given a free ride in the media, when strong voices that oppose the 3-C Corridor plan are ready and willing to be heard?

They are few and far between, but the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer ran an article by Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, who made the case that so-called high-speed rail isn't any solution to saving energy or reducing pollution or road congestion, as is commonly assumed. Slow train speeds like those Mr. Dietrich has acknowledged will be standard on his slow train to the past, were common 70 years ago, according to O'Toole, when cars and airplanes out competed trains of the day even then. As cars and air travel advance in design and performance, why are we stuck with 100-year old train technology when new, innovative proposals exist?

Ohio would be better served by redirecting its one-time federal stimulus dollars to advanced train technologies like Tubular Rail, which will be knocking on Ohio's development door this week, making its case for why it can revolutionize the way people and goods move from one city and region to another.

For a state that never recovered from the the job losses of the recession of 2001 and now trembles with each day's headlines, fearing the loss of even more jobs as Chrysler and General Motors meet their maker in bankruptcy court or reorganization, isn't it the perfect time to find a new industry that can create jobs, spur economic development and bring Ohio back into the 21st century?

Ohio lawmakers, who along with Gov. Strickland share the blame for allowing the 3-C Corridor Plan to live on, should not allow Mr. Dietrich and Transportation Director Jolene Molitoris to go unchallenged, as they blindly push to embrace out dated train technology. By their own admission, their turtle train to the past will cost a minimum of $10 million per year in public subsidies. But those are just "rough estimates" that will probably pale in comparison to the real figures from real bids when they come in. With more straight talk about the underlying realities and costs associated with the 3-C Corridor train, maybe that day will never arrive.

Should that day arrive, Ohioans will follow in the footsteps of Floridians who after learning in 2004 that the system costs quoted to them to get their vote in 2000 were double what they were sold, reversed themselves and directed their state leaders to stop pursuing plans for high-speed rail. A similar move to turn the train around is underway in California, where a nearly $10 billion state bond fund to pay for one-quarter of that state's proposed high-speed rail is already entering massive obstacles from communities who are suing the train authority over routes because they don't want it running through their towns.

One reporter from the United Kingdom who knows about high-speed trains and who has taken an analytical view of President Obama's puny plan for rail development here, says the real costs American taxpayers will have to fork over will be crippling, especially for a country where the word tax has been demonized.

Gabriella Gurley, writing for the online edition of The Guardian, knows the lack of appetite Americans have to paying more taxes. "But moving a tax-adverse country toward this vision demands a massive attitude shift," she writes, adding that "Down payments may look good, but Americans have had trouble paying off balances" and "With other pricey domestic headaches like healthcare looming large on his fast-moving agenda, how much political capital is Obama is willing to spend to get America into training?"

John Michael Spinelli is a Certified Economic Development Financing Professional, business and travel writer and former credentialed Ohio Statehouse political reporter. He is registered to lobby in Ohio and is the Director of Ohio Operations for Tubular Rail Inc. To send a tip or comment, email ohionewsbureau@gmail.com

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