COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When President Barack Obama announced earlier this year that he thought America should be able to build high speed trains like other transportation savvy countries have done, the frenzy to grab some of the $8 billion in federal stimulus funding he offered has created its own job market, one full of hungry lobbyists, new lobbying groups, vested interest consultants and planners who don't want to miss this funding train, even if the slow train to the past they're backing doesn't actually leave a station for years or maybe even decades to come.
Asking the question that begs asking, Matthew Lewis, writing for The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), posits that Washington's newest gravy train has already created nearly 1,800 interest groups who "want something" from a new transportation bill whose price tag of $50 billion is so awesome that while it presents a feeding opportunity for backers of status quo transportation, it may turn out that the rising tide of anti-debt sentiment may wash it away until another day and price point can be reached.
Lewis and CPI found that more than 50 public and private groups explicitly lobbied on high-speed rail policy last quarter, a three-fold increase from a year ago. Even that number, he says, fails to capture dozens of other "actors likely lobbying on high-speed rail that keep their specific lobbying targets as vague as Washington does its spending plans."
Making his case for too many projects chasing to few funds, Lewis reminds his readers that at least 34 states including Ohio submitted proposals valued at $57 billion chasing an initial $8 billion allocation. First round funding announcements are expected this winter or no later than spring, according to a rail expert at Parsons Brinckerhoff Ohio hired to help with $564 million quick-start plan submitted to the FRA in early October.
The 3-C Corridor plan, so called because it links Ohio's three major cities -- Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland -- may get off to a slow start despite the hoopla rail chiefs and their boosters are drumming up because, as a peripheral line to the Midwestern Hub system, other projects in other states are more important, at least during the first round of HSR funding.
With California and Florida asking for more than half the $8 billion, Ohio will be lucky to receive the $564 million it asked for. And even if it does, the little matter of maybe another $200 million more for Positive Train Control technology has to be dealt with, because when sharing a freight rail track, accidents do happen, as the fatal crash in Los Angeles showed the world. And Mr. Pasterak, the consultant from PB hired by Ohio rail bosses, said PST and its costs were not a part of the state's quick start proposal.
Notwithstanding what can only be viewed as an intentional oversight -- freight companies, who are mandated by the FRA to must have PST installed by the end of 2015 are looking to passenger rail systems like the 3-C to pay for it -- deliver of train sets anytime soon -- as soon as Gov. Strickland told Bloomberg TV last week, which is by 2011 -- could also throw the project off track.
Ohio rail chiefs have bet the passenger train ranch on taking delivery of train sets from a failed Colorado railroad car company, whose buyers of distressed companies want to move to a suburb of Columbus if millions in state and federal funding arrive to build a new facility on brownfield land that doesn't have a rail spur running to it. Some watchers have questioned why state forces are lining up behind this land when other, better venues exist in other parts of the state.
Should the 3-C line lumber forward, its conventional train technology -- despite using a dual mode diesel engine -- will still produce a train whose average speed will be a turtle-paced 39 mph, a speed maybe not to different from the speed of the first train to run the 3-C route in 1852, two years after trains were introduced in the Buckeye State. The 3-C corridor, which hasn't seen a passenger train run it since 1972, is about 255 miles in length.
Buckeye rail bosses have beat the drum for this slow, expensive train, that even if its built, based on its projected schedule of runs, will strand riders starting in Cincinnati or Cleveland in another city, mostly likely Columbus, it's too slow to do a roundtrip in the same day. State rail bosses and their consultants admit that a full-route one-way journey will take about six and one-half hours.
Good trip to download War and Peace to your Kindle.
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