Time to be Driving a Platinum Spike?

May 10th, 1869 the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads joined together at Promontory Point, Utah celebrating completion of the great American Transcontinental Railroad – something that reduced travel time and invited passengers from the Right Coast to go to the Left Coast.  Leland Stanford drove the last ceremonial “golden spike” to commemorate something that had required from inception to completion….a little over 33 years!

Considered one of the biggest land grabs in American history, the few Railroad magnet investors and many Chinese workers had to fight Indians, Labor problems, Cattlemen, Sheepmen, Land Owners, various irate City Officials, Indian Agents, Land Grabbing Developers and multitudes of Politicians.

President Obama today unveiled his plan for a “Manhattan Project” or “US Space Program” type of investment in “Transcontinental High Speed Rail”.  Obama has a small ante of $8 Billion dollars to get the program going which is targeted at 10 areas of the country which are immediately eligible for enhanced Transportation Grant Cash.

“The report formalizes the identification of ten high-speed rail corridors as potential recipients of federal funding. Those lines are: California, Pacific Northwest, South Central, Gulf Coast, Chicago Hub Network, Florida, Southeast, Keystone, Empire and Northern New England. Also, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston to compete for funds to improve the nation’s only existing high-speed rail service.”

President Obama pointed out quite correctly in his comments this morning…before departing to Mexico that countries like China, Japan, Spain, France and Germany all have benefited from High Speed Rail.  Making Transportation affordable and less polluting.  Rightly or wrongly the President seems to believe he is seeing the situation with a 20-20 vision, while everyone else may be wearing bifocals.

The situation is complex, just as it was back in the 1850-60’s.  Today, it is not just a matter of finding the cash for the project, although that is no doubt a serious consideration.  At up to a billion dollar a mile….the costs could add up pretty quickly.  Will it really cost a billion dollars a mile for High Speed Rail?  Well, let’s look at a couple of issues to start.

Firstly, High Speed Rail requires welded rail lines which are not so prone to flexing and buckling in the typical heat of the day.  These rails may require in fact different steel or composite steel material to be long lasting and not suceptible to rapid repair.  Finding that steel will either require US steel makers or we will have to import that steel from Japan or China or elsewhere.  What should be the official policy on where we get the steel.

Secondly, what about our lovely EPA?  How long might the Environmental Impact Report take for connecting 3500 miles of High Speed Track.  Guess we will need to put that program on a “Fast Track” process.

Thirdly, the land necessary.  How about Eminent Domain?  Who will oversee that process.  Who will lay out the routes?  Who will be the designated Companies responsible for laying track, track maintenance and future expansion if required?  Who will have the oversight and who will be the Inspector General for each leg of the entire system?  Who will set the priorities for all those major connecting points?

Fourth, where do we get those High Speed Trains themselves?  The proposed Mumbai to New Delhi High Speed Rail is being supported by Mitsubishi!

http://www.infrastructurist.com/2009/03/26/the-worlds-7-best-high-speed-rail-networks/

Reviewing the basic of High Speed Rail should be important to all of us prior to making a total commitment.

Fifth, “Regular Order” and support by the current Rail Companies is the most important part of the plan.  American Rail Companies own lots of land….land they don’t even use.  Will they “donate” this land for High Speed Rail…if they get to operate various portions of the system?  If not, are we going to use “Eminent Domain” on Rail Companies to take that land?  How much are taxpayers going to have to pay to lay parallel track next to existing rail lines…in unpopulated areas?

Finally, we must ask if High Speed Rail will be able to make a profit….or will it be much like the “US Space Program” or “The Manhattan Project” and leave us with a variety of benefits which are hard to explain to the public?  Why did we need an Atom Bomb again?  Two hours later, we are glad we built it.  Thank you Doctor Oppenheimer!  How about the Space Program?  Thank you Doctor Werner Von Braun!  He was our “Teflon Space Scientist”!

What should be asked beyond all the rhetoric is:  How many jobs will this National effort create for US Citizens?  Will those that lay the rails be nothing more than illegal immigrants…much as the Chinese population was nearly  a hundred  and eighty years ago?  What what will be the benefits to American Society?  Are we building a “Bridge to Nowhere” or are we following tracks that take thousands from Disneyland to Las Vegas every week-end?

There is little doubt that if someone could get on a High Speed Train in Los Angeles and arrive in New York City 8 to 10 hours later…..maybe catching a little cat-nap along the way or stopping in the dining car for a BLT….or beverage of your choice….maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.  Of course that would require an “Express Train” that didn’t stop anywhere along the way…wouldn’t it?

Will this be the time for a Platinum Spike or a time to reflect on the “Days of the Golden Spike”?

“The corporation organized with Leland Stanford as president, C.P. Huntington as vice-president, and Mark Hopkins as treasurer. Charles Crocker was a leading direction, and the spirit of dominant energy in pressing construction through and over all obstruction.

That pioneer railroad line of the middle ’60s formed the basis of the gigantic Southern Pacific system. The connection of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific bridged the 2000 miles to the Missouri River, and the four to six months time taken by the overland pioneers was reduced to six days. At once the Pacific States were transformed, and Western life gradually caught up with the life and aspirations of the East.”

We wish the President well in his quest for jobs in the United States and for furthering the discussion on the future of Transportation in America!


About Ron & Anna Winship

Independent News Producers/Writers and Directors for Parker-Longbow Productions. Independent Programming which includes a broad variety of Political, Entertainment and Professional Personalities. Cutting Edge - a talk show...is the flagship of over 30 URL websites developed or under development. The Winships have been blogging for the Orange Juice since back when nickels had buffalos on them, and men wore onions attached to their belts, because it was the fashion back then.