Sam Hoyt on High Speed Rail Part II

10 Mar

We can watch this in the wake of the Governor’s announcement yesterday of a $10.2 billion high speed rail plan for the state of New York, stretching from Niagara Falls, through Buffalo, and out to Albany, from where it will then branch out to Montreal, New York City, and Boston.

I don’t think this is a silver bullet that will suddenly transform upstate New York into a new boom area. If anything might do that, it will be our supply of fresh water. What HSR may do, however, is let people have an alternative method of intercity transportation that is faster than driving, and more convenient than flying. I thought that Roaring Republican here had a couple of good ideas. There is a travelers’ sweet spot there, and with the right system built right, we could very well hit it.

As long as we consider it in those terms, rather than as some silver bullet, the less we risk it being our version of the Simpsons’ monorail, and Buffalo becoming North Haverbrook.

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32 Responses to “Sam Hoyt on High Speed Rail Part II”

  1. Jim Ostrowski March 10, 2009 at 7:50 am #

    I know I won’t get an answer but–

    Why is spending $10 billion on trains instead of tax cuts (or whatever) a good idea. How do you determine this? By what methodology?

    If this is such a great idea, then let a private firm do it. They take the risks and make all the profits.

  2. Jim Ostrowski March 10, 2009 at 7:54 am #

    Let me put it another way.

    I love trains and hate planes and I travel to Albany and NYC frequently. Why should you who do not, subsidize me? I mean, I’ll take your “gift” and all.

  3. reflip March 10, 2009 at 8:22 am #

    Fair enough. How do you feel about government-subsidized roads?

  4. Mike Walsh March 10, 2009 at 8:25 am #

    I guess the reasoning here is with the feds playing Santa you use it or lose it. The thing to watch out for is backend stipulations. Has anybody checked into that? Remember how we, the taxpayers, were forced to subsidize the metro rail when it became unprofitable?

  5. reflip March 10, 2009 at 8:37 am #

    Which roads in WNY are turning a profit? Any of them? Who is paying for all the paving and pot-hole filling that needs to be done every year?

  6. Jim Ostrowski March 10, 2009 at 8:39 am #

    Socialized roads introduce what (real) economists call calculational chaos. That is, there is no rational way to determine how many roads, what kind of roads, rules of the roads, placement of roads, and of course, every traffic in human history, okay, 99%, were the result of lack of a pricing mechanism on most roads.

    Why introduce that calculational chaos into areas where there is no great call for it–railroads.

    Do we subsidize driving? Maybe we do but the gas tax is regularly siphoned off for other garbage. So even that is not clear.

    I would think that critics of the ICE would consider private roads since they decry our subsidy to the “GW-producing” automobile and truck.

  7. Jim Ostrowski March 10, 2009 at 8:40 am #

    Sorry, every traffic jam………………

  8. Jim Ostrowski March 10, 2009 at 8:42 am #

    Road profits?

    The construction companies and unions and the politicians make a profit. There is no evidence that anyone else does.

  9. reflip March 10, 2009 at 9:14 am #

    I’d love to see private roads. But I never will, since roads are not profitable. I would think that critics of subsidized rail travel would decry subsidized roads as well. If you think the free market should rule, then be consistent about it. To say that government subsidized roads are OK but rail travel is not just doesn’t make sense to me. Both are means of transportation. Either the government should provide transportation infrastructure, including roads and rail, or it should not.

    This is a question of public policy priorities. Suggesting that the question is simply, “To subsidize or to not subsidize” is completely disingenuous. Really, what you support is the current status quo – that is, federal transportation dollars allocated almost exclusively to highway construction and maintenance. You don’t question that massive expenditure. But when some of those federal dollars go towards other means of transportation, you start asking questions and criticizing subsidies. It doesn’t make sense to me.

  10. reflip March 10, 2009 at 9:24 am #

    To clarify, I didn’t mean to say “you” in regards to anyone in particular, thereby suggesting I know what someone else does or does not think. Sloppy writing on my part.

    My post should be read as a response to the nebulous idea that the government should not pay for rail expansion, which is a common refrain.

  11. al l. March 10, 2009 at 9:31 am #

    dear lord, does every conversation have to devolve into a freener debate.

    give it a rest.

    even Jefferson supported the National Road.

  12. hank March 10, 2009 at 9:32 am #

    I remember a supposed true rumor that the Govenor Thomas E Dewey New York Thruway would become a “free” road once the bonds that paid for it’s construction were retired.

    The Bonds were retired a long time ago. Do you still pay tolls on the Thruway?

    Well if you’re not a Thruway employee or retiree, you don’t. Everyone else does.

    I was told by someone who traveled on I-90 from the west coast to Buffalo for a convention the first time he had to pay a toll on that highway was when he got to the NY state line. Nice greeting–WELCOME TO NEW YORK—NOW GET YOUR WALLET OUT.

    Across the rest of the country, the government funded highway system keeps interstate commerce moving, and helps us get from place to place much quicker than on the pre-1956 road system.

    AMTRAK, on the other hand, is a black hole to which billions have been dumped every year for decades. Ridership is no better, service is no better, and though the DC-Boston corridor may make a profit, nationwide it’s still a stinker.

    Let the private firms take the risk, and make the profit—and tell them up front —NO BAILOUT if you lose your ass.

  13. al l. March 10, 2009 at 9:41 am #

    “AMTRAK, on the other hand, is a black hole to which billions have been dumped every year for decades.”

    ’cause there hasnt been exponentially more money dumped into highways & airports than interstate rail.

    _____

    “Let the private firms take the risk, and make the profit”

    they did. they wanted out. hence Amtrak.

  14. STEEL March 10, 2009 at 9:43 am #

    I think the state would get a bigger bang for its buck if it invested $10B in high tech and biomedical research.

    10B to cut 2 hours off a trip to NY is nonsense. Get me to NY in 2.5 hours, then we can talk.

  15. Mike In WNY March 10, 2009 at 9:56 am #

    The federal government is broke, the state government is broke, and the taxpayers are leveraged to the hilt. $10 billion for more pork? I don’t think so.

    Obama, Congress and the States are acting like Bob Barker just yelled, “Come on down” – meanwhile we are stuck with the bill.

  16. lefty March 10, 2009 at 11:08 am #

    @ Steel

    Thinking HS rail from Buffalo to NYC is just about Buffalo to NYC is short sighted.

    This project will have every chance to go over budget and create useless jobs…but it also can create a lot of opportunity.

    1- The chances of Toronto connecting to Buffalo only happens if Buffalo is connected to NYC. A connection between Buffalo and Toronto is a good thing.

    2- The connection to Buffalo and Rochester could be the most important IMO…even over NYC. I went to school in Rochester and it is a nice place in nice parts BUT it does not have everything that Buffalo offers. Easy access could mean the weekend warrior traffic for Sabres Games and potentially a downtown Bills game and casino weekend. A train ride in on Saturday morning and a train ride back Sunday afternoon means 1 night in a hotel, 3-4 meals, a sizable bar tab, admission to an event and whatever else comes with the trip.

    3- A connection to the rest of the state that is cost effective could mean a boom to UB, Buff State and Canisius. UB wants to grow by 10k students, Buff State could grow by another 5k. Not sure how much Canisius could grow. More students equals more money.

    4- A connection between smaller metro regions, would make each region a little better off. Thus reducing the dependence on NYC. This could eventually lead to population shifts throughout the state and change the electoral math.

    Just to name a few……

    As for your comment on making it to NYC in 2.5 hours. Someone on BRO explained that you have to walk before you run. After the 3rd track is built, ridership would grow and then eventually warrant the additional investment to straighten out tracks and build the necessary and expensive improvements to allow for trains to travel over 150mph.

    As for the privatization of this service I love the idea. I am not sure you are going to find a group to front the money but this does not mean it could not eventually turn into a private line.

    What if after the Empire 3rd Line was “built” the state or federal government converted this line, the Acela line and others into private companies via a stock offering. The proceeds would go directly to payment of the debt and conditions of the sale could include price controls. Just an idea. Highly unlikely but still an idea.

  17. al l. March 10, 2009 at 11:57 am #

    Careful with all that privatization, just look at the mayhem with British Rail.

    Additionally, any private RR would be subject to property taxes. A freestanding passenger railroad would have even greater proportion of the revenue devoted to property taxes than the common carriers did pre-Amtrak.

    All of those shops, stations, even switches would now be taxed. And theyre be no freight to help justify and absorb those costs (ie a private RR’s shops would service both passenger & freight locomotives).

    It would be difficult for any private venture to make a profit under those circumstances, considering that passenger rail was only marginally profitable (if that) in its heyday.

    PPP’s might be another option – and could be explored. My guess is that some of the larger very HSR projects could end up using that model.

    Of course, if/when those companies fail (as they eventually can do), the government will inevitably be forced to take over again – just as it did in ’71.

  18. al l. March 10, 2009 at 1:15 pm #

    just to clarify, I do believe that the 10.7 number is statewide – not just the Bflo-NYC route, nor just for passenger rail.

    I havent checked out the breakdown, but there are a number of costly proposed projects that are likely constituting this number. My understanding is the Empire Corridor was likely to be in the 3-5B range.

  19. Mike Miller March 10, 2009 at 1:24 pm #

    The 10.7 billion is actually state funded over the next 20 years.

  20. mike March 10, 2009 at 1:27 pm #

    This must be a distraction from never building the new bridge to ontario.

  21. Jim Ostrowski March 10, 2009 at 3:06 pm #

    “Really, what you support is the current status quo – that is, federal transportation dollars allocated almost exclusively to highway construction and maintenance. You don’t question that massive expenditure. But when some of those federal dollars go towards other means of transportation, you start asking questions and criticizing subsidies. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

    I called for the abolition of the DOT in 2001. You must have me mixed up with some conservative Republican.

    http://mises.org/story/633

  22. Colin March 10, 2009 at 3:35 pm #

    1. I took the 90 to Chicago a few years ago and paid tolls in Indiana or Illinois (or both). So it’s not just NY.

    2. We subsidize transportation, whether by road or air or whatever. The question isn’t whether we should, except among fringe types. The question is how those subsidies should be targeted. Beginning to invest in rail seems like a rational move.

  23. Jim Ostrowski March 10, 2009 at 3:59 pm #

    I knew I wouldn’t get an answer.

  24. mike March 10, 2009 at 4:35 pm #

    I just love comments like this “I was told by someone who traveled on I-90 from the west coast to Buffalo for a convention the first time he had to pay a toll on that highway was when he got to the NY state line. Nice greeting–WELCOME TO NEW YORK—NOW GET YOUR WALLET OUT. ” key work is I was told, hank who told you this Fox news? All you needed to do was google toll roads in usa to see that every one of the 49 states have toll roads. There is even a bridge in Virginia that cost 19.10 dollars to cross, Paterson got an earful from a clown because the grand island bridge cost 35 cents (with ezpass). I try not to pick on hank, but WTF where does he get his facts from? Sure hank i can drive across the state for free too, just take route 31 or 104 or 20, no one is forcing you to pay the toll.

  25. Jim Ostrowski March 10, 2009 at 5:37 pm #

    On the contrary, what takes little thought is to defend the status quo, what you do.

    No balls either.

    And being a liberal Democrat is no heavy lifting. That’s what I was when I was a teenager.

  26. Chris Smith March 10, 2009 at 6:19 pm #

    Jim, I don’t respond to your questions or those posed by other members of your group because it isn’t a discussion. You/They ask a question, I answer, then you/they tell me I am completely deluded and you/they are 100% correct as your collective philosophy is infallible. Discussing politics with you is like arguing religion with a Scientologist.

    Boy, sign me up for more of that!

  27. al l March 10, 2009 at 7:24 pm #

    Cant we get a Marxist on here to partner w/ Jim for equal time? Let them blather on, throwing quotes and simplistic lines about how to run the world.

    Jim, nobody doubts your sincerity, really. But nobody thinks your way of running the world is possible/ethical/desirable – I dont mean just on this blog either. There is no country in the modern world that ascribes to such a extremest philosophy: neither agrarian or industrial, wealthy or poor, New World or Old . . . just no sale.

    If you want to hold your opinion, hey, coolio. Thats great. But man, you cant just always try to dominate every discussion with the predictable “privatize it” line. It gets tired. You have your beliefs, let others have theirs.

  28. Michele J March 10, 2009 at 7:44 pm #

    Its no secret that Sam is a friend of mine..But even if he wasnt I would still say atleast he is trying to think outside of the box to help our city..He was a big supporter of the landbanking bill that was vetoed by Patterson which would of saved Buffalo millions of dollars by now..hopefully it will be begin county wide soon..We have alot of politicians who we have no idea what they are doing and what they stand for Sam thankfully is not one of them.

  29. buffaloshark March 10, 2009 at 8:35 pm #

    A quick google search indicates I-90 is tolled in other states too

  30. mike March 10, 2009 at 9:39 pm #

    yes shark, but hanks convention was in 1963.

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