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With a new administration in D.C., it's time to think outside of the box because passenger rail's survival just may depend on it

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Midterms and Rail

Last Tuesday, rail advocates were mostly wallowing in misery after anti-rail candidates won offices.

Wisconsin
Scott Walker campaigned as the guy who would pull the plug on the Hiawatha extension to Madison. Last Monday, outgoing governor Jim Doyle signed a deal with the feds to go ahead with construction of the route. However, construction was halted days after Walker's win. Even stranger still was the governor-elect's plea to Talgo to stay in the Badger State even though he was the one to create an anti-train site. If Walker really wants to focus on highways and stop the rail project, he will have to deal with the consequences like lost jobs, passengers in southeast WI continuing to ride outdated and unreliable Horizon cars, and putting the entire Chicago-Twin Cities HSR route in jeopardy.

Ohio
Ex-congressman John Kasich is even more serious about killing the 3C route than Walker is the Madison extension. The gubernatorial elections in OH and WI may have been more about the voters wanting to stick it to the president than anything else. Ergo, they should not complain when there's no dependable train service in their states in the upcoming years.

The fact that the Buckeye State's governor-elect was able to get away with calling the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati route a 39 mph project when it was continuously disproven completely baffles me. The starting speed is 79 mph with long-term plans to provide a 110 mph speed.

John Kasich is not the only person responsible for letting a very sensible rail project become stillborn--the Ohio Rail Development Commission also deserves blame because they were the ones who relied on an Amtrak report from 2009. If the officials in Columbus had done their homework, then they would have at least talked to one or two other operators for a different analysis. After all, the PRIIA allows states to talk to other rail companies. There are various companies that are lining up to run intercity train routes in the U.S.

If the ORDC had taken a page from the folks out west, then Kasich would have been unable to spread his 39 mph lie and Amtrak would be looking behind its shoulder due to a second player providing service in a vital state.

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