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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

Friday, November 9, 2012

Rail and the 2012 Election Part 1

Rail-related referenda

The good

This was a mixed bag. Here in NC, Orange County passed a transit sales tax. Among the things approved will be a new Amtrak station in Hillsborough and the county's commitment to light commuter rail projects. This means that two-thirds of the Triangle are committed to developing a mass transit system of buses and trains. Wake County is a holdout due to conservative, anti-transit commissioners maintaining a 4-3 majority.

Residents in Virginia Beach want the Tide to be extended from Norfolk to their city. It's now up to the Virginia Beach City Council to approve an extension of the light rail route.

Heavy rail survives after a candidate favoring the Honolulu project wins.


The not-so-good

Anything from California requiring a sales tax increase took a beating. Both items fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to become law.


High speed rail

The divergent results in Congress--Republicans adding seats in the House and Democrats adding seats in the Senate--means HSR will be in a holding pattern until 2015 or '17 which means absolutely no funding whatsoever. Outside of California and the Northeast Corridor, advocates will have to hope that more private companies like JR Central and XpressWest step up to the plate to provide European-style rail service.


The overall impact on rail

At the state level

Minnesota's legislature flips to the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party while the GOP adds seats in Wisconsin. The overall verdict? The Gopher State will be picking up the entire bill for the planned daytime Chicago-St. Paul route while the rest of the Midwest prays like crazy that Scott Walker is pink slipped in two years.

In New Hampshire, the GOP lost the House and nearly lost the Senate. This could lead to the state to  participate in funding an MBTA extension to Concord and the planned Boston-Montreal route. 

Funding for the rest of the SEHSR system could be in a tough spot after the GOP won a veto-proof majority in the state House (the NC Senate was already veto-proof after the '10 election). Last year, the legislature was able to prevent the NCDOT from receiving federal funds without its approval.


Nationally...

At the federal level, bargaining will be the name of the game. Either the status quo will be maintained and we get no meaningful passenger rail reform or Congress and the president are able to give a bit to end 41+ years of mediocre rail service that has led to America being a laggard. Personally, I want to see the Democrats drop their competition-averse stance and realize that maintaining a monopoly is a detriment to passenger rail. Competitors are chomping to operate routes  and they should not be riddled with ridiculous burdens nor should they be ridiculed for wanting to take on Amtrak (I will address regulations in my next post). On the other hand, I want the Republicans to realize that government has to play some role in regulating passenger rail and that some funding for rail service will have to come from D.C.

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