An estimated $13 billion in new federal money for high-speed passenger rail service should go to a single project that demonstrates its effectiveness, the top executive of freight railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNI) said Thursday.
"I'm concerned (the money) will be spread like peanut butter" nationwide and have little impact, said Chief Executive Matthew K. Rose, speaking to the Austin Economic Club, a local business group. "I'm afraid it'll be a missed opportunity."
The federal stimulus package includes $8 billion in seed money for development of high-speed passenger rail service, and U.S. President Barack Obama also has called for an additional $5 billion over the next five years.
Rose said Fort Worth-based Burlington Northern and other freight railroads likely won't see much benefit from the new federal money, aside from possible funding for small projects such as crossing upgrades, because high-speed rail lines require separate, dedicated corridors.
Hmm. "A single project that demonstrates its effectiveness" on "separate, dedicated corridors." Remind you of any state HSR project in particular?!
Rose isn't saying that HSR is a bad idea, far from it:
Still, he described himself as a supporter of efforts to improve the nation's transportation network overall. Rose recently served on a federal commission that examined U.S. transportation needs and potential funding sources.
He estimated Thursday that it could cost $1 trillion over the next 20 years to fully develop 10 to 15 high-speed rail corridors in the U.S.
Despite the daunting sum, "I really do think it's an investment our society ought to make," he said.
But he stressed that the $13 billion to get the effort off the ground won't make much of a dent unless it's targeted.
Separately, Rose noted in an interview after Thursday's event that he has seen little momentum for development of high-speed passenger rail in Texas, despite the new federal stimulus money.
I don't think any of us could imagine that the Obama Administration, which heavily targeted the Midwest for votes in 2008 and will surely do so again in 2012, would stiff them and give the whole pot of money to California, as Rose seems to imply here. But Rose is making a good point that $13 billion is a paltry sum when you get right down to it, and won't do a great deal to build HSR networks or improve freight rail (by moving passenger services onto different tracks).
I also wonder if Rose's comments are designed as a shot at the Texas HSR plan, which doesn't seem to have been making much forward momentum lately. Perhaps someone more familiar with Texas railroading can tell us whether that plays any role.
Still, it's nice to see that there is a major national freight railroad that does not actively hate passenger rail...
(thanks to Matt Melzer for pointing me to this article)