Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama and Biden: A High Speed Administration?

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

I'll be blunt. Since Barack Obama and Joe Biden look set to become our next president and vice president, and since polls show that Obama supporters also support Prop 1A it is worth reminding Californians that these two candidates are strong supporters of high speed rail. Feel free to forward this to your family and friends.

Barack Obama at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio in August:

At one point, asked about his support for high-speed rail, Obama lapsed into what was almost a comedy routine. All he needed was a fake brick wall behind him and a two-drink minimum.

"If you think about the Midwest, think about right here, what we've got is all kind of towns that we could connect," Obama said. "All of these cities are, they basically take in the air about 45 minutes to an hour to fly."

"But by the time you get to the airport," Obama continued, "take off your shoes, get to the terminal, realize that your flight's been delayed two hours, go pay $10 for a cup of coffee, and a sandwich for another $10, come back, you get on the plane, you're sitting on the tarmac for another 25 minutes, you finally take off, you're circling above the city for another half hour, when you land they can't find your luggage, and then you get to where you're going -- by the time it's all done it's a five-hour trip! …So the time is right now for us to start thinking about high-speed rail as an alternative to air transportation, connecting all these cities and think about what a great project that would be in terms of rebuilding America."

Or this, from a visit to Beech Grove, Indiana during the primaries, when Obama talked to a man who works in the Amtrak shops there:

The irony is with the gas prices what they are, we should be expanding rail service. One of the things I have been talking bout for awhile is high speed rail connecting all of these Midwest cities -- Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, St. Louis. They are not that far away from each other. Because of how big of a hassle airlines are now. There are a lot of people if they had the choice, it takes you just about as much time if you had high speed rail to go the airport, park, take your shoes off.

This is something that we should be talking about a lot more. We are going to be having a lot of conversations this summer about gas prices. And it is a perfect time to start talk about why we don't have better rail service. We are the only advanced country in the world that doesn't have high speed rail. We just don't have it. And it works on the Northeast corridor. They would rather go from New York to Washington by train than they would by plane. It is a lot more reliable and it is a good way for us to start reducing how much gas we are using. It is a good story to tell.

Joe Biden in 2001:

A lead author of the legislation, Senator Joseph Biden, Jr. (DE) said, "Every advanced economy in the world invests more than the United States in high-speed inter-city service. We like to think of ourselves as the most advanced country in the world, and I believe we are, but for years we have nickel-and-dimed passenger rail service in this country."

Biden explained the broad support for the legislation, stating, "We have the support of the many members all across the country because our country's transportation system is already stretched to the breaking point."

Biden's comments from the campaign trail in 2007:

“I commute 250 miles a day on high-speed rail,” Biden said. “I'm Mr. Amtrak.”

Biden proposes an interstate high-speed rail service similar to the interstate highway system.

“One mile of one lane of I-80 costs $22 million,” Biden said. “One mile of I-95 (on the East Coast) holds more traffic and costs $41 million.” By contrast, “One mile of high-speed rail costs $1 million.

“You can fit more people on a rail car and you'll be taking 50 automobiles off the road. Rail uses 1/50th of the cost (of a car) in terms of energy consumption.”

Biden said the reason why railroads haven't been used more in the past is because of special interest groups, most notably the airline industry. “They get $350 million a year to go where no one wants to go,” Biden said, qualifying that by saying that there is not enough business to support a commercial flight. He said people don't like the idea of subsidizing railroads, yet the airline industry gets subsidies to fly to sparse locations.

From an Iowa town hall, also in 2007:

You are looking at Mr. Transportation,” he said in response to a question about using an electrified rail system like Europe’s. “I am the reason Amtrak keeps moving.”...

“Why do you think businesses are leaving (the U.S.)?” he said. “We need a good infrastructure, which would benefit economic development.”

If you are casting a vote tomorrow for Obama-Biden here in California, be sure to cast a vote for Prop 1A as well.


bossyman15 said...

add to that even if you are not voting for Obama, vote yes on prop 1A anyway!

Rafael said...

And while you're at it, yes on prop 5 as well so the state isn't bankrupted by its prison population before the first tracks are laid.

Spokker said...

Off-topic, but I have a question about a prop 1A loss.

I would be disappointed if 1A was defeated, but why would it mean 30 years before HSR is considered again? I mean, what's the excuse, that there was a problem with the economy, right?

So go back to the drawing board and return when the economy improves. I don't understand this notion that it's all or nothing this year.

Is that just a scare tactic on the pro side or is this pretty much it for HSR in California?

Spokker said...

As long as we're talking propositions, here's how I'm going to vote tomorrow.

1A: Yes

2: Yes

3: No

4: No

5: Yes

6: No

7: No

8: No

9: No

10: No

11: Yes (Though I don't care too much about this one)

12: Not voting.

Typical college vote, lol.

Spokker said...

Post your own. I'm interested in seeing how the regulars around here are voting. Even you, Morris :)

Tony D. said...

We could save billions if the prisoners lay the high-speed track (LOL). Last post until Wednesday and I hope to celebrate on all fronts: Obama/Biden, Prop. 1A and, here in Santa Clara County, Measure B/BART to San Jose! Sorry spokker, I only really cared about those three (I think I voted "no" on the rest).

Tony D. said...

One last thing. Over at, there was a tidbit about how people with cell phones (or who primarily use cell phones) aren't counted in most polls. When one poll of cell phone users was taken, it showed Obama with a very, very large lead over McSame. Back to Prop. 1A, could the lead be greater than 47-42? Anyhow, enough with the what if's and I wonder's? Go Prop. 1A!!

Anonymous said...

I think the field poll may be off on this one ..its not your normal
election.Many of the people I know that voted early said yes to 1A and there not your usual early voters. Im getting to the poll at 7AM so will see how long the lines are..I hope to be dancing come 10PM

Rafael said...

@ tony d -

yeah, I suggested in a comment a few days ago. However, prison labor is illegal so what I had in mind is deals for early parole offered to qualifying non-violent offenders. Absenteeism and justified poor performance reviews (e.g. due to drug use) would be considered parole violations.

Pay, however, would be regular union wages commensurate with the parolees qualifications. The state would save billions by avoiding the construction of new prisons to alleviate overcrowding and, by reducing recidivism. Nothing gets a felon back on the straight and narrow like holding down an honest job for a few years.

For reference, California currently has about 100,000 cells and 170,000 inmates - a ratio well above federal standards. That's why observers expect a court order to enforce compliance, which would cost $8 billion unless prisoner numbers are reduced instead.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add that I'm voting yes on Prop 1A. I also believe it will be a boon to the economy and this is something that is needed for California.

I have no idea how the vote is going to go tomorrow, just that the field poll suggests that this could go either way (if you factor in sampling error and the undecided).

I just hope that the rest of my fellow Californians can see the big picture and not just vote no because of our current economic state.

And I agree that CA has way too many prisons for its own good.

Robert Cruickshank said...

If Prop 1A does not pass it is not likely that there will be the political will in the Legislature to return to this for another 10 years or so. The federal government won't provide any money without a certain state match.

BruceMcF said...

If Prop 1A does not pass it is not likely that there will be the political will in the Legislature to return to this for another 10 years or so. The federal government won't provide any money without a certain state match.

This was the experience here in Ohio ... an HSR proposal went down to defeat, and it set the process back by a decade or more.

It is a different environment, of course. The California limit on $1b or more bonding proposals going to Propositions would seem to point toward looking for distinct projects of under $1b state funding that can be done ... and with careful planning on allowing for a future HSR alignment, it may be that a series of improvement could bring down the up front cost of stage 1 of an HSR in another eight or twelve years.

But by far the most rapid progress will be to get the HSR construction moving now, and then leverage on that to provide planning targets for complementary local transit and semi-HSR freight and tilt-train systems.

Anonymous said...

As Prop 1A goes down in flames tomorrow, the Democratic majority should take the blame.

The highly critical State Senate Housing and Transportation committee report in black and white showed this project had been miss-managed and was not ready to go the the voters.

How much more obvious can it be, that the CHSRA is incompetent than all the issues that report brought out in the open.

So the CHSRA with Kopp leading the charge was so cocky they had it in their pocket they went ahead.

They have shown not only their incompetence but their arrogance as exhibited by now being in violation of state law for not producing the business plan, as they promised to do.

They are going to be buried and one would hope that with the defeat of Prop 1A, the recommendation of Joseph Vranich be executed, and the Authority be disbanded immediately and with as little cost as possible.

Senator Ashburn tried his best to get a delay, but could not carry the day.

Robert Cruickshank said...

That's actually a good argument for Prop 1A, anon. If it fails the likes of Joseph Vranich, Roy Ashburn, the Reason Foundation, and Morris Brown will set transportation policy in California.

It scares me to just think of it.

Kevin Gong said...

If CA takes up the broken policies of those old dinosaurs, I'll stay in Texas for a few more years!

Seriously though, Texas is leading in the second tier of states planning on implementing HSR, I only hope that CAHSR will provide the political boost necessary to jumpstart HSR systems all over the country.

I look forward to riding CAHSR with my grandchildren.

Brandon in California said...

I do not thinkg the Inconsequential Foundation, Vranich or the Senate Transportation & Housing Committee has ANY marginal impact on voting for this measure.

For 99% of voters, they'll respond based on what they already know, what they think is going on with the state budget, and what the adds (including Arnold) have to say. And, I've heard a few good pro 1A adds already.

Fortunately, and unless it rains, all things point to a large late democratic presence on Tuesday.

As pointed out by others already, democrats tend to be younger... tend to be more progressive and open to change... and/or tend to be more independant and have cell phones and no land line. They will not be phoned-polled and are left out of the surveys.

I also think that California being SO blue that it competes with the Pacific Ocean on a map for ditinction, that a lot of McCain supporting republican voters not yet casting a ballot will decide to stay home; why bother they'll think. And, they'd represent a larger share of a 'no' vote on 1A.

I predict a 54-46 yes vote tomorrow. Perhaps better. If the latest Field Poll was accurate, that means that 7 of the 11 undecided's vote yes on 1A... when only 3 or 4 are needed.

Robert said...

Thanks for a great blog, I've been reading you for months and steering people your way. I think we'll win. Funny thing is, this turns out to be an even more important project than it seemed 6 months ago, when we were concerned about growth, energy consumption and climate change. Add to that the impact a large infrastructure project can have on the economy and it makes NO sense to oppose HSR.

Anonymous said...

Vote for Prop 1A everyone but please get an education and the heck out of the Democrat party and help rebuild your country back to its post WWII grandeur! The last 40 years of overly liberal domestic policies are what has weakened the "infrastructure" == What Clinton meant was the fabric of our nation!
We in CA need transportation that wont take our lives as freeway travel does - what is it up to now 14 persons killed per week? - fewer taxpayers and still crowded freeways. As for Obama and Stiff hair Biden, you have two liberals who basically give money ( our money away to those who dont deserve it ) They too will move the speed of governance which is slow. These two idiots are simply two more jerks in the WH but a different day and that is all -- California has to get off its butt and get healthy. Whoever can believe that excessive LIberalism is the key to progress - is diseased. that Progressive movement is regressive like no bodies business BUT you are too young to know - so get an education and do not allow CHSR Project monies to become bled away by graft, by cost overrides and the idiot who suggested using prisoners should be put in jail himself for such a dumb idea! Mr dummy, engineers have to carefully plan, excavate and position each rail precisely in the right position, angle, slant tilt and curve not once but twice -left and right - so no one dies in a high speed disaster - let the experts do their jobs but give them the support they need to move forward in a safe and timely fashion and monitor that they do not milk the job. Conserve the monies and get the project out on time and at or under cost! Prisoners would add to costs due to inevitable mistakes!
Get real!