Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Fighting Over Rail Scraps

One of the most significant hurdles in getting off fossil fuels is in creating an infrastructure that would allow us to do so. New England, as a region, has a solid first plan.
Described as the first regionwide passenger rail agenda, the New England system would speed up trains, increase service, and open new commuter lines throughout the region - as well as provide high-speed routes linking New England to Quebec with 110 mile-per-hour trains.
The plan is more like a wish list, one that has a price tag many times more than what the federal government is actually awarding in stimulus grants. It's an ambitious plan, along with ambitious plans from other states, but the fact that it's Massachusetts working with all the other states in the region makes it significant. Heck, it even connects New England to Montreal, should things swing the right way.

Effecting Massachusetts, the plan's priorities will

[Raise] speeds and running more trains between Springfield and New Haven, where the state of Connecticut hopes to introduce commuter rail; raising speeds and expanding the number of trains on the Downeaster; inaugurating passenger rail between Boston and Concord, N.H.; increasing capacity on the Northeast Corridor in Rhode Island... The Vermont plan would return passenger trains to Northampton, Mass., after an absence of several decades.

Several of the proposals are intended to establish connections between train lines and airports in Providence, Hartford, and Manchester, which the federal guidelines say is a plus in deciding grant awards.

Of the plan's six main priorities, at least five of them will be helpful to some Massachusetts citizens. Particularly compelling is the connection from Boston to Concord as well as increasing capacity in Rhode Island, which should speed up the Boston-NY route. I'm not sure where the trains in Northampton would go, but there could be a lot of good with getting even at least some access to that region.

But what's beyond obvious is that the stimulus's spending left for mass transit was pitiful. Of course, that's not news. We had hundreds of billions in ineffective tax cuts, but only left a measly $8 billion for trains. It's sad.

Of course, the article states
The Obama administration has promised that the $8 billion in the stimulus is just a “down payment’’ on a national high-speed rail network.
but I'll believe it when I see it. This generation's most daunting task, the New Deal we need to have, is getting off oil and bringing this country's non-car public infrastructure into the 21st Century... and we're barely doing anything about it. At some point very soon, hopefully within a year, Congress must act on that New Deal and create a huge Mass Transit bill -- one that leaves in the order of hundreds of billions for public spending on mass transit projects. We could spend half a billion dollars and it wouldn't be enough -- but at least that would be an honest start, making this country's economy permanently stronger and more resilient.

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