Friday, June 19, 2009

Increase the Train Fund, Give the Work to Detroit

A journalist writing in The Atlantic argues that the relative chump change being thrown at high speed rail (AIG and Citibank got 55 times as much, roughly $460 billion vs $8 billion) could become diluted across so many states that no one "will end up with a top-of-the-line system that could provide thousands of new jobs and an envy-inducing model for America." He offers a better alternative that benefits Michigan.
Instead of scattering nickels and dimes across dozens of states, a better idea would be to increase the train fund at least tenfold so America can have at least one legitimate high-speed rail line like Spain’s Madrid-to-Seville train, which runs at 186 mph (Amtrak averages only 79 nationwide). And let this man-on-the-moon project start in Detroit.

Yes, Detroit. The city that was once part of FDR’s “Arsenal of Democracy,” for its part in retooling auto plants to make World War II tanks and bombers, has easily a dozen empty auto plants that could be making train engines and train cars.
We also have the trained workforce. According to UAW Local 651 President Art Reyes, he has “a workforce of 900 that’s been downsized from 9,000, but every one of them is computer-literate and ready for cutting-edge, green-technology stuff, whether it’s wind turbines, next-generation auto batteries, or rail."

Increasing the train fund tenfold is a nice dream, but I doubt there's the political will, especially on the right. That's too bad, because - once again - we lag behind the rest of the world in progress. This is China's plan.
China, as part of their two-year stimulus plan, is poised to spend 3% of their GDP a year on public investments in renewable energy, low-carbon vehicles, high-speed rail, an advanced electric grid, efficiency improvements, and other water-treatment and pollution controls. This is about $12.6 million every hour. In the United States, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act invests about half as much as China on comparable priorities. This represents less than half of one percent of our 2008 gross domestic product.
There is good news though. The Midwest appears to be a frontrunner in the race for $8 billion in funds because we're part of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, along with seven other states, and federal guidelines give an edge to states that have banded together. It's a start.

Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)


K. said...

Makes sense to me. Where are Levin, Stabenow, Conyers, and the rest of the Michigan delegation on this?

Kathy said...

K, I haven't had much time to read lately so I'm not sure where they stand on this issue, but I can't imagine they'd be against anything that brings jobs to our state.

Kvatch said...

Oh please, Please, PLEASE let Detroit build the rolling stock that California will use on the Bay Area - Los Angeles - San Diego corridor! I so don't want to ever to fly into LAX again.

Kathy said...

Kvatch, I personally hate all airports and flying, and only fly out of necessity. If we had a decent rail system in Michigan (like England has), I'd use it at every opportunity. Trains take longer, but they're not as confining and I like being able to look out the window and see the ground!