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View Poll Results: Should the US build or improve it's HSR network?
Yes 249 89.57%
No 29 10.43%
Voters: 278. You may not vote on this poll

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Old June 18th, 2011, 01:52 AM   #2641
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Originally Posted by mgk920 View Post

The $800+M that was planned to be spent on a 'medium speed' line upgrade and service restoration between Madison and Milwaukee, WI (a distance of about 100 km) was, IMHO, a total waste and would have set back progress on true high-speed service development in the midwestern USA by at least a generation.

Mike
You can't be serious. There never was going to be money available to build true high speed rail outside of a couple of corridors where it had been approved by voters (Florida and California).

Incremental upgrades to existing corridors to demonstrate the value of faster intercity rail before committing major funds to build entirely new lines from scratch was and still is a wise and prudent decision.

Walker is a right wing demagogue that already has a special place in Hell waiting for him.
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Old June 18th, 2011, 01:54 AM   #2642
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Do we really want a nearly bankrupt state to build such a project? I think not.
No one is going bankrupt to build this project. Do some god damn research into how the CAHSR project is going to be financed before spouting off at the mouth like an idiot.
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Old June 18th, 2011, 02:27 AM   #2643
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Many of those "higher speed" project out of Chicago banked, for part of their alignment, on existing ROW from private railways, and rightfully so as the terrain there is mostly flat and many alignments are straight anyway.

Something that has changed fast, though, is the residual value of freight lines. In other words, the value of ROW increased as big private freight railways became more efficient and effective. The main lines out of West Coast port are busting with Asian exports to elsewhere in US east of the Rockies. They became very effective doing that, in what is a remarkable case for rail industry worldwide. This is positive as one would not want all those containers to be driven through I-80, I-40 and I-10.

The unintended consequence is that rail ROW value has skyrocket, as has the costs to take capacity down when you are making improvements. So BNSF, CSX and UP became far less cooperative as they are flush with cash and became lucrative again. This makes negotiations more difficult. They don't need small money to "rent" their ROW so that higher speed tracks can be routed.

Indeed, Union Pacific has become outright hostile to Amtrak and all passenger-related operations. CSX (if I"m not wrong) recently asked Amtrak $720 million to allow operation of passenger trains between New Orleans and Miami on a daily basis. BNSF is holding Amtrak hostage with requests of "pay money or we are going to downgrade that track and you cannot run trains above 40mph anymore".

So I can see only more trouble on this high(er) speed projects that rely on collaboration with freight railways. Sometimes is on the small stuff - for instance, there are special FRA regulations for passenger trains running on the same tracks at the same time (like crossing or operating on the same sector) with trains of certain hazardous materials, that are a small part of rail cargo, but yet the freight railways said they will not agree to schedule such trains as to allow "higher speed" passenger operations in any case, as it is their tracks, and they run whatever train they want.
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Old June 18th, 2011, 03:18 AM   #2644
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Originally Posted by hoosier View Post
No one is going bankrupt to build this project. Do some god damn research into how the CAHSR project is going to be financed before spouting off at the mouth like an idiot.
Oh really? A project costing over $50 billion dollars (probably a lot more) to build and billions to maintain over the years sounds like an excellent idea for the most indebted state in the country. Additionally, it's been said more than once that their current funding scheme is very questionable. Also, let's start building from Borden to Corcoran, towns no one even in California knows where they are!

There is a reason Florida rejected the $2 billion in federal money. Some people in this country care when their money is going down the drain (ie: federal money being used to build trains in California). I bet this has been brought up on this topic before, but we live in a car culture, so the ridership estimates CHSRA is counting on are just not going to happen.

Don't get me wrong, I am a proponent of HSR if it's done right, but what they are trying to do in California has failure written all over it.

Last edited by TheAnalyst; June 18th, 2011 at 05:14 AM.
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Old June 18th, 2011, 03:42 AM   #2645
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Originally Posted by hoosier View Post
You can't be serious. There never was going to be money available to build true high speed rail outside of a couple of corridors where it had been approved by voters (Florida and California).

Incremental upgrades to existing corridors to demonstrate the value of faster intercity rail before committing major funds to build entirely new lines from scratch was and still is a wise and prudent decision.
You can't be serious. What is the value in spending a couple of billion dollars to shave 20 minutes off a 3 hour trip on lines that already have low ridership?

If anything this will demonstrate the lack of value in "high speed" rail.
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Old June 18th, 2011, 04:12 AM   #2646
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Originally Posted by TheAnalyst View Post
Oh really? A project costing over $50 billion dollars to build and billions to maintain over the years sounds like an excellent idea for the most indebted state in the country. Also, let's start building from Borden to Corcoran, towns no one even in California knows where they are!

There is a reason Florida rejected the $2 billion in federal money. Some people in this country care when their money is going down the drain (ie: federal money being used to build trains in California). I bet this has been brought up on this topic before, but we live in a car culture, so the ridership estimates CHSRA is counting on are just not going to happen.

Don't get me wrong, I am a proponent of HSR if it's done right, but what they are trying to do in California has failure written all over it.
This is in reference to the bolded section above. We're not a car culture, not even a little, tiny bit. We're a "transportation" culture--what we care about is getting from place to place in as great comfort, with as little effort and money, as is possible. That is why vehicles like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry have long been two of the best selling automobiles in the country. They aren't "cars"; people don't own them because they enjoy owning them, they own them because these cars have a reputation for being inexpensive to own and run, practical, and reliable, and owning a car is necessary for the vast majority of the population to participate in the economy. That is to say, they're appliances, owned for what do they, not what they are. As an automotive enthusiast who has spoken with many other auto enthusiats over the years, it's one thing we collectively bemoan about the way this country is set up. The fact that cars are required for getting almost anywhere for the vast majority of the population means that no one wants to think about them because they're there all the time. If we were truly a car culture, I think that we'd have more than a 7% takerate for new, manual transmission-equipped cars.

I'm willing to bet that many many people would very happily give up their cars if it didn't mean a serious imparement on their ability to live comfortably. HSR and other mass transit systems are supposed to make it possible to get around without cars. If what all this necessitates is simultaneously making mass transit more prolific and automobile ownership more expensive, I'd be all for it.
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Old June 18th, 2011, 04:51 AM   #2647
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I'm willing to bet that many many people would very happily give up their cars if it didn't mean a serious imparement on their ability to live comfortably. HSR and other mass transit systems are supposed to make it possible to get around without cars. If what all this necessitates is simultaneously making mass transit more prolific and automobile ownership more expensive, I'd be all for it.
And therein lies the problem. There's no way that is going to happen anytime soon. At least in most places I've been to in America it's very hard to get around using public transportation. And that is in spite of a large chunk of transportation funding going to mass transit, while it serves only a small (<5%) of the population.

I highly doubt expanding/building a HSR network will make people magically abandon their cars.
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Old June 18th, 2011, 05:15 AM   #2648
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Originally Posted by TheAnalyst View Post
And therein lies the problem. There's no way that is going to happen anytime soon. At least in most places I've been to in America it's very hard to get around using public transportation. And that is in spite of a large chunk of transportation funding going to mass transit, while it serves only a small (<5%) of the population.

I highly doubt expanding/building a HSR network will make people magically abandon their cars.
Maybe not magical but it will be a start. I think it will be a gradual process. All the people certainly did not suddenly decide that they wanted to drive and own cars. The adoption of the automobile happened over decades. The adoption of HSR and other public transit options on a scale larger than today will also take time. But the first step has to be taken to start building an infrastructure/setup where people can make a choice or find it convenient to choose transit options. Otherwise we are stuck with the proverbial chicken and egg conundrum i.e. no transit hence no riders, no riders hence no transit.
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Old June 18th, 2011, 05:52 AM   #2649
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I find it interesting that the conservatives think the high speed rail is bad for taxpayers yet, they have no problem with the government funding huge new highway projects for a mode of transportation that has no future in the US(American auto manufacturers are investing heavily in Asia for Asian consumers rather than in North America) with rising gas prices and most Americans moving back into cities based on census numbers over the past twenty years. Time to start thinking longterm or we'll be scrambling to rebuild our rail network when it's already too late.
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Old June 18th, 2011, 06:24 AM   #2650
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I find it interesting that the conservatives think the high speed rail is bad for taxpayers yet, they have no problem with the government funding huge new highway projects
Highways are financed, not car operations themselves (I might open an exception for the Big Three 2008 bailout, which yielded US gov't a profit in the end). That is the main difference: in road transport, gov't finance only the road, vehicles are private. In air transport, gov't finance only the runway and terminals, airplanes are private. In rail transport, at least in US, they want gov't to not only build tracks and stations, but also to hire conductors and buy trains and, gosh, operate a restaurant car!!! It is a big difference. Rail investment support would grow if the quest were only to finance tracks, and letting private operators run trains for a small fee on gov't public railways.

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most Americans moving back into cities based on census numbers over the past twenty years.
Do we read the same US Census Bureau reports? Because recent figures show that, on a national basis, CSAs classified as "suburbs" never held a higher share of total population.

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Originally Posted by aquaticko View Post
This is in reference to the bolded section above. We're not a car culture, not even a little, tiny bit. We're a "transportation" culture--what we care about is getting from place to place in as great comfort, with as little effort and money, as is possible. That is why vehicles like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry have long been two of the best selling automobiles in the country. They aren't "cars"; people don't own them because they enjoy owning them, they own them because these cars have a reputation for being inexpensive to own and run, practical, and reliable, and owning a car is necessary for the vast majority of the population to participate in the economy. That is to say, they're appliances, owned for what do they, not what they are. As an automotive enthusiast who has spoken with many other auto enthusiats over the years, it's one thing we collectively bemoan about the way this country is set up. The fact that cars are required for getting almost anywhere for the vast majority of the population means that no one wants to think about them because they're there all the time. If we were truly a car culture, I think that we'd have more than a 7% takerate for new, manual transmission-equipped cars.

I'm willing to bet that many many people would very happily give up their cars if it didn't mean a serious imparement on their ability to live comfortably. HSR and other mass transit systems are supposed to make it possible to get around without cars. If what all this necessitates is simultaneously making mass transit more prolific and automobile ownership more expensive, I'd be all for it.
I agree with the first part of your first paragraph. However, I'd say US is not a "car" culture, but an automobility culture. People use Honda Civics because they provide (as any other car, Hummers and Corvettes included) instantaneous, 24/7, broad and universal reach that no feasible transit system ever will (hard to think of any transit system that takes you within 10 minutes, no preparation required, no waiting time required, with trips to both central Manhattan or some isolated spot in the middle of Montana).

In Europe, where transit is at least pervasive, all countries of the Western part have more than 70% car share for total personal transportation (passenger-miles).
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Old June 18th, 2011, 07:06 AM   #2651
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That is the main difference: in road transport, gov't finance only the road, vehicles are private. In air transport, gov't finance only the runway and terminals, airplanes are private. In rail transport, at least in US, they want gov't to not only build tracks and stations, but also to hire conductors and buy trains and, gosh, operate a restaurant car!!! It is a big difference.
To be fair, airports require a lot of personnel too. After all someone's got to man the control towers, run shuttles, refuel the planes, etc. And airport construction costs are very high too. Look no further than Guarulhos International, where hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent just to add one terminal.

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Rail investment support would grow if the quest were only to finance tracks, and letting private operators run trains for a small fee on gov't public railways.
Isn't that what's being proposed in some of these HSR projects in the States? Kinda like Florida's planned Orlando-Tampa line, where private investors were going to cover operational losses; if they were to happen?
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Old June 18th, 2011, 01:27 PM   #2652
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Both of you (TheAnalyst, Suburbanist) make valid points, but essentially what it boils down to is that for decades, the automobile has been the sole feasible mode of transportation for the vast majority of the American population by virtue of demographics and development patterns. However, Smooth Indian said it right--if there ought to be a change, it's got to start at some point, and there's no reason that it couldn't start with incremental improvements to the rail infrastructure.

I still have a big problem, on a sort of philosophical level, that there's a major cost imposed upon all levels of American society in essentially requiring automobile ownership to be able to fully participate in the economy.
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Old June 18th, 2011, 03:53 PM   #2653
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I still have a big problem, on a sort of philosophical level, that there's a major cost imposed upon all levels of American society in essentially requiring automobile ownership to be able to fully participate in the economy.
It is possible to discuss the economy of passenger transportation, but to argue philosophically against the de-facto requirement of car ownership is moot, in my opinion. People are already de-facto obliged to own a cell phone, to have e-mail and an internet connection, to have a bank account... You can survive without any of the aforementioned items, but your ability to participate in the economy and social life will be severely hampered if you lack any of those resources. The car is just another requirement of modern life in most US metro areas, the only difference being it costs two orders of magnitude more than the other items I mentioned.

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Isn't that what's being proposed in some of these HSR projects in the States? Kinda like Florida's planned Orlando-Tampa line, where private investors were going to cover operational losses; if they were to happen?
No. States DOTs or similar agencies would be on the hook for operational losses. In the case of projects like the railway to Madison, operational losses were already predicted from onset. Unless gas in US cost $ 7.00/gallon or more, that railway wouldn't attract sufficient ridership to pay for its operations.
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Old June 19th, 2011, 01:23 AM   #2654
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American is starting to get old , and many states are starting to get serious with there Transit plans. The population of ppl over 65 is supposed to triple by 2050 , we need HSR , Transit and Rail. Enough with these excuses , the time is to start now. New England , and the Cascadia range are leading the pack , the rest of the country has fallen behind. This generation also wants more transit and Rail options. Where there are good Transit connections and walkable cities , transit is fully taken advantage of. As for the HSR or Rail operating losses , there still half that of Road and Highway Maintaince costs... How do people on this board or a few people keep missing that?
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Old June 19th, 2011, 08:46 AM   #2655
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True high-speed rail systems have shown profits from SNCF in France with 1 billion in net operating revenue, Russia has had 30% margins on operations as well. Interstates, let alone local arterials do not pay for themselves. The fact is the 25 and under generation of young professionals see the value of being close to work, entertainment, and shopping and would prefer not to pay for vehicle maintenace, insurance, gas, etc. Why keep the same transportation system for the next generation when it is vulnerable to gas price shocks, effecting every area of the economy? If we continue to depend on gasoline for transportation, the economic well being of the country which is in already bad shape could worsen since disposable income will go to everyday living versus vacations, property investment, etc.

Now, latest news out of France, construction to begin in 1 years on the LGV Sud-Europe from Tours-Bordeaux, to be completed by 2017. Detroit-Chicago improvements might come sooner since NS decided to lower the speed of its ROW wanting Amtrak to pay for maintenance. The stretch of track that has been slowed down has been planned to be bought by the state of Michigan.
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Old June 19th, 2011, 09:45 AM   #2656
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The fact is the 25 and under generation of young professionals see the value of being close to work, entertainment, and shopping and would prefer not to pay for vehicle maintenace, insurance, gas, etc. Why keep the same transportation system for the next generation when it is vulnerable to gas price shocks, effecting every area of the economy? If we continue to depend on gasoline for transportation, the economic well being of the country which is in already bad shape could worsen since disposable income will go to everyday living versus vacations, property investment, etc.
It is quite a preemptive and presumptive assumption to begin it. In all those countries where there are extensive HSR like France, Spain or Italy, people still drive cars a lot, and highways (mostly toll-roads) are expanding and getting more lanes, new alignments etc.

So one should not frame the discussion as a rail x highway. HSR, where applicable, can be an efficient competitor to short haul flights and very long commute drives, for an upscale market now, maybe for median income market in couple decades. However, raid the road funds to build rail would be bad public policy and political suicide. After all, it would mean large scale introduction of tolls on heavily trafficked highways to pay for their maintenance, like it happens in Europe.

Quote:
Now, latest news out of France, construction to begin in 1 years on the LGV Sud-Europe from Tours-Bordeaux, to be completed by 2017. Detroit-Chicago improvements might come sooner since NS decided to lower the speed of its ROW wanting Amtrak to pay for maintenance. The stretch of track that has been slowed down has been planned to be bought by the state of Michigan.
I think Amtrak should divide itself in 3 different companies:

- one to manage tracks, signaling, dedicated stations and terminals and other infrastructure, which will charge trackage fees from whomever wants to use the tracks and would invest money buying off tracks from established railways (BNSF, CSX etc)

- one to operate competitive, commuter services, like in NEC, new HS projects.

- one to operate long-distance, slow train services, which would have to either become profitable or be shut down and terminated.
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Old June 19th, 2011, 06:24 PM   #2657
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It is possible to discuss the economy of passenger transportation, but to argue philosophically against the de-facto requirement of car ownership is moot, in my opinion. People are already de-facto obliged to own a cell phone, to have e-mail and an internet connection, to have a bank account... You can survive without any of the aforementioned items, but your ability to participate in the economy and social life will be severely hampered if you lack any of those resources. The car is just another requirement of modern life in most US metro areas, the only difference being it costs two orders of magnitude more than the other items I mentioned.
In terms of cost, I think it's reasonable make a philosophical distinction between something that will cost you, oh, maybe one or two thousand dollars a year and having. You can't make blanket statements like that when the two subjects are, as you say, orders of magnitude apart.
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Old June 20th, 2011, 01:27 AM   #2658
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It is quite a preemptive and presumptive assumption to begin it. In all those countries where there are extensive HSR like France, Spain or Italy, people still drive cars a lot, and highways (mostly toll-roads) are expanding and getting more lanes, new alignments etc.

So one should not frame the discussion as a rail x highway. HSR, where applicable, can be an efficient competitor to short haul flights and very long commute drives, for an upscale market now, maybe for median income market in couple decades. However, raid the road funds to build rail would be bad public policy and political suicide. After all, it would mean large scale introduction of tolls on heavily trafficked highways to pay for their maintenance, like it happens in Europe.
So it is not okay to make roads pay for themselves yet it is okay to say rail needs to cover 100% of its operations costs? That is an unfair double standard. The rail funds got raided after WWII for road funding, what about fair treatment? Either you take road funds or you impose a new tax, neither popular. However, once gas prices become too high, people want a way out.



Quote:
I think Amtrak should divide itself in 3 different companies:

- one to manage tracks, signaling, dedicated stations and terminals and other infrastructure, which will charge trackage fees from whomever wants to use the tracks and would invest money buying off tracks from established railways (BNSF, CSX etc)

- one to operate competitive, commuter services, like in NEC, new HS projects.

- one to operate long-distance, slow train services, which would have to either become profitable or be shut down and terminated.
If long distance trains are terminated because they are not profitable, then would you agree in tern to cut Essential Air service? Some of the communities served by the trains do not have any other mode of transportation.
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Old June 20th, 2011, 02:09 AM   #2659
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So it is not okay to make roads pay for themselves yet it is okay to say rail needs to cover 100% of its operations costs? That is an unfair double standard. The rail funds got raided after WWII for road funding, what about fair treatment? Either you take road funds or you impose a new tax, neither popular. However, once gas prices become too high, people want a way out.
You are ignoring two fundamental issues, and stating wrong a third:

- there is a BIG, ENORMOUS difference between maintaining public railways with TRACKS AND STATIONS ONLY and operating train services. Is it that difficult to understand? It is like the difference between maintaining airports, ATC and owning and operating airplanes; or maintaining highways and operating trucks and buses!!! Why people can't get the difference between VEHICLES and INFRASTRUCTURE, and why do they always want to blend both when it comes to rail?

- there are no problems, in principle, with toll roads. I'm not against them, insofar fuel-specific taxes are 100% devoted to road maintenance and construction. The problem begins when you want to tax road vehicle use to build rail, that is unfair. Put up a car-mileage-based tax on train operations, freight and passenger alike, and use them to build railways. Or use fund from the general budget, if one can make a case for yet more spending in these lean times. Just don't touch road money that is collected under the form of gas taxes. Raise gas taxes if needed to pay for increased costs of construction, but don't divert money to other infrastructure!!!

- there had never been a "rail fund" diverted from roads in North America. The corporation that own(ed) most of the railways got some tax breaks and special loans here and there, but there had never been a systematic fund to operate trains, just the land-grant schemes and some other exclusive charters up to ~1910.

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If long distance trains are terminated because they are not profitable, then would you agree in tern to cut Essential Air service? Some of the communities served by the trains do not have any other mode of transportation.
Essential Air Service should apply only to remote locations in Alleutian Islands and the likes of Alaska where there is no other way to reach them. As for Essential Air Service like in Wyoming, Idaho or UTah? Shut it down, no reason for it to exist.

There isn't a single town served by Amtrak trains that is also disconnected from the American network of paved roads. Not all of them have a nearby Interstate, some are pretty remote, but ALL have year-round access to the network of paved roads. Some towns in the route of the Empire Builder are rather remote, but are all reachable by car. Indeed, most long-distance routes of Amtrak are run over railways whose alignment are closely followed by US-routes, when not Interstates. It is the case of the Empire Builder (US-2), California Zephyr (I-70+I-80), Southwest Chief (I-35+I-40+I-15)
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Old June 20th, 2011, 08:31 AM   #2660
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I'm not against them, insofar fuel-specific taxes are 100% devoted to road maintenance and construction.
That is not true.

State gasoline taxes and most (but not all) of federal gas taxes were, in principle, meant to be used only for road maintenance. But in 1982, the "Mass Transit Account" was created, and *it* uses funds that come from gas taxes. This was just one of the many changes to the "users pay, users benefit" principle. Nowadays more than 25% of gas taxes are used for non-highway purposes.

Additionally, there's a proposal calling for the creation of a "transportation trust fund," replacing the highway trust fund, which would allow an even bigger chunk of gas taxes to go to mass transit. Still, this is not as bad as gas taxes in Europe, which are actually general purpose revenue. That's why there are more tolls roads in Europe, as they pay for the roads rather than gas taxes.

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The problem begins when you want to tax road vehicle use to build rail, that is unfair.
I don't see anything wrong with that.

Last edited by TheAnalyst; June 20th, 2011 at 06:26 PM.
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