While local officials continue to salivate in Pavlovian anticipation about a new high speed train that will connect Tampa and Orlando (Florida High Speed Rail), some are expressing concern that Tampa is being short-changed with only one station in the works. The Tampa Tribune quoted City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern asking, “…can we get more federal funding through the high-speed rail plan to get a stop at the airport?” during a recent work session with state officials.
Hey Culligan Man, “We need more federal funds!”
Federal funds and local taxes are just what will be needed to complete this pet project that so many local, state and federal politicians hold dear. In an effort to secure public favor, they promote its potential to stimulate economic growth and development, a claim that may not be all that well supported.
This past week, the top mayors of the country gathered in Oklahoma City for “The annual Meeting of The United States Mayors Conference.” One of the key note addresses for this year’s assembly was the presentation of a summary of the “U.S. Conference of Mayors and Siemens High Speed Rail Report”.
The twenty-eight page report, as presented at the mayor’s conference, is a promotional piece of case studies of the economic potential of High Speed Rail in four markets(Albany, Chicago, Los Angeles and Orlando) scheduled for early development of what local, state and federal agencies hope to develop into a national network similar to the federal interstate highway system.
This report was prepared by Economic Research Development Group, Inc. and was sponsored by Siemens, a global corporation which develops and markets technological solutions for sectors of energy, healthcare and industry.
The findings of the report are overstated by Siemens, both in the report as delivered at the Oklahoma City conference and in a statement issued on their website (see statement here).
Examining a more detailed report entitled “Economic Growth Effects Analysis for the Bay Area to Central Valley Program-Level Environmental Impact Report and Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement” prepared for the California High Speed Rail Authority by Cambridge Systematic in association with Economic Research Development Group, Inc, reveals that the High Speed Rail system (view the report here) is not all it is purported to be as a generator of economic growth.
On page sixteen, the Cambridge report summarized the significance of its findings as, “…Overall, the No-Project (not building the rail) and HST Network Alternatives (building a rail) represent very similar levels of growth effects in terms of urbanized area size and land consumption needs. The incremental effect of the HST Alternatives relative to the No-Project Alternative is very small when compared to the incremental effect of the No-Project Alternative relative to existing conditions…”
Page seventeen of the same report says, “…One of the most telling summary statistics is to combine population and employment growth projections with land consumption forecasts, providing a measure of ‘land consumed per new job and resident’. Essentially, this metric tells us how efficient each alternative
is at accommodating the projected growth; since the alternatives have very similar levels of overall growth, the efficiency by which that growth is accommodated becomes very important….”
And, just what is the overall efficiency gain/loss relative to No-Project implementation? A paltry 1.3%. Spending billions of dollars in local, state and mostly federal tax dollars does not seem to make sense for a 1.3% improvement in efficiency.
The Trojan horse is this: while the economic potential of building a high speed rail train is yet to be seen, the project appears to be more about government control and regulation.
That this is so, page eighteen of the Cambridge report makes this statement, “….In spite of these general findings (i.e. that there is no apparent economic benefit to constructing a High Speed Rail), HST does provide synergistic opportunities to combine with regulatory-based development strategies that could limit land consumption in many counties to roughly the level needed for the other No-Project Alternative. While the HST Alternative leads to modest statewide increases in employment and population, it channels this growth into the areas where it can be managed with regulatory-style land use policies, and spares the vast regions of the State that would otherwise be unlikely to develop the jobs/housing balance and infrastructure to reduce sprawl and long-distance
Similarly, the summary report presented in Oklahoma City makes some disturbing statements.
Tom Cochran, CEO and Executive Director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, says, “…existing modes of transportation currently consume more than two-thirds of our nation’s oil supply and are responsible for nearly a third of our carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, we need to make tomorrow’s transportation infrastructure more energy efficient, more environmentally sustainable and less dependent on foreign oil. Future federal transportation investments should address energy, economic and climate concerns through reforms and programs that emphasize sustainable transportation investments….”
Oliver Hauck, President Siemens Industry- Mobility Division, says, “…over the past sixteen years, transportation sector emissions increased by more than twenty-five percent, representing almost half of the total greenhouse gas emissions during this period. A major portion of that pollution -85%- came from surface transportation such as the cars, trucks and buses that deliver our active population to an increasing number of locations across the U.S.”
Hauck goes on to say, “…without major changes in our transportation systems and technology, we will fall even further behind in our efforts to create a more sustainable environment. At Siemens, we are dedicated to providing innovative transportation solutions that reduce or even eliminate the need to use fossil fuels to power our ever increasing need for mobility. Our goal is to provide complete, integrated mobility products and services to cities across the nation while also reducing the carbon footprint no only of our facilities but also for our customers…”
While the High Speed Rail is being touted by local officials (Mayor Pam Iorio, Tampa City Council and Hillsborough County Commissioners) as an economic boon to Tampa and Hillsborough County, this project is less about economic growth and more about environmental control and regulation.
Just who stands to profit when the money is poured into this project…hmmm, Siemens Mobility Division?
A recently published stock investment advisory features high speed rail cars that can obtain up to 700 miles per gallon. And just where are these high speed trains going to be operating? How about California, Florida and Illinois. Sounds like some investment guru was at the U.S. Conference of Mayors last week. What stock was he recommending that his readers buy? If you said, Siemens, you are correct.
Readers commenting on David Fessler’s article brought up two interesting points:
One reader noted, “…Europe is certainly not the U.S. Just because it works there does not insure it will work here. Besides, there already is rail service – Amtrak – that nobody uses. Not to mention the huge government subsidies to keep it afloat. Also, taking a train can get you to the city you want to go but then what? How do you get where you need to go? A taxi or bus? And what about the train schedule? There just isn’t enough flexibility to appeal to most people. And, how much time and money are you really saving by the time you drive to the station, pay to park, pay for your ticket, wait for the train, ride the train to your city, and get a cab or bus to your destination? Riding a train is just not practical for most commuters.
Also, the government is broke. I wouldn’t count on those subsidies to build these multi-billion $ systems.”
The other observed, “…Just curious, how would high-speed rail affect waiting times? I could easily envision the need for just as rigorous security for trains as is the case for air travel. And if the price of the ticket isn’t competitive and relative to air travel, the incentive to travel this way would be less. And of course, the infrastructure cost could be enormous….”
As Florida has already accepted the federal money for building light rail/high speed trains, the project is moving forward unless the money is given back to Uncle Sam.
While it is unlikely that citizens will be forced to ride these trains, it is possible that a soft tyranny could be implemented to wean people from their use of independently operated personal vehicles such as additional taxes collected through the purchase of fuel, implemenation of useage fees based on miles driven, etc…
Most likely, the Tampa-Orlando HSR will just be an expensive project benefitting companies like Siemens or CSX. It will be constructed and paid for with tax dollars thus adding to the national deficit, then its operations will be subsidized by additional tax money as the transportation authorites persevere in their mission to transport a few people from here to there on mostly empty vehicles.