LETTER: Nixon should reconsider applying for federal funds for rail system

Friday, April 1, 2011 | 9:28 a.m. CDT

The following is the text of a letter written in response to a March 29 article describing Gov. Jay Nixon's announcement that Missouri will apply for nearly $1 billion in federal funding to improve rail service within the state. Tom Serandos of Jefferson City sent the letter to Nixon, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, Rep. Jay Barnes and Missouri Department of Transportation Director Kevin Keith on March 30.

Dear Sirs,

I believe you should reconsider the action to pursue federal funds for the high-speed rail service. The following is the text of a correspondence that I sent on Jan. 31, 2010, to Gov. Nixon and a group of Missouri legislators. None of the issues has changed, and thus I would like to resubmit the document for your consideration.

The "Shovel Ready" $8 billion initial phase of the high speed rail project initiated by the administration should be canceled, and Congress should take action to do so. According to reports, the $8 billion is the first installment for a system that is projected to cost approximately $50 billion. The Missouri state government should take legal action to reject it.

Please consider the following:

From an article in the Plattsburgh Press Republican: "Bombardier Transportation Vice President Robert Furniss said the company is still reviewing details, but it supports the administration's overall vision for high-speed rail corridors."  The company expects to benefit if high-speed rail networks are created throughout the country. Bombardier, whose headquarters are located in Berlin, welcomes high-speed rail investment.

From an Associated Press article: "Even experts who favor high-speed rail question whether the awards Obama will announce Thursday can turn into the job generators the administration is hoping for. Because the U.S. has never had the kind of bullet trains found in Europe and Asia, there are no U.S. engineering companies or manufacturers with experience in high-speed rail. Anthony Perl, who heads the National Research Council's panel on intercity passenger rails, said that means much of the technology will have to be purchased abroad."

It appears that the "Shovel Ready Project" is ready to shovel billions of U.S. tax dollars to foreign corporations. The net effect will be to stimulate the economies of Germany, Japan, France or any other of six or so countries that have experience in high-speed train systems.

With regard to Missouri, it is anticipated that the installation of the "high-speed" rail system between St. Louis and Kansas City (a distance of approximately 250 miles) will decrease the current rail travel time from six hours to four hours. Thus, travelers would make the trip in roughly the same amount of time that they could in a car (estimated automotive transportation cost of approximately $87 including gas, maintenance, depreciation, insurance etc.), and when they arrive they either have to rent a car or rely on associates for local travel, as there are no efficient mass transit systems in either St. Louis or Kansas City. I doubt that the price of a high-speed rail ticket between the two cities will be less than $87. Also, the population density in the region between the two cities is extremely low.

In any case, the contractors installing the track and control systems will have to meet the specifications of the foreign supplier of the train, or the supplier will not warranty the trains' performance or life expectancy. Thus, it is highly likely that the engineering and technical work to install the system would be performed by the supplier, and the only work Americans would get is the shovel work.

What makes the U.S. or state governments believe that this project will be any more successful or better managed than the dysfunctional AMTRAK economic disaster? The immediate positive economic impact of construction will be felt more by foreign countries.

The high speed rail system will be another easy target for terrorism that will likely employ more Transportation Security Administration agents than passengers that will ride it. The scrutiny of passengers boarding the trains will be no less than that for aircraft and the boarding time just as slow.

I haven't seen the details of the legislative document. However, if the system is installed between St. Louis and Kansas City, it is highly probable that the state of Missouri would be responsible for its maintenance. This also will likely be an expense paid by Missouri tax dollars to the foreign supplier. The system will be a burden to the taxpayers for many years. The state of Missouri should reject this project as being economically detrimental to the long-term welfare of its residents.

The federal government appears to have no idea what is wrong with this economy, and it routinely generates grandiose projects that do more harm than good. I advocate that the U.S. Congress and the Missouri state government make an effort to stop spending public money on such economic and social follies.

Tom Serandos is a metallurgical engineer who lives in Jefferson City.

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