Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

The alternative route?

Posted in America, Politics by Chairman Pip on 9 September 2011

Last night, President Obama made a rare address to a Joint Session of Congress, in which he laid before America’s legislature his new proposal to kick start the country’s economy, which he called the American Jobs Act. This is, if the speech is anything to go by, a genuine bi-partisan list of ideas that combine both tax relief and stimulus spending (just don’t call it stimulus spending) that will cost somewhere in the region of $450bn. Of course, the majority of it does not concern what I write about on these pages but, as I was watching and listenting to the President speaking, some of the things he said did make me prick up my ears.

Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us a economic superpower.  And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads?  At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America? 

That was the first thing I noticed, and the first thought that came to my mind was “is that a dig at the newly elected Republican governors of Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin?”, all of whom turned down stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to invest in building new railways in their states. I have no doubt that, although he has much to think about, the President was probably quite hurt when these three men said no to the federal money that would have gone towards potentially significant job creation in their states, on projects that were virtually ready to start work. So the other point he made was what pricked my ears up further.

…to make sure the money is properly spent, we’re building on reforms we’ve already put in place.  No more earmarks.  No more boondoggles.  No more bridges to nowhere.  We’re cutting the red tape that prevents some of these projects from getting started as quickly as possible. 

 I could be hopelessly wrong in my conclusion, but to me this says that essentially he is looking to by-pass the problems the federal government has had in giving money to the states through going in directly, where there is widespread public and political approval at least. Florida’s high speed line had a political mandate through the passage of a bill through the state legislature, which had bipartisan support, only for it to be junked by the incoming Republican governor, who had to give his approval for the acceptance of $2bn of federal money. Could this be the “red tape” the President means? Will he be looking at ways to sideline state governors in issues like this?

The fact is though, how likely is it that these measures will be implemented, given that the President has to deal with a viciously Republican House (it is noticeable that there were very few standing ovations from the GOP side of the chamber, even when the President mentioned ideas that had been thought of by Republicans), and an election in 14 months. The tone of the speech was clear – instead of him saying at the end “God Bless You All, and God Bless the United States of America”, he could easily have substituted that for “I’m Barack Obama, and I’m running for President!”. It will be interesting to see though the way this goes. Is there a hope for the people of Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin that they may get their proposed railways after all? Let’s wait until after the election.

President Obama was in bullish mood addressing the United States Congress - will his plans mean another attempt to connect cities with trains?

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