SunRail: The Runaway Train That Must Be Derailed

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By George Noga


The US Department of Transportation (“DOT”) just completed its review of SunRail, a 61-mile commuter rail project for Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Volusia Counties. DOT sent a full funding agreement to Congress which is expected to approve it within 60 days. The only remaining obstacle is the State of Florida in the person of Governor Rick Scott.

There is nothing right about SunRail; it is a boondoggle for the ages and one for which our children and grandchildren will pay ad infinitum. President Obama, who has a two-track mind, has heaped praise on China’s rail project, calling it a model for the United States. Only in the past few weeks was it revealed that China’s rail project has run up deficits of nearly $300 billion and can’t service its debt of $30 billion in 2011 alone. Obama was right; this is a model for America – only not the one he had in mind.

Let’s get specific about what is wrong with SunRail.

v  Commuter rail only works in the rarest demographic situations. In cannot possibly work in a place like central Florida. Even in Los Angeles, a smaller percentage of people use rail today than decades ago.

v  Ridership projections always are inflated and costs underestimated – often by multiples. It is not unusual for land and construction costs to double or triple and ridership to be only a fraction (a small fraction) of estimates. Huge operating deficits are endemic; this should not be surprising; after all, it is government run.

v  It will be a fiscal nightmare and a drag on future generations. Our children and grandchildren will be paying debt service and subsidies for as long as they live.

v   Commuter rail is neither green nor cost effective. Its effect on highways and airports will be negligible. What’s so green about losing billions of dollars? Greens support rail because of some misguided romantic notion about emulating Europe and because it is part of their DNA as further described infra.

But where the train meets the tracks, it really is not so much about the four bullet points above. Trains are deeply imbedded in liberal DNA and if you listen to them closely you might even be able to hear them murmur their mantra: “all aboard – all aboard.” Commuter rail is nothing more than a feel-good, progressive idea that has at its root disdain for individualism and veneration for collectivism. It is fueled by liberals’ hostility to cars and fossil fuels combined with their irrational and counterfactual love affair with global warming. At bottom, it is nothing more than a liberal chimera. George Will stated it succinctly:

“To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, whenever and wherever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they – unsupervised, untutored and unscripted – are masters of their fates . . . which makes them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.”

Time is running out to stop this assault on our common sense and on our progeny’s pocketbooks.

Fortunately, there are several groups trying to uncouple SunRail; they include a new organization called VETO – Voters Expressing Their Opposition (to SunRail). VETO consists of current and former elected officials in the four counties. Other groups opposing SunRail are Ax the Tax, Florida Taxpayers Union and the Campaign for Liberty. This diverse coalition also includes dozens of tea parties and 9-12 groups. Yet, these groups may not be enough to halt SunRail before it gets to its tracks. Your help is needed to contact Governor Scott as he is the only person standing between us and the biggest train wreck in Florida history.

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