SunRail: A Runaway Train That Must Be Derailed

By George Noga
More Liberty, Less Government

The US Department of Transportation (“DOT”) recently 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 as early as next month. The only remaining obstacle is the state of Florida in the person of Governor Rick Scott.

“The only remaining obstacle to SunRail is 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 decidedly two-track mind, has heaped praise on China’s rail project, calling it a model for the United States. Only in the past month was it revealed that China’s rail project (the one Obama praised to the rooftops) 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 – just not the one he had in mind.

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

1. Commuter rail works only in rare and highly circumscribed demographic situations. It cannot possibly work in a place like Central Florida. It doesn’t work even in Los Angeles where a smaller percentage of people use rail today than decades ago.

2. Ridership projections always are inflated and costs underestimated – often by multiples. It is not ususual for costs to double or triple and for 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.

3. It will be a fiscal nightmare and a drag on future generations. Our children and grandchildren will be paying subsidies and debt service for as long as they live – and just so a few kool-aide drinkers feel good and some politicians practice political correctness at our expense.

4. Interstate 4 has over 175,000 daily riders; Lynx has 80,000 and SunRail is likely to have a mere 3,700. Anyone want to bet if ridership will hit 3,700?

5. 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 a misguided romantic notion of emulating Europe. Even more to the point, it is part of their DNA as further described infra.

“Slavish obeisance to rail is inseparable from the progressive mind. At its root is disdain for individualism and veneration for collectivism.”

But where the the train meets the tracks, it really is not so much about the 5 bullet points above. Slavish obeisance to rail is inseparable from the progressive mind. Commuter rail is nothing more than a feel-good liberal idea that has at its root disdain for individualism and veneration of collectivism. It is fueled by liberals’ hostility to cars and fossil fuels combined with their irrational and counterfactual love affair with (now thoroughly discredited) man made 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 adversely affected. 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 912 groups.

“Governor Scott is the only person standing between us and the biggest train wreck in Florida history; let’s hope he does the right thing.”

Yet, these groups may not be enough to halt SunRail before it gets to its tracks. Governor Scott is the only person standing between us and the biggest train wreck in Florida history; we must hope he does the right thing!


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