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“tremendous challenges for the future”) and the California plan now facing all kinds of fiscal political and environmental problems. Meanwhile, there is a laundry list of badly needed-improvements just to keep conven- tional passenger trains running. On the NEC, our interviewee sees Amtrak’s needs as in- cluding the upgrade of trackage and tunnels where trains are forced to slow to a crawl. On the Chicago-Milwaukee short distance

line, with which Wisconsinite Busalacchi is most intimately familiar, there are seven trips a day in each direction. “Those trains are packed. And you know why?” is his rhetorical question. It’s because “we’ve made them comfortable, convenient and on time.” In a few months, he says, there will be a couple of new trainsets on the scene, which will be even more comfortable, convenient and timely. “We’ve hooked up a big metropolitan area [Milwaukee] to a tremendously big metro- politan area [Chicago]. We have people working in Chicago who live in Milwaukee. [That’s roughly an-hour-and-a-half each way, where snacks and beverages are served from a cart airline-style, affording an oppor- tunity to read — as opposed to studying the license plate of the car ahead of you].” Busalachi envisions service like this “all over the country.”

Freight and Passenger Outside the NEC and about 100 miles in the Midwest, Amtrak’s passenger trains operate on the tracks/rights-of-way owned by the freight railroads. That is one reason (among others) why Busalacchi sees the need for ad- ditional tracks on the freight property — and likely an issue which the freight indus- try sees as one (though probably not the on- ly one) dividing line between public and pri- vate benefits. Then again, since freight trains provide us with almost everything as- sociated with our daily lives, a good case can be made that there is a lot of “public benefit” involved there as well.

Energy Issues Rail is deriving much of the benefit from a two-part energy boom in this country. Part 1 —“Tight oil” (extracted from dense rocks) which has generated a boom mainly in North Dakota, now enjoying the lowest un- employment rate in the country. Part 2 — “Shale gale,” natural gas production, pro- duced through the same technology, with big job benefits in such states as Ohio and technology jobs in California. Some groups claiming to speak for voters

with high environmental concerns take a dim view of natural gas, but Busalacchi es- chews that mindset. “What is wrong with natural gas?” is his comeback. “We can convert now, and we can convert to much cleaner [source of power] why wouldn’t we do that? I mean, we’ve got more natural gas than anybody in the world.” (And not incidentally, freight rail is poised to serve that need.) “So I say to the environmentalists —

‘Look, if this is the way of maintaining us be- ing an economic power, and if we can utilize this, not just to run cars, but also to run trains and locomotives and everything else, why not?” And this assurance: “I’m not say- ing we have to destroy the environment, I think there’s a middle point here where we can do both [protect the environment and utilize energy sources].”

A Comprehensive Plan But the 2006-’08 commission, of course, laid out a plan to repair our crumbling highway system, as well. It was in fact a major part of the panel’s recommendations. But since this is a railroad column, we’ll just cite this quote as an example of Busalacchi’s concern for the rubber tire sector of transportation. “Here in Wisconsin,” he says, “we have

major Interstates that are now 55 years old. And they have to be replaced, in some cases for ten times what they were built for.”

Okay, So.. Umm... The Money For This? “The Highway Trust Fund has gone nega- tive now four years in a row. Where is the sense in [losing that money]? That way you’re taking it away from a lot of other programs.” So since the commission advocated a seri-

ous upgrade for all modes of surface trans- portation, is Busalacchi proposing a de facto general transportation trust fund? That point is “irrelevant” as the Wisconsin trans- portation advocate sees it, “as long as we fund transportation[whatever the method].”

Now the Hard Part: Again — the Money? The commission’s bottom line: hiking the gas tax by 40 cents a gallon, phased in over several years. Sticker shock? Yes, but Paul Weyrich, a dedicated low-taxer, advocated raising the gas tax for transportation infra- structure, in his view ranking right up there with national defense as a legitimate func- tion of the federal government. The last major transportation bill to clear Congress (an updated one is being created on Capitol Hill as I write this) provided $286 billion over six years. The commission found that to be inadequate. Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) former Chairman of the House Transportation Committee believed even that fell short. He was calling for $400- 450 billion. Sticker shock? Yes. Think we’re going to

have to wait until we’re back to dirt roads and multiple breakdowns and/or delays on the rails and highways? Maybe. But when the roads and the train service which we have come to expect are no longer available, then what? That’s the circumstance that American

Crisis in Transportation is hoping to head off with a tea party for transportation, in much the same way the recently formed Tea party was formed to protest — loudly and emphatically — against indebtedness of monstrous proportions. The real hard part would be in trying to

meet the goals of this burgeoning second modern tea party without prompting push- back from those who advocate the goals of the first one. That balancing act would re- quire even harder spending and reform choices for other programs than are current- ly contemplated. Who knows? Perhaps we will live long

enough to see a formal ACT/Tea Party sum- mit. Both eschew the status quo as “mindless.” Both are eager to proclaim deep apprehen- sion about this country’s future. That agreed viewpoint could serve as a starting point. Beyond that, is there enough common ground? More than one rail advocate recalls the now-departed Paul Weyrich’s unique talent to form coalitions amongst groups that agreed with each other on little else. That ability will likely be required to get this pro- ject under way.



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