Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton should be commended for taking the time to try to explain why the McDonnell administration decided not to go after Florida’s share of federal funding for higher speed rail. But Connaughton makes some statements in his “Close to Home” piece in Sunday’s Post that need a fact review.
Virginia, he writes, decided not to go after funds available to help bring higher-speed between Richmond and Washington because the state couldn’t meet a 2017 deadline to complete the project. Because of the lengthy environmental impact work required, the earliest the state could finish the upgrade would be 2021, he says.
Yet Ross. B. Capon, head of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, says in a letter on the editorial page of the same edition of The Post that much of the work could easily be done by 2017. Also, we’re not really talking about “high” speed rail. That would involve passenger trains going 110 miles per hour or faster. The Richmond-to-D.C. trains might reach 90 mph at best.
Despite punting on higher-speed rail, Connaughton wants us to believe that McDonnell is firmly behind better conventional-speed passenger rail. “The McDonnell administration has made tremendous strides in bringing intercity passenger rail to the commonwealth,” citing new and heavily-used Amtrak service from Lynchburg and Richmond to Washington.
A new, early morning Amtrak train was added on the Richmond route when McDonnell was governor, but the popular Lynchburg service was actually begun when Tim Kaine, McDonnell’s Democratic predecessor, was in office. That service begin on Oct. 1, 2009, more than three months before McDonnell was inaugurated.
Connaughton says that Virginians will owe a lot to McDonnell for better rail service long after the higher-speed rail debate is forgotten.
What Connaughton did not get into is how McDonnell’s decision to so publicly turn his back on federal rail funds parallels the broader GOP effort to blame Barack Obama and the Democrats for profligate federal spending. In other words, it was pretty clear that McDonnell wanted to get national attention by jumping on board the cut-spending train with fellow Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida. Scott started it all by seeking to win points with budget-conscious conservatives by declining federal funding for higher-speed rail in his own state. Somehow, Connaughton doesn’t mention this.