What about a new Transportation Policy President Obama?

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

In the aftermath of the BP Oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, now in its 3rd month the President is talking about a new Energy Policy. President Obama is calling for less dependence on oil. But every President since 1974 starting with President Nixon has called for energy independence and decried this country’s dependence on oil. What is needed to make this time different? When you talk about oil, you have to talk about transportation. This county consumes 25% of the world’s oil production. Two thirds of the oil consumed in this Country is used for transportation and of that 45 percent alone is for gasoline.

The most energy efficient form of transportation on land is rail. Siemens advertises that their 220 mile an hour passenger trains get the equivalent of 700 miles to the gallon per passenger. According to CSX one freight train can pull 280 trucks off of our congested highways. Trains are 3 times more energy efficient than trucks and carry a ton of freight 436 miles on a gallon of fuel. One nicer thing about trains is that you don’t have to run them on oil. The BNSF is cooperating with Passenger High Speed Rail projects in part to improve their tracks and run their railroad more efficiently .Clearly BNSF wouldn’t be interested in improved passenger service if they didn’t see a possible economic advantage for them. BNSF’s policies must have impressed Billionaire investor Warren Buffet because he bought the railroad.

There is another problem this county needs to deal with: jobs. Over 70 percent of the economy is consumer spending. People can’t spend money if they don’t have jobs and to sustain jobs work has to be productive. Spending money to improve the railroads to carry more passengers and freight is a good investment in the future and will create jobs in this county now and in the future. We also need to expand and run good rail services so that passengers and shippers will use the rails. High Speed Rail projects are clearly exciting. There are many places where we can run trains very fast in the open country where construction costs will be reasonable. High Speed Trains can be used to connect major airports and replace most of the often uneconomical short haul air traffic while improving air service to many smaller cities. But we need to concentrate spending money to build as many miles of improved trackage as possible first. Just a few expensive projects can suck up most available funding. Just in Southern California there is a long backlog of projects that have been “shovel ready “for years. Some good examples of this is the need to double track most of the railroad in San Diego County, build four tracks between Fullerton and Los Angeles, triple track between Los Angeles and Burbank and double track most the railroad between Burbank and Oxnard.

Now there is the question: how do we pay for this? More and more pundits talk about how we are so deep in debt we have to pay our off debt first. The problem with that argument is it ignores the fact that you can’t pay bills unless you are working. We have to make more money first before we can pay off old debts. Throughout history most nations get into ruinous debt from military spending, particularly from wars. The United States has been in debt for most of its history since the Revolutionary War. The United States had a much larger debt relative to the Gross Domestic Product after World War II than today. The United States also had much higher tax rates during and after World War II than today. Yet this period between 1941 and 1970 had the fastest growing economy than any period in American history. If we spend more money on improved rail service we can have a better economy. If we reduce our dependence on oil our National Security will be stronger than spending money to keep over 900 bases overseas.