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For high-speed rail, a tale of two governors

The theme on Need to Know this week is “responsibility.” Sometimes, responsibility is in the eye of the beholder.

For example, what is the best way to invest in the nation’s infrastructure? In the state of Wisconsin, the governor declined $810 million in federal stimulus money for a high-speed rail initiative because he says the state couldn’t afford to maintain the system and that money should be spent on roads, not rail.

However, in Illinois, the governor sees his responsibility differently. As part of our collaboration with the PBS reporting project Blueprint America, we asked correspondent Rick Karr to look at the future of passenger rail.


Rail politics: Freeways aren’t free either


  • Ajlewis0711

    About a year ago there was a growing movement in Ohio supporting High-speed rail. I thought it was a good idea. That all came to an end after the election.

  • Downzero8249

    If the rail sytem is so popular in WI. why were there only a few passengers on the train for your show? Has Amtrac ever made a profit or even broke even?

  • John Haupt

    I love trains for all the advantages they offer (speed, comfort, time to work, time to sleep and just plain timeliness) but when I tuned in to Rick Karr’s report on high-speed trains proposed and rejected in Wisconsin and Ohio, I hoped to learn something about the issue that I didn’t already know (kinda’ like the show’s title implies). Instead I saw what appeared to be a paid infomercial for proponents of the train. He said nothing about the projected cost of ridership; nothing about the cost of ongoing maintenance of the line, nothing about the cost of getting from the rail stations to one’s ultimate destination and made no attempt to interview anyone on the other side of the matter. In short, He offered nothing about the reasons the trains were opposed by so many. I guess he just wanted us to believe the opponents were evil or stupid. Things must have changed. When I studied Journalism on the way to my Broadcasting degree I was taught that objectivity and integrity were the cornerstones of American Journalism.
    I’m not an advocate for Gov. Walker, Gov Kasich or any political position but it’s painfully obvious that Rick Karr made no attempt to present the other side of this issue and thereby fulfilled no one’s Need to Know.

  • Darryl Carter

    Your report on “high speed rail” in the Midwest perpetuated two fallacies:
    a) that HIGH-speed rail, ala Europe, China, Japan is in the offing; and
    b) that “free federal money” exists.
    In fact, what has been proposed, is a back-to-the-future mediocrity with a top speed of 110 mph, and an average speed of 79 mph, running on tracks shared with freight trains. Truly vision-challenged.
    Currently, we borrow 40 cents of every federal dollar we are spending, thus indenturing to our international creditors, today’s American children. This is a multi-level threat to our national security.

  • Darryl Carter

    The train shown was in IL, not WI. The 90-mile freeway commute was in WI. Freeways don’t “break even”, either. They, too, are subsidized with “free federal money” (of which we are currently borrowing 40 cents to pay out), and State general fund infusions. HIGH speed rail could:eliminate the need to throw airplanes aloft for trips shorter than 600 miles; help us to clean our air; reduce our dependence on oil; and improve our balance of payments.

  • mj

    How about a bus if you want to read a book to go between Milwaukee and Madison in Wisconsin. Cost a bus ticket…not 810 million in debt….. hmmm

  • CC LaPue

    How is Illinois going to pay for this?

  • frankj

    Prove it

  • frankj

    Road are a joke

  • WJ

    Why is it a good idea to spend, potentially, billions of dollars to help a few people? Instead of spending all this money, wouldn’t it make more sense for the one gentleman to move closer to his place of employment? I don’t see how spending billions of dollars to reduce his commute by 30 minutes is a good idea. Also, for the other gentleman who complained about missing a meeting or two a year because of bad weather, can’t you use Net Meeting once or twice a year and save us billions of dollars? I know that it’s not in our nature to sacrifice, but spending billions of dollars to save 30 minutes or so that you don’t have to use Net Meeting- does that really make sense?

    As a side note, of two of the states mentioned, Wisconsin and Illinois, one recently announced a personal income tax increase of 67%. Was it the state that turned down the federal money on the basis that the program wasn’t cost effective, or was it the state that gladly accepted the funds? I think the answer is obvious.

  • Ron5337

    I am always skeptical when comments are made and no documentation is provided to support that statement. I heard where Wisconsin governor stated that the state did not have the money to support and maintain the system after it completed. If this were true, why was the additional cost to the state not mentioned in the article or rejected as nonsense. I offer that most likely this were true and the decision to avoid this discussion was made to make a conservative look bad while making a liberal in IL look good. I am still looking for support on the internet but have not found how rail lines are maintained after construction.

  • Scott

    Where is your skepticism of what the Wisconsin governor stated?

  • Anonymous

    ok. whether you like or dislike on any level president obama, you have to admit something, new technology and new devlopments like this no matter the cost increase the public’s moral and create oppurtnity through the people’s possitive attitudes of these projects creates jobs all arround and improves the economy. buisness people on a grand scale understand that millions and billions of dollars is only a reality in meager peoples minds. go ressearch the history of ghost towns, of towns that reject new productions. the secret of the egyptions was projects build build build. what inspiration a high speed rail can create in the minds of the people is the inspiration that our economy that is fixed on belief, and money that really isnt backed up by gold or anything tanglible. president obama bring me the rail here in new england. bring us a better connection to up maine and boston and new york, bring us high speed rails in place of our dangerous bridges. build us up if they refuse to be built up! bring us technology that we are behind in that europe has, connect our mainer to the jobs we go to school for and can find in our areas. hell, if the government wants to build pyramids used for enegery growth like they are studying in japan, aas long as it smells like progress, i will take let you spend all the paper money you wish, seeing that china’s intentional debt protected them from inflation, I cant see how building and improving things can hurt our country, more debt fine, just dont create our dollar to be worth more than we can back it with. lets have some real truth shed on what the money is really worth backed by federal treasure, and then maybe you fear spreading leeches will be made to eat your words. economy is based on belief, confidence, money is fiction, and building is the right kinda fiction the kind that recreates reality, that all you sinics are quite comfortable in when we are facing depression, but when we boom once again you sinics will be quite unhappy. the people need to rebuild, they need to rebuild thier economy it isnt the presidents responsibility, thank God the president has given us a lead role in which dirrection to go in, i say all debt is equal unless there is earning potential, as long as there are lack of jobs and low esteem for our future in jobs and finance what does it matter how much we are in debt if we have nothing to earn? no jobs no belief in a future, no economy, nothing to build expand, no belief in a future, no jobs. no jobs? all debt is realitive, cant pay, if you cant work, cant work if no one believes they will prosper. a socciety of sinics, God forsaken land. Hope eqauls earnings. building equals confidence, creates hope creates jobs. Go government spend more we cant pay it now we never will if there is never a building of our spirits and our vision. so if it fails we are no worse are we? can’t pay if dont have work, longer without work the closer we are to another world war, after all wars make money dont they? so bypass the sinics and come to new england and make us current and build us up so we can build our lives again. and thank God we arent haiti, cause if we were no coutries would help us. we must build, build and have work that gives us hope and shapes our future and economy. call me crazy but if you are smart you dont need me to reference this comment or prove it, its the politics of life. its the common sense of good governement. progress moves forward those who depart from it miss out on its rewards and benefits.

  • Dave5056

    We had a whole huge debate here in Wisconsin over the train. We really needed “Need to Know to come here prior to the killing of our much needed project. Need to Know could have gone a long way to save our project but where behind. They made a nice historic piece but broke NO news here and that is sad. I know it is not easy at all to follow in the footsteps of Bill Moyers but they could have made such a difference here. See our facebook page.!/home.php?sk=group_105273722874751&notif_t=group_activity

  • WJ

    The thing about investments is that we should do them if they are NPV (Net Present Value) positive. Just building things at random is not investing. This has nothing to do with President Obama, political affiliation, belief, confidence or “progress”.

    Rail, in particular, is that it’s not a new technology. We’ve had rail in the US for well over one hundred years. To make matters worse, Amtrak gets subsidies every single year because they can’t be profitable. Expanding capacity in an already unprofitable venture is not a wise move. I’m not convinced that high-speed rail will add enough value to the US society than other investments that could use that money. People have plenty of options to travel- roads, airways and existing rail. I doubt adding high-speed rail will fill a need that goes unfulfilled now. Show me the research on how high-speed rail will add significant amounts of economic value and I’ll support it.

    If we spend that money in another investment that brings more value to society we will create more jobs and and grow the economy faster. My post was not about trying to play politics, but rather an attempt at tounge-in-cheek humor highlighting that high-speed rail will only bring small benefits to a small amount of people. I’d rather see that money bring the largest benefits to most people.

    And, as a final note, I am also glad that we are not Haiti.

  • FritzL

    John, As I am for the Train in Wisconsin. I would have like to hear comments both for and against the train and the rebuttals. I to would have like to have seen a breakdown of costs. For construction and rehabilitation of the rail lines. How the jobs are created and counted, How the employed workers (construction) pay gets spend and taxed to create ecconomic growth and to help fill the tax coffers with money to help pay other state bills.
    The interview with the Wisconsin State offical was to short, it did not answer any questions. It just left me with more questions and no references to find more information on both sides of this argument.

  • Charles E. Campbell

    America use to lead, but now we are trying to follow in Europe and Asia’s foot steps in High Speed Rail Transportation. President Obama and Secretary LaHood have continue to ignore the innovation in high speed rail transportation that I sent them in Jan 2009 that would transport individual vehicles at speeds of 250 miles per hour. I’ve also innovated large-scale hydroelectricity by eliminating the requirement for a River, Lake or Dam.

    I hope that Need To Know and its supporters are serious about profiling people and solutions to some of America’s biggest problems. If so, I waiting for you to contact me. President Obama lacks the advisors and the vision of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, who developed and implemented the National Interstate Highway System and challenged Americans to travel to the moon. His solution to this second Great Depression for many American is to wait and be patient. He and his advisors have jobs, housing and food and don’t have to be concerned about providing for their families, so its easy to give excuses, rather than solutions when they have none, but can’t understand why they would continue to ignore entrepreneurs and innovators who would like to help our country. I guess Washington hasn’t changed. It’s still pay to play and about who you know.

    We can do Great Things Again, if shows like Need To Know has the courage to do more than discuss the hot new topic or profile well known people. I remain hopeful and encouraged.

    Charles E. Campbell, Innovator, Inventor and Entrepreneur- Founder & CEO
    Allen Hydro Energy Corporation (AHEC)

  • Lynn Marquardt

    Scott Walker would probably have been against the interstate system back in the 50′s.

    We need to think of the future… this country’s population isn’t shrinking…

  • Guest 5.

    Hi speed rail has huge potential in the USA but not Japanese shinkansens or European HST ( limited value/uses)
    But it does have the space time and ability to develop and use Maglev the current leading high speed train technology. At 450 mph you can cross the US in 8 hours a plane takes hours to check in and then x time to get to the airportand downtown on arrival and over 3000 miles about 5 hours flying time.
    The economic advantage of shinkansens in Japan was busines trips in a day from Tokyo to Osaka became possible, and with less time than air flights at about the same or slightly less cost if you took taxi fares to and from airports/ to destination on arrival into account. And it sure is more comfortable.Then think about solar panels on the constriction and wind power providing the electricity amd you have a double whammy of eco friendly and reducing serious conjestion at airports.
    Guest 5.

  • Adam_R

    Very well done. I think investing in these rail upgrades are wise decisions for Illinois and I’m certain they’ll prove successful. High support for these types of emerging high speed systems are what we really need to build true 220 MPH high speed here in the Midwest. Check out for their long range vision. Way to go Illinois!

  • Christow

    Amtrak’s Hiawatha service between Milwaukee and Chicago have seen a 73% increase in ridership since 2004. So I’d say yes, rail can be popular in WI. And when was the last time the highways you drive on make a profit?

  • Christow

    Buses are much more expensive to operate than trains. Plus they have a “free” road that was built by the government to conduct business on. Plus do you really want to ride in a cramped bus?

  • Jim

    Your gas tax only covers a portion of road costs. Highway support also comes from other taxes. All transportation is subsidized. All progress requires investment and yes, sacrifice. Without sacrifice before we would not have the conveniences that we have today. High efficiency rail transportation will become more and more necessary in the future as the costs of fossil fuels increase markedly. While we can not predict the exact scenario, there is no doubt that this is inevitable as world consumption increases. Fossil fuel supply today is not increasing, and at some point will decline, with dire consequences for those that have their head in the sand.

  • Anonymous

    WJ – when was the last time a road was built that was “NPV”?? Your argument falls flat when it comes to transportation infrastructure. Wisconsin spends half its entire tranportation budget just repairing roads every year. Building a mile of high speed rail costs far less than building a mile of highway. And riding a mile on high speed rail costs far less than driving the same mile. The facts support the exact opposite of what you claim.

  • Anonymous

    I remember, about 20 years ago, the controversy of having light rail in our state, had a lot of the same opinion as this Governor. It was going to be a “drain on the taxpayer”, interfere with traffic, and be more expensive than the officials were telling us.
    The transportation department went ahead anyway, and within a few years of approval, the light rail was completed. Then gas hit $3 a gallon, suddenly, the light rail cars were filled up. Me and the wife rode the rails on date nights, and what a pleasure and it saved us money.
    The Wisconsin Governor is really short sighted. He did something Politically and not intelligently. I think the Republicans got elected, not for things like turning down $800 billion and millions of job hours for the state of Wisconsin’s working folk, they got elected because everyone, including me, are ticked off at our Government in general, lied to (WMD’s in Iraq), bailout of banks (the rich), Corporation executive pay while no pay increases for average working families for 30 years, and the shift of debt and tax burden away from the 1% of our population who glean 23% of the wealth of the GDP annually to the 99% of us. I think this Wisconsin Governor is pretty naive and not very smart. Perhaps, someone else will replace him and bring that $800 Billion back especially when the price of Gas goes to $5 a gallon.
    High Speed Trains are a good thing. Light rail is a good thing. Ignoring these things is dumb.
    I am not saying the Governor of Wisconsin is dumb but I think he was not an A student.

  • David

    And which state will continue to be home to, and add, many more national/worldwide corporate headquarters (IL), while the other (WI), becomes an ever greater financial/corporate backwater, with most of its college graduates leaving for Chicago and the Twin Cities, each year. Oh yeah, and Scooter will look so good being chauffeured around in his Chevy Suburban (~12 mpg), and flown around in State airplanes, when fuel hits $5 per gallon this year or next. What an intellectual black hole we’re in…. Scooter’s doing the same thing to the State of WI that he did with Milwaukee County–leading us toward bankruptcy (which Milw. County is). A disgusted Badger

  • David

    Scooter dropped out of college as a C+ student. And which state will continue to be home to, and add, many more national/worldwide corporate headquarters (IL), while the other (WI), becomes an ever greater financial/corporate backwater, with most of its college graduates leaving for Chicago and the Twin Cities, each year. Oh yeah, and Scooter will look so good being chauffeured around in his Chevy Suburban (~12 mpg), and flown around in State airplanes, when fuel hits $5 per gallon this year or next. What an intellectual black hole we’re in…. Scooter’s doing the same thing to the State of WI that he did with Milwaukee County–leading us toward bankruptcy (which Milw. County is). A disgusted Badger

  • Toddinde

    Scott Walker is the greatest misfortune to befall Wisconsin in the history of the state. He is ignorant and corrupt, and will do for Wisconsin what he did for Milwaukee County; drive it to the brink of bankruptcy. It is hard to believe that just a few months ago, Wisconsin was on target to create high wage construction and manufacturing jobs and create a cutting edge transportation system that would have linked the great universities and high tech industries of Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison together. Now, Wisconsin is a backwater chasing the same small job shops that Indiana, Tennessee and Louisiana are chasing. Time to recall Walker. Feingold for Governor!

  • Another Voice

    When was last time any of you rode on Amtrack? I tried, but it’s so expensive, much more expensive than flying, I gave up. Years ago they talked about abandon Amtrack, get rid of it, but for political reasons, Amtrack is still in business. Japan’s high speed rail connects between two major cosmopolitans and in each city, is well connected to the subway system. In the US, other than NYC, name me one city that you can truly get around without taking a taxi or drive a car. And the new high speed rail in China … other than peek hours, it runs on empty. Of course all you read is how fast it goes, but they don’t open up the balance books. They are paying dearly with this project … including two top brass in the high speed rail department, who took HUGE amount of kick-backs or favors, and finally got caught. In China, rail is the only way for most of people because limited highway system, they can’t afford cars, and for those with cars, highway toll is too expensive. You can ride the train to Shanghai very quickly, but once you arrived, prepare a lot of time in the slow moving jam-packed subway system. Well, no matter how slow it is, it’s still better than driving because there’s no guarantee of traffic-jam free roads.

    Make wise decisions and how to spend the money wisely is the reason we elected our public officials. We didn’t give them a rubber stamp to approve of a “dream” … numbers don’t lie. If they can’t show the true details of high speed rail budget, it’s a “NO” from me.