Capdiamont\’s Weblog


Coastal Post: Light Rail Is The Answer
Wednesday 13 Aug 2008, 12:20
Filed under: Railroad, SMART, transit

June, 2005

By Edward W. Miller

Back in 1997 Marin voters were offered Measure A, a 20-year transportation plan, funded by a _ cent increase in our sales tax which promised to improve local bus services, complete the 101 carpool lanes through San Rafael, while providing safer access and reduced congestion to schools by better care of sidewalks, bike paths and local roads, to ease the congestion caused by the 20,000 who commute daily between Marin and Sonoma counties. Measure A passed but then failed for lack of financing. Re-offered in November, 2004 it again gained voter approval. Al Boro. San Rafael mayor and member of both country and SMART transportation committees, expects cash flow from Measure A to begin arriving by January 2006.
Is anyone truly in charge, locked behind the wheel of a gas-guzzling machine, breathing his neighborÕs exhaust in that stop and crawl to and from the City? Does anyone ask WHY, in all those TV auto ads, the car is always speeding alone on the road or in the countryside?
Few drivers want to face the real cost of commuting to the City. A balance sheet suggests between two to three hours a day, or some 15 hours a week which may add up to 750 hours a year. Dividing this by eight, one finds himself with 94 working days wasted behind that silly wheel. Then add the cost of driving: CAL AAA’s composite national average for 2004 @ 68.9 cents a mile which includes auto, insurance, depreciation, maintenance. Add bridge tolls at $5 dollars a day or $25 a week, and parking? A quick check shows today’s spread from San FranciscoÕs financial district at $550/ month to an uptown open lot at $130-150. Even if your business owns the building, your company pays indirectly for your space in taxes.
Today the commuting Frenchman sips his aperitif in the air-conditioned comfort of le Traine a Grande Vitesse (TGV) , reading the afternoon edition as the countryside whizzes past at over 285 Kilometers an hour, while his Japanese counterpart, homeward-bound from Osaka to Tokyo, naps in the comfort of the Shinkansen, where the 185 Kilo/Meters per hour barely ripples the sake at his side. The Germans, meanwhile have been experimenting with MAGLEV (magnetic levitation) ts cities. To hide his campaign from the public eye, Sloan hired an unknown, E. Roy Fitzgerald, as a figurehead, advertising him as an Entrepreneur from the sticks. These industrial gangsters formed a company, National City Lines, and quietly purchased, first,Yellow Bus, America’s largest diesel bus builder, and then Omnibus, a bus-operating company.
National City Lines, headed by Fitzgerald, but privately funded by SloanÕs consortium, bought up rail systems in America’s cities, one by one. Their approach was simple: using political know-how and money they lobbied city councils, while paying Madison Avenue to tell the country “the trend was away from rail.”
The day National City Lines signed a purchase agreement, their staff took over. Rail management was fired, and the process of piecemeal destruction set in motion: Fares were increased, routes cancelled and trolleys taken out of service. Schedules were reduced, salaries of workers cut, and maintenance neglected. As rail systems thus self-destructed, a nationwide media campaign offered “modern, non-polluting diesel busses.” Eventually, the last trolley disappeared, along with the tracks. The consortium had systematically destroyed America’s clean, electric rail systems, replacing them, one by one, with their polluting diesel buses. By 1941, National City Lines owned the bus transportation systems in over 83 American cities across the country.
An independent observer, Commander Edwin Quinby, caught onto GM’s plot and to warn city fathers across the country, mailed out a 31-page brochure, outlining the takeover plan. GM hoisted an expensive public-relations campaign to discredit Quinby. Enough readers, however, got the news, and a grassroots protest brought an investigation by the Justice Department. In 1936, National City Lines, along with General Motors, was found guilty in court. The two were fined $5,000 apiece, while their management staff were fined $1 each. Later Justice Department investigations got nowhere, because by 1932 GM had created the National Highway Users Conference.
This powerful Washington lobby pushed for more freeways and silenced public discussion of diesel or gasoline pollution. Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. headed the Conference for 30 years until another GM man took over.
With the post-WWII boom in home construction, President Eisenhower, in 1953, appointed the then-president of General Motors, Charles Wilson, as Secretary of Defense and added DuPont’s chief, as Secretary of Transportation (DuPont was then GM’s biggest investor). These two set out to pave over America with concrete for the auto. DuPont got Eisenhower to set up the Highway Trust Fund which funneled gasoline tax money into highway construction. Two thirds of these gas-tax funds went to build inner-city freeways. Meanwhile, GM, recognizing the limits of bus sales as contrasted with the growing auto market , changed tactics, and in 1972, convinced the intensely-lobbied House of Representatives to deny all funding for public transportation, thus hoping to reduce bus service. The Trust Fund was diverted to freeways. By the 1950’s buses were disappearing and everyone wanted a car. Thus while post-war Europe and Japan were busy rebuilding their rail transit, America was destroying hers.

Though the House of Representatives in 1972 blocked monies for rapid transit, public pressure was beginning to make itself heard. San Francisco’s Mayor Alioto, in the 1974 Senate hearings, publicly questioned whether Òwhat was good for General Motors was good for the countryÓ, and by 1992, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) allowed local input into transit decisions. By 1991, some 25 cities across the country were experimenting with light rail.
1997 marked the 60th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, which now carries over 40 million vehicles a year. The last bridge construction bonds were retired in 1971, representing $35 million in principal and nearly $39 million in interest, echnology. Their present bullet train, supported by a magnetic field, cruises above its track at speeds of over 220 miles/hour. Back in December 2002 German Chancellor Schroeder and Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, together rode a German-built MAGLEV from Shanghai to its airport, a distance of 30 miles in only 8 minutes!
Few Americans understand why those quiet, non-polluting electric rail systems (trolleys) which once served all our major cities, suddenly disappeared like the dinosaurs, and most accept the automobile as their evolutionary replacement. However, it was no asteroid from outer space that wiped out America’s rail systems It was General Motors and their industrial buddies.
Back in 1922 when only one American family in 10 owned an auto. Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., then GM’s president, decided to change this. With friends at Firestone Rubber, Standard Oil, Phillips Petroleum and Mack Truck, Sloan began secretly buying up and then destroying the rail systems in America.

SMART ( Sonoma, Marin Area Rail Transit) will put its transportation plan on the ballot in November 2006, asking voters to back rail service from Cloverdale south to Corte Madera with some 14 stations. Prior to the ballot, environmental studies, already planned, will be made public. Northwestern Pacific Railroad right-of-ways from Willits south had earlier been purchased by both NPR Authority, and the Golden Gate Highway and Transportation District, and from Cloverdale south will be turned over to SMART. The right-of-way includes single, and in some areas double tracks. Present plans include increased ferry service from Larkspur Landing, and perhaps from San Quentin. With a branch rail, Port Sonoma may also develop ferry service to the City. The GG Bridge District will contribute a percentage of tolls to support ferries.
Billions wasted in Iraq and on Homeland Security may delay SMART financing. Most of the transportation funds Schwatzeneggar withdrew have been replaced, and unless Bush vetoes the Transportation Bill just passed by both houses our Rep. Lynne Woolsey will see we get our fair share Her efforts in Washington, have produced funds for the four year, $ 13.3 million Golden Gate seismic retrofitting which will create some 3,100 jobs overall The auto, oil , and highway lobbies will continue their fight against rail anywhere in the country, since commuter rail will, for many families, remove the necessity for a second car. Daily media attacks on Amtrak are part of their campaign.
Paying for rail requires political as well as economic cooperation. JapanÕs Shinkansen has thus survived 40 years. FranceÕs TGV paid for irself within a few years. Their new Paris to Lyon TGV has almost put Air France out of business over that route. Amtrak’s express Acela Service between Boston, New York City and Washington, DC, updated by a French firm, has captured much of both auto, and air commuter traffic between these cities. Just so, SMART, for an sound economic future must eventually secure a double rail right-of-way north to Willits, must offe r Òbullet-trainÓ passenger service and, as diesel costs rise, must seize the north-south freight and US mail business from the truckers to help pay passenger costs.
SMART’S plan to unload their rail commuters at Larkspur Landing may be only a temporary solution, and as population and traffic multiplies, rail, directly into the City remains an option. There is no question that the Golden Gate Bridge will support either a complete second deck with rail system or a monorail slung beneath the present deck. Extensive engineering studies all agree on the bridge’s ability to carry a light rail. Present studies show that today 30% of our 101 commuters head for San Francisco. SMART’S board has both direction and enthusiasm. Marin entrepreneurs who can peddle California wines in Europe and desktop computers in China can surely sell light rail to our voters.
(I am indebted to Martha Olson and Jim Klein, producers of the PBS documentary: TAKEN FOR A RIDE for much of the transit history, to the Golden Gate Bridge office and California AAA for statistics, and to Al Boro and Lynne Woolsey for political input.)

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