High-Speed Rail: A Gravy Train?

The good citizens of Ohio and Wisconsin have elected governors who made an interesting campaign promise–they vowed with all their might that they will not accept federal money to develop high-speed rail lines.

Folks in these parts are not familiar with this line of thinking. Generally, politicians promise to fight for every federal penny, especially in a bad economy. This is especially true because New Yorkers know, thanks to the yeomen work of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, that the state has gotten the short end of the stick with federal assistance for years. We send billions more to Washington than we ever get back.

Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo sees his opportunity, and he’s trying to take it. In a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, Mr. Cuomo gently suggested that if the people of Ohio and Wisconsin don’t want to soil their states with infernal federal money, well, Albany will be happy to take the cash off Washington’s hands.

Smart move. Mr. Cuomo rightly argues that high-speed rail “could be the 21st-century Erie Canal for New York State,” a nice historical reference to the massive public-works project that everybody except New York’s governor at the time, DeWitt Clinton, thought was a waste of money. The canal, of course, allowed New York City to leap ahead of its competitors and become the nation’s major port and a global center of commerce.

New York at the moment has received only about $151 million, out of $561 million requested, in federal aid to develop high-speed rail. Mr. Cuomo complained about that during the campaign, and now, as governor-elect, he is in a position to do more than simply wring his hands. With a friendly administration in Washington, Mr. Cuomo is right to make a push now for funds that belong here in the first place.

High-speed rail is more than a public planner’s toy. It is a visionary technology, one that could revitalize the awful upstate economy. Forget what high-speed rail could do for New York City–think about what it might do for all those Erie Canal towns and cities that have fallen into what seems to be a permanent economic depression.

Mr. Cuomo should push aggressively for the funds the Midwest doesn’t want. The Midwest’s loss could, and should, truly be New York’s gain. High-Speed Rail: A Gravy Train?