Rail Organization Inexplicably Honors Anti-Rail U.S. Rep. Denham

AAR cites Denham's "leadership" but ignores his vehement opposition to HSR and Caltrain and Amtrak

Nate Kaplan, California State Director of GoRail, left, awards US Rep Jeff Denham the first Railroad Achievement Award of 2018.
Nate Kaplan, California State Director of GoRail, left, awards US Rep Jeff Denham the first Railroad Achievement Award of 2018.

In an inexplicable move, a railroad industry organization honored U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) with an award for his leadership on “policies that help ensure the vitality of railroads in the United States.”

Yes, this is the same Jeff Denham who tried to stop federal funding for the electrification of Caltrain last year—an attempt that ultimately failed. He’s also the same Jeff Denham who vehemently opposes the California High Speed Rail (CAHSR) project.

He has also, as pointed out by Railway Age’s editor-in-chief William Vantuono, tried to get political points by showing gratuitous and unmerited hostility towards freight railroads and Amtrak, issuing a press release stating that he was “staring down the railroads” to stand up for Americans.

Or maybe it was just grandstanding. Industry leaders seem to believe that Denham is “an important pro-railroad vote.”

But it’s hard to see how grandstanding or diversionary and divisive tactics constitute “leadership.”

The Association of American Railroads, a railroad industry organization, joined with GoRail, a nonprofit rail advocacy group, to give the Railroad Achievement Award to Denham, writing in a press release that

Chairman Denham has long understood [that railroads are important to California’s economy] and, to the benefit of his constituents, he has legislated in a manner that allows for the industry to provide the greatest public impact. His leadership on landmark legislation, chiefly the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015, continues to serve Californians and Americans well through the presence of both privately financed freight railroads, as well passenger entities such as Amtrak.

When I asked AAR why they would honor a person who has used his position to undercut California passenger rail, a representative responded:

Rep. Denham has consistently voted against cuts to Amtrak during his time in Congress. Additionally, the FAST Act of 2015 has benefited both freight and passenger rail, including Amtrak. Denham played a critical role in the passage of that legislation. Chairman Denham has supported policies that help railroads make the necessary sustained private investments that keep the network safe and allow the industry to deliver for the California and U.S. economy.

Denham serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and chairs the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, which will be conducting a field hearing in Sacramento on Thursday “to review the status of the state’s high-speed rail project” and hear about the most recent business plan for CAHSR.

He’s also conducting a reelection campaign that has transformed from a shoo-in in his Republican-dominated District 10 to a neck-and-neck race against challenger Josh Harder.

  • Otter

    I enjoyed this discussion. You made some good points and I appreciate your candor.

  • OK, perhaps I am biased, because I worked with Union Pacific once. However, freight hauling IS where the money is earned, and frankly, it is the best way, in terms of cost AND ecology, to ship large quantities of goods and bulk over long distances, compared to trucks (or even barges, because lots of places just don’t have navigable waterways or ports).

    Rep. Denham was helpful to them (and to rival Burlington Northern Santa Fe) in improving rail crossings in his district and elsewhere, building new over and underpasses where the public roads crossed the rights of way, and improving grade separation (and thus speed AND safety) in general.

  • Otter

    I do respect your opinion. You make a good point about the AAR’s need to play politics to a representative and the interests he supports. Interesting your term “real railroading.” It seems to dismiss the people (taxpayers/voters) who Denham (and also the AAR) is supposed to be representing. Their commuting needs are just as real and important as industry. Corporate interests which often take advantage of the taxpaying public and have a profit agenda. Happy to be ‘lobbying’ for people who do the living and working and require good transportation.

  • This is because the AAR deals with real railroading, namely, hauling freight. Rep. Denham has been helpful for the freight railroad industry.

  • Well, yes, if you are in the business of hauling freight, Amtrak trains are a nuisance and in the way.

  • Perhaps the AAR deals with real railroading, viz., hauling freight. Rep. Denham has been helpful for the freight railroad industry.

  • Guy Ross

    More wrong information. Transit is not the nation’s most-heavily-subsidized form of transportation per capita. An argument could be made that it is per user or per mile traveled but not per capita. That has the distinction of automobile many times over.

  • Guy Ross
  • Guy Ross

    The time period you pick out for your data conveniently coincides with the most sever economic crisis Spain experienced since the times of Franco. Yes, indeed number have picked up since then, just as the rest of the economy has and yes, not to the levels before the crisis, just as the rest of the economy hasn’t

    The quantity of argument backed by intentionally dishonest analysis you provide here is really breathtaking.

  • LazyReader

    Between 2007 and 2013 the Madrid Metro lost 19% of its customers. Service levels, perceptions and demand have all improved since then, but the Metro remains quieter than it used to be before the financial crisis. Meanwhile, other technologies nibble at buses and trains. Many cities have tried to encourage cycling by creating bike lanes and allowing app-based bike-rental outfits. Berline went from 500 miles of cycle lanes to nearly 900 in as little as a decade.
    Illegal immigrants getting driving licenses and car ownership rising in nations like Mexico and the Philippines.
    Fixed destination transit is no longer a thing, transit industry will survive, the mass part of it, probably not. Transit in the US sucks, because it’s managed by a bureaucracy that supported wasteful spending over providing actual transit service. And the four things that will bring it to it’s knees.
    – Low fuel prices: The US is now the master of it’s domain in the ability to bring oil and affect energy prices globally and as vehicles electrify over time. The US automotive fleet turns over roughly every decade, it takes a decade to construct heavy transit projects.
    – Ride sharing services: That take you exactly where you want to go, no collectivist transportation technology can hope to match against something that offers you door to door service. Driverless buses running on fixed, known routes makes the complexity of designing and operating driverless buses much simpler than driverless cars, so it just might save them.
    – Maintenance backlogs: Currently transit agencies are to the tune of over 100 Billion.
    – Unfunded pension and healthcare costs: Probably the biggest and most decisive time bomb. You really think they’ll show up to work….when the agency admits they can no longer afford to pay their obligations…Almost every transit strike in the nation is usually over them.

  • Greg Rozmarynowycz

    Ride railing is *not* a replacement for transit; its physically impossible to fulfill the needs of a dense urban area with cars of any sort. Cars, wider roads, and especially parking rot out urban areas and ride hailing is no different. Ride hailing itself is thus far a largely unprofitable venture – itching to screw over and cut loose the drivers that the services are built on – flooding urban streets with aggressive drivers, while sucking road resources from cities and generating massive congestion. Transit in the US sucks because it is made to suck by car interests. Every other developed country proves this.

  • LazyReader

    It doesn’t really matter. The decline in transit ridership overall nationwide is beyond the control of transit agencies, and increasing subsidies to what is already the nation’s most-heavily-subsidized form of transportation (per capita) won’t make much difference. The only question is when will appropriators realize that it is pointless to continue subsidizing a dying industry and start winding down those subsidies. Some cities are supplementing transit agency revenues by taxing ride-hailing companies; the equivalent of taxing word processors to protect the typewriter
    industry or taxing computers to protect the word processor industry or pocket calculators to protect the slide rule industry. At
    least one city is looking at taxing marijuana to subsidize transit; it’s not hard to imagine what whoever came up with that idea was smoking. The fact is, high speed rail will largely be obsolete by the time of it’s ribbon cutting ceremony.

  • LazyReader

    I didn’t say anything about climate.

    Climate change The way I see it the solution is one of three…

    1: Invent something that can take the near 1-2 teratons of CO2 we’ve
    added since the Industrial revolution in an economic fashion.

    2: Output less CO2 per annum than what the planet can sequester using natural methods and supplement it.

    3: Geoengineering, aerosols in the air to reflect the heat from the sun. Or using Earth’s oceans and rocks as a Co2 absorbent

    Or the fourth option, Revert to renewables, regardless of cost.
    Before coal became widely available, wood was used not just for
    heating homes but also for industrial processes; it was the predominant
    energy source for humanity. Even if half the land surface of Britain had
    been covered with woodland we could have made 1.25 million tonnes of
    bar iron a year (a fraction of current consumption) and nothing else.
    Even with a much lower population than today’s, manufactured goods in
    the land-based economy were the preserve of the elite. Deep green energy
    production – decentralized, based on the products of the land – is far
    more damaging to humanity than nuclear meltdown. If Europe shuts down
    their nuclear plants it will not be water, wind or sun, but fossil fuel
    and imported wood chips to run their industrial society. It’s THAT or
    reverting back to a pre-industrial society. On every measure (climate
    change, mining impact, local pollution, industrial injury and death,
    even radioactive discharges) coal is 100 times worse than nuclear power
    and wood extraction on large scale is worse than coal.

  • crazyvag

    Good transportation attracts companies and jobs. You don’t have to look beyond SF Bay and the housing prices to see there’s high demand for housing and offices near transit.

  • crazyvag

    Well damn. We might as well raise the gas tax and move all the highway money to pay for health care.
    Comparing unrelated topics is what you use when you don’t have good arguments. For example, why are we funding education if we don’t have health care for those educated once their age? Let’s at least pay for something? I could go on and I’m sure you could as well.

  • crazyvag

    Your comment has many incorrect statements.

    I hope you understand that California put up nearly $30 billion and expectation was to get a federal match bringing it up to around $60 billion. Illinois is building higher speed rail with majority of funding coming from DC, so it’s actually rare for federal money to be absent.

    Private money usually shows up after federal money, so you can blame DC for lack of private money there. Plus, private industry usually shows up at the operating stage, so I’d stay it’s premature to complain about that.

    We’re actually building about 171 miles, so half the distance with the limited funds. Even better, everything built can be used to enhance existing service, so it won’t be wasted.

  • david vartanoff

    You are entirely too rational. CAHSR is evil because it was proposed and supported by people like you. Actual defensive planning for the future does not fit the anti-gubmint paradigm, therefore it must be blocked.

  • david vartanoff

    The AAR is the trade group for the RRs that don’t like passenger trains of any sort, thought when they conned Congress into inventing Amtrak that it would be a short time slide into oblivion, and sabotage it daily. Denham is their friend.

  • Mike

    There are a number of reasons why the state should spend the funding on HSR:
    – To avoid spending on building more freeways to handle population and job growth
    – To avoid spending on new airports or airport expansions, particularly near large cities where people want to go and space is constrained
    – To improve existing rail corridors that are at capacity (such as along the Caltrain corridor)
    – To connect the Central Valley with the coastal cities, so that opportunities for better paying jobs and lower cost housing are created and multiplied, so that a strong state economy can be shared rather than localized around some cities
    – To create and maintain jobs. Not a big deal now but it will be when the next recession hits. People act as if billions of dollars are being set on fire as part of this project. It’s being primarily spent on PEOPLE, who then take that money and spend it on food and housing and goods that they need, which strengthens local and the state economies.

  • murphstahoe

    This would be my take.

    Climate change is real. We can see it daily right now in the fires, I am 40 miles from the Mendocino Complex fire and the smoke is brutal, and the fear of residents and firefighters is real. My son’s school had 30 families who lost homes in the Tubbs fire. My family suffered damages in Hurricane Ivan. These events are coming more frequently and more deadly than ever.

    Knowing this, if humanity is to continue, drastic reduction in the use of fossil fuels has to happen. If that happens, the motor vehicle will see drastic reduction in use, and commercial air travel may become unviable.

    Given that, CAHSR is a great insurance policy against the future. HSR will be electrified and along a corridor where the sun shines most of the year and there is huge opportunity for wind. By building it now, we put ourselves in a position where CA can keep functioning by transporting people up and down the spine of the state within the constraints of future energy footprints.

  • LazyReader

    California is always cycling thru surpluses and deficits. Often using tax revenue to bail themselves out. In just four years after the state announced the budget was , the deficit is back. The state’s pension fund is quickly plummeting. CalPERS, California’s
    state pension fund has $16.5 billion more in liabilities than assets. On
    top of the already deteriorating system, California is expected to receive a
    $51.8 billion bill for the state’s retirees’ healthcare in the next
    year. So why is California so desperate to spend 77.4 Billion on some lack luster choo choo train when the states debts and financial future doesn’t look good.

  • murphstahoe

    “California is pending it’s next inevitable financial crisis yet again”

    What exactly do you base this on? It’s a nice sound bite but not based on anything.

  • SFnative74

    The electrification of Caltrain is such a no-brainer that anyone who opposes it cannot be truly pro-rail.

  • Otter

    Really the point is, whether you support the high-speed rail system from San Francisco to Los Angeles or not, why would the a AAR give the 2018 railroad achievement award to a person with such a politically-loaded and schizophrenic record? Very suspicious.

  • LazyReader

    Vehemently opposes California’s high speed rail that probably wont be finished anyway. In November 2008 California voters approved borrowing $10 billion to build a high-speed rail system from San Francisco to Los Angeles.the official ballot pamphlet, proponents claimed that the rail project would be funded with a combination of federal dollars and private investment “WITHOUT RAISING TAXES.”

    10 Years Later: Not a penny of private money has been secured, federal dollars are scarce, and California is pending it’s next inevitable financial crisis yet again and the project has gone from 25 billion to nearly 100 billion and so far they’re only building the parts in the outskirts.

  • KJ

    The only positive thing is that he is trying to allow pets on Amtrak.

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