That, I think, is a fair description of the Obama administration's attempt to build high-speed rail lines across America.
It hasn't failed because of a lack of willingness to pony up money. The Obama Democrats' February 2009 stimulus package included $8 billion for high-speed rail projects. The Democratic Congress appropriated another $2.5 billion.
But Congress is turning off the spigot. The Republican-controlled House has appropriated zero dollars for high-speed rail. The Democratic-majority Senate Appropriations Committee has appropriated $100 million in its budget recommendation.
That's effectively "a vote of 'no confidence' to President Obama's infrastructure initiative," concludes transportation analyst Ken Orski, "a bipartisan signal that Congress has no appetite for pouring more money into a venture that many lawmakers have come to view as a poster child for wasteful spending."
The Transportation Department is struggling to push some of the previously appropriated money out the door. Some $480 million of planning, engineering and construction grants were made to 11 state governments in September.
But this doesn't build many rail lines, and with one exception, none of them is really high-speed, like Japan's TGV or Japan's bullet train. The governors of Wisconsin and Ohio nixed train lines that wouldn't provide faster service than current parallel Interstate highways. The governor of Florida cancelled a faster line between Orlando and Tampa, which are only 90 miles apart.
The one remaining project that really promises high-speed rail travel, in California, faces cost overruns that would be astonishing -- except for the fact that cost overruns have been standard operating procedure in high-speed rail projects around the world.
The feds insist California build a 160-mile segment in the Central Valley that is estimated to cost at least $10 billion and will have virtually no riders. The estimated cost of the whole project has zoomed from $43 billion to $67 billion, and there seems to be no prospect of any more public- or private-sector money.
Obama has rhapsodized about the wonders of getting on a train across the street from your office and traveling to another city, and he has presented high-speed rail as a technology of the future. But high-speed rail is futuristic in the same way as Disney's original Tomorrowland. Gee, someday you'll be able to take frozen peas from your freezer and heat them on your electric range.
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