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Amtrak Joe’s rail line will blow your cash on pricey repairs

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Amtrak Joe's rail line will blow your cash on pricey repairs

President Biden’s lavish infrastructure plan promises to give $80 billion to improving long-distance rail, almost all of it going to Amtrak — the mode of transport beloved by, well, “Amtrak Joe.” Amtrak released a plan for what it wants to do with the money: A fact sheet that the rail service posted on its Web site, for a project called Amtrak Connects US, shows several new or improved routes crisscrossing the nation.

Amtrak’s route expansion plans are at once strikingly unambitious and dogged by its famous inefficiencies.

Amtrak plans to add routes connecting nearby cities with trips that would take only a few hours: for instance, Dallas to Houston and Cleveland to Cincinnati. This may seem prudent, but one has to wonder how much ridership these lines will get: Amtrak generally runs low-quality equipment with average speeds slower than freeways, and Amtrak’s new routes parallel major highways, most of them with preexisting bus service.

Adding new routes on preexisting track, though, could only account for a small fraction of the Amtrak payout — and some other signs suggest that most of it will be wasted on overpriced maintenance work.

Half of the money, according to one report, will go to filling Amtrak’s claimed maintenance backlog of $40 billion for the 453-mile rail line from DC to Boston — an enormous sum of almost $90 million per mile, merely to keep the same service as exists today. For comparison, in countries such as France and Spain, less than half that cost per mile would cover a brand-new high-speed rail line good for speeds of more than 200 miles per hour.

Some transportation experts call maintenance backlogs a “black hole”: an excuse to spend vast amounts of money without visible results. And other projects that Amtrak has announced give few signs that cost control is a priority.

Most familiar to New Yorkers, of course, is the Gateway tunnel under the Hudson River — a project Amtrak estimates will cost $11 billion, making it one of the most expensive rail tunnels in the world, even though it involves no intermediate stations and even though the tricky part, the connection into Penn Station, is already done. In most of the world, this project would cost a tenth of this.

In Baltimore, similarly, Amtrak has planned a replacement of a one-mile tunnel — this time entirely under land — for $5 billion, an order of magnitude higher than any justifiable price. Some of the reason for the huge cost: Amtrak has decided that the replacement should accommodate railcars with double-stacked freight containers, even though the Northeast Corridor sees almost no freight traffic and accommodating double-stacked freight on the rest of the route would require even more substantial infrastructure upgrades.

The amount of money Amtrak is getting should allow it to be far more ambitious. Biden’s vision of trains almost as fast as planes is still a pipe dream — the fastest trains on conventional track travel at about 220 mph — but high-speed rail could easily outcompete cars and planes in many parts of the country.

Transit blogger Alon Levy has outlined some improvements to the Northeast Corridor that, for an expense of not much more than $10 billion at average world construction costs, could put Boston and DC under two hours by rail away from New York, enough to take over most air travel in the Northeast.

At normal world expenses, $40 billion, about half of Amtrak’s payout, could build a thousand miles of high-speed track in the Midwest, which could mean trips of fewer than two hours from Chicago to cities such as Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Louisville.

Unfortunately, Amtrak seems ready to blow its windfall on a bloated maintenance program and a scattering of new rail lines that won’t outcompete driving, rather than anything genuinely transformative. If Amtrak wants tens of billions in new funding, it should come up with a good explanation of why it needs that much — and supporters of better infrastructure in New York and everywhere in the United States need to recognize that the single-biggest obstacle is cost bloat, not funding.

Connor Harris is a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute.

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Opinion

Teachers’ unions don’t care that closed schools are a harmful inequity

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Teachers' unions don't care that closed schools are a harmful inequity

In New York City and nationally, school shutdowns without question do the most harm to minority, low-income and special-needs students. And it’s beyond outrageous that the teacher-union leaders who are behind the most egregious public-school closures pretend the opposite.

They’re making things easier on the members, knowing full well that it hurts the kids they claim to care about. How convenient, and how obscenely cynical, for the likes of Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, to say that reopening schools would harm black children.

Once again: All the science shows that schools are highly COVID-safe. Much of Europe has kept its schools open all pandemic long, at least for preteens, who almost never contract the bug and so don’t transmit it. In this country, only areas with over-powerful teachers’ unions have suffered prolonged school shutdowns. All that would have provided ample horror stories for the unions to cite if there were any danger at all.

And remote learning, at least as regular US public schools have attempted it, is an unmitigated disaster. Most children barely interact with their teachers. The few educators who work their hearts out to actually teach are all-too-rare exceptions.

Without question, poor and minority students suffer most. Just for starters, they’re far more likely to have connectivity issues and to have started the pandemic without the devices needed for remote classes. And their parents are less likely to be in a position to fill in the gaps or even to ensure that children actually link up and pay attention.

Yet, thanks to the unions, they’re the ones most likely consigned to the “remote” tragedy. The American Enterprise Institute’s Return2Learn tracker revealed that as recently as January, one-third of white students were in fully remote districts, compared with about half of black and Hispanic students. About 47 percent of all Hispanic-American students attend school in majority-Hispanic districts where in-person learning is limited.

Plus, as Jack Elbaum noted recently in these pages, “while poor kids are locked out of in-person learning, the wealthy can place their kids in private schools that long ago reopened.” Catholic schools have opened safely, too — in the very same cities where unions have kept public schools shuttered.

The unions are increasing educational inequality all across America.

Education can be a lifeline for these children, offering skills and knowledge their parents aren’t in a position to share. Yes, New York City’s public schools, like those in all too many US cities, fall short for these children in normal times. But this is an entire year utterly lost.

So the unions resort to lies. Back in December, the Chicago Teachers Union — an AFT chapter — claimed that the push to reopen schools was “rooted in sexism, racism and misogyny.” No evidence or argument, just name-calling, even though the student body is overwhelmingly minority. The union also sued to prevent the school district from moving forward with its Jan. 11 reopening plan and threatened a strike. Mayor Lori Lightfoot had to threaten a “lockout” of teachers working remotely to get the union to bend at all. Now the target date is April 19, and the union is still resisting.

To Lightfoot’s fury, the CTU even whined that discussing “learning-loss” is a harmful way to look at students. Harmful to the CTU, actually.

San Francisco city leaders even resorted to suing the independently run school district and education board in a bid to get kids back into public-school classrooms.

Heck, even putting teachers at the head of the line for vaccinations doesn’t move the unions. New York City educators have had three months to get jabbed, yet United Federation of Teachers boss Mike Mulgrew still resists any hint of making his members go back to in-person work.

At the unions’ behest, New York state has also made all standardized testing an opt-in affair. The clear goal: Make it as hard as possible for parents to realize how far behind their kids have fallen. Yet studies show that many young children have suffered grievously — and that doesn’t even consider the mental-health impacts, witnessed in rising teen-suicide rates.

At this point, it’s only teachers’ unions and politicians subservient to them that deny the obvious.

For decades, these unions have demanded ever-higher pay and ever-more perks in the name of better serving the children, with endless talk about social justice. But teachers’ unions this last year have proved that the kids come last; science and social justice are irrelevant.

They’re nothing but a pack of selfish pigs, mouthing pieties they refuse to live by. They care about nothing but their own most selfish interests.

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Opinion

Team Biden caves on Iran — and gets nothing in return

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Team Biden caves on Iran — and gets nothing in return

Even before the “indirect” US-Iran talks in Vienna had finished up, Team Biden caved, with the State Department saying it’s ready to lift sanctions on the rogue regime to rejoin the nuclear deal — giving away all leverage without getting a thing in return.

Spokesman Ned Price said Washington is “prepared” to lift all sanctions “that are inconsistent with” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. He wouldn’t offer details: “I am not in a position here to give you chapter and verse on what those might be.”

And Price refused in repeated questioning to rule out even dropping separate sanctions put on Tehran for its terrorism, human-rights violations and ballistic-missile program.

That cave came after just two days of indirect talks — with reps from China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain as intermediaries — that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani crowed were already a “success.”

The Europeans tried to get Team Biden to lift some sanctions his first days in office, but the president said Tehran would have to move first, coming back into compliance with the deal by ending its enrichment of uranium at 20 percent and stopping its production of uranium metal — which even the Europeans have condemned, as it has no civilian use.

President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign almost brought the regime to its knees, especially after the Iranian people revolted after seeing the regime spend the pallets of cash from the nuclear deal on military adventurism and terrorism instead of feeding its own citizens. Biden is poised to give up that leverage — and allow the regime the resources to commit even more acts of evil.

It’s especially galling given the ridiculous offers Tehran made before the talks started.

The Europeans, in consultation with Team Biden, offered to release $1 billion in frozen oil revenue in exchange for Iran freezing its production of 20 percent enriched uranium. Tehran rejected that — and asked that America release all of its frozen export revenue, estimated at over $30 billion, in exchange for a one-month pause in production. Washington rejected that laughable idea and counter-proposed a release of some frozen funds and some oil-export waivers in return for Iran stopping 20 percent production and its work on advanced centrifuges. Again, Iran rejected the idea.

Why on earth would Team Biden respond by giving away the farm? There’s no reason to rush: The nuclear deal’s sunset provisions let Iran start going nuclear within a decade anyway. It’s Tehran that needs to hurry, as it can only do business with tyrannies such as China and Venezuela until America lifts its sanctions.

And the regime’s evildoing isn’t restricted to its pursuit of nuclear weapons or even its terrorism in the Middle East. In February, a Belgian court convicted an Iranian diplomat of plotting to bomb a dissident rally near Paris in 2018 — and Tehran planned and approved the scheme.

Now Biden is set to give Iran’s rulers more billions to play with — all for the sake of preserving his old boss’ “legacy.” But the only legacy of legitimizing these monsters will be more murder.

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Opinion

Letters to the Editor — April 10, 2021

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Letters to the Editor — April 10, 2021

The Issue: The Post’s suggestions on how the city can recover from the pandemic and residents moving away.

Conspicuous in its absence from The Post’s advice to heal Gotham is the issue of people working from home (“How new leader can heal Goth­am,” Editorial, April 8).

For good or bad, the pandemic caused the flight of commuters from the city. The trickle-down economy that once flowed from the Midtown office workforce has paused, and there’s little evidence of a comeback.

If this exodus is not addressed, the entire economy of New York and other cities will be turned upside down, not unlike what e-commerce has done to the retail sector.

Richard J. Carhidi
Manhattan

The enforcement issues delegated to the NYPD is one of several items highlighted in The Post April 8 editorial.

No doubt, ineffective governing at all levels has resulted in legislation and guidelines that negatively affect the personal performance of NYPD officers and have contributed to the debacle.

Reduced membership, funding and the imposition of restrictive guidelines have affected job performance.

The City Council’s vindictive attitude is evident in its elimination of qualified immunity for the NYPD.

John Gargiulo
Whitestone

The fix for New York City doesn’t begin with more police, better schools or lower taxes, although that’s all needed — it begins with an electorate that realizes those whom they elect will determine what changes happen.

Voters can’t continue to elect and re-elect Democrats, like Mayor de Blasio, Gov. Cuomo and those who dominate the state Legislature.

It’s like going go to a “Dr. Feel Good” who tells you to eat two Twinkies every day, instead of going to a medical specialist who tells you that you need to make changes in your lifestyle to live longer.

The public listens to the lies of the Democrats because they’re a tasty Twinkie, but The Post knows better.

John Brindisi
Manhattan

If the mayor of New York, or a candidate for mayor, wants to save the city from decline and darkness, he or she has to focus on and commit to just one thing: fighting crime — crime on the streets immediately, and eventually crime behind closed doors (meaning corruption) as well.

I am not being cute or simplistic. All those other things — education, housing, transportation, more — are important and not easy to fix, but people from all walks of life will come forward to address them if the mayor will commit to fighting crime.

It will not be easy to fix overnight, but it will be simple and achievable in a surprisingly brief period of time. But you’ve got to want it.

Brian Burke
Branford, Conn.

The Post article covered the main points on what’s needed to turn around this great city.

I would add that communities must be involved with policing their neighborhoods, and the teachers union needs more accountability, among other things. Yet these are just a couple of fine points.

But The Post hit the nail on head with its comments on the “crazy progressives.” They are the real culprits for most if not all the madness going on right now. They are but a small faction dictating to the masses.

I think most people will agree with The Post’s assessment: Time to flush them out with the dirty water.

B. Tonuzi
Wanaque, NJ

I couldn’t agree more with your solutions to heal Gotham, especially addressing the issue of the homeless, which includes not allowing public sleeping and living.

In Central Park this week, I saw a homeless woman go into the flowerbed bushes to do her business. The people sitting on benches to enjoy the beautiful spring flowers were treated to the smell and a hunk of nasty, used toilet paper blowing away.

It is too bad if they don’t want to go to a shelter to sleep. It’s often a mental illness and drug or alcohol problems.

And pulling all NYCThrive funding is a great idea.

Carol Meltzer
Manhattan

Want to weigh in on today’s stories? Send your thoughts (along with your full name and city of residence) to [email protected]. Letters are subject to editing for clarity, length, accuracy and style.

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