In 2008, California voters authorized a $9.95 billion bond measure as a down-payment for a high-speed rail project linking the Sacramento (in northern California), the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles.

The projected $98 billion route subsequently won $3.3 billion in federal grants. 

But with California in the midst of a severe budget shortfall, voter opinion has turned negative. A recent public opinion poll found that 64 percent of registered California voters (73 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of Democrats) would reject the project if given a second chance to vote on it — most citing the escalating costs and long-term completion date.

But don’t assume the California project – or, for that matter, other high-speed rail projects — are down for the count.

While the dramatic increase in cost has imposed sticker-shock on Californians, and while Congress has cut-off further federal funding for this and other high-speed rail projects, California Gov. Jerry Brown remains an ardent cheerleader, observing:

“California’s high-speed rail project will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, linking California’s population centers and avoiding the huge problems of massive airport and highway expansion.”

The former chairman of the House Transportation & Infastructure Committee, Jim Oberstar, now a private citizen, but still quite active politically, told The Washington Post:

“The financial uncertainties facing California’s high-speed rail project should not be read as an indictment of such rail development in America.

“High-speed, inter-city passenger rail can be successful, even profitable — as proven in France. The French national passenger rail system, wrote a check for $299 million to the national government just before Christmas, and has returned $780 million to the government over the last five years.

“Massive congestion is choking our major metropolitan areas, costing Americans $110 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted fuel. We must invest in a passenger rail alternative. The longer we wait, the less livable our cities will become and the more expensive the alternatives will be. The French have proven that the concept can succeed. We should follow their lead and not give up on inter-city passenger rail.

Moreover, the The New York Times observed:

“[While] for many Californians, struggling through a bleak era that has led some people to wonder if the state’s golden days are behind it, this project goes to the heart of the state’s pioneering spirit, recalling grand public investments in universities, water systems, roads and parks that once defined California as the leading edge of the nation.”

The UTU’s National Legislative Office is among those educating members of Congress to the long-term benefits of high-speed rail investment. For example, the UTU is reminding lawmakers that that construction of America’s Interstate Highway system began slowly and had to overcome substantial initial opposition.

While legislation to begin construction of Interstate Highways was passed by Congress in 1956, it was the culmination of two-decades of effort – with President Roosevelt the catalyst, much as President Obama is seeking to be the catalyst for nationwide high-speed rail.

As one historian recounted, “The plan had to be sold and sold again,” culminating with President Eisenhower providing the final push – convincing Congress that a $50 billion investment ($421 billion in 2011 dollars) was absolutely essential to ensure American mobility in the future.

“Patience and persistence achieved the goal of building Interstate Highways,” says National Legislative Director James Stem. “Patience and persistence will achieve the 21st century goal of President Obama for a nationwide 17,000-mile network of high-speed and higher-speed trains to provide 80 percent of the American population access to train travel by 2036.

WASHINGTON — The outgoing chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee – Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), who was defeated in the Nov. 2 elections – fears increased polarization along party lines when the new Congress is seated in January.

In an interview published by, Oberstar, who was known to exert great effort to reach bipartisan agreement, said:

“I think there will be a significant loss of ability to moderate and mediate and bring consensus together … what the election brought into the Republican Party are persons who are committed to the more extreme conservatism, and on the Democratic side those who are more hard-core liberals … governance is best when you govern from the center and reach out to bring the views of both sides to a compromise.”

Oberstar was not speaking about the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee leadership, where most transportation legislation affecting UTU airline, bus and rail members originates.

In fact, there was considerable bipartisan agreement among the T&I committee’s leadership under Oberstar’s chairmanship; and, previously, the chairmanship of now retired Republican Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania, when Oberstar was the ranking Democrat on the committee.

The new chairman of the T&I Committee will be nine-term House member John Mica (R-Fla.), who was the ranking Republican when Oberstar was chairman.

The ranking Democrat in the 2011-2012 Congress will be Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), a 17-term veteran who is respected for his efforts at seeking bipartisan consensus.

Oberstar, who will depart Congress Dec. 31, has served in the House for 18 two-year terms.

By Richard Deiser, Vice President, Bus Department
Bonnie Morr, Alternate Vice President, Bus Department

The Surface Transportation Authorization Act, introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), includes provisions of interest to bus operators. The proposed law would:

  • Require interstate motor coach carriers to demonstrate knowledge of safety, accessibility and financial responsibility prior to being granted operating authority, and place a priority on safety audits.
  • Require safety fitness determinations, assignment of safety ratings, regular monitoring of safety performance, and annual inspection programs for motor coaches.
  • Require electronic on-board recorders to track hours-of-service compliance.
  • Require minimum driver training requirements, including behind-the-wheel instruction. We would also like to see required training in dealing with passenger threats and hazardous driving conditions.
  • Establish unique medical exams and certification forms for commercial drivers.

President Futhey also has directed our National Legislative Office to support H.R. 1135, the Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety Act, which would require increased bus-roof strength and fire suppression.

We are also seeking improvements to that bill to set window glazing requirements, construction standards to protect against hazards from alternative fuels, and authority of school bus drivers to discipline unruly students. And we are pushing for appropriate funding. 

By Vic Baffoni
Vice President, Bus Dept.

The Bush Administration did it again.

Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters extended the right of foreign-operated trucking and transit companies to operate across the U.S. border without requiring them to even have a minimum of safeguards for U.S. citizens on U.S. roads.

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires U.S. licensed drivers to be tested, certified and comply with numerous laws and rules.

Yet foreign drivers do not have to abide by any of these requirements.

Equipment inspection, certification of ability to operate equipment, drug testing and hours of service requirements have made our roads safer.

The UTU has protested loudly and has a commitment from Rep. Jim Oberstar (D.-Minn.), who chairs the House Transportation Committee, to overturn Ms. Peters’ action. We are committed to our members and the riding public to keep the roads safe for them and their families.

The UTU Bus and Legislative Departments continue to fight the mandated changes to drug testing (observed testing).

We have joined with the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO to make a concerted effort to protect our members’ personal rights.

To contact me, call the UTU International headquarters at (216) 228-9400, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., EDT.

Send e-mail to me at