Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tanker Anecdote

Disclaimer: I don't have a dog in the seemingly-endless Boeing/EADS tanker battle. I am very happy to report that I don't work for any of the various companies that have been competing for that next-generation tanker contract for what seems like decades now. That said, I did want to pass along this true story from the relatively-early days of KC-X.

Several years back, before the original Air Force tanker contract winner was announced (EADS, with the senior partner being France's Airbus), an exceptionally senior Air Force official made the following observations--paraphrased from memory here--one afternoon in a squadron bar:

"Here's what's gonna happen: Airbus is gonna win. Boeing's bid is way out of bed. They think it's a slam-dunk, and they got greedy, and what's worse, they were lucky they were even allowed to bid after Darleen Druyun. So they're gonna lose . And then everybody will freak out because the prime isn't an American company, so there'll be a s**t-storm in Congress, and there'll be a challenge, and the contract will get tossed out. Then we'll start over, and go through all this again, and it'll be set up for Boeing this time, and they'll win.

"And then it'll be six or seven years later, and we still won't have any tankers, and the ones we do finally buy will cost twice as much."

Those long-ago predictions have been correct all the way down the line. The latest: Boeing officially won the re-compete today.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hell Of A Way To Run A Railroad

Robert Samuelson absolutely demolishes the alleged case for "high speed rail" today. Here's a sample, but read the whole thing:

Rail buffs argue that subsidies for passenger service simply offset the huge government support of highways and airways. The subsidies "level the playing field." Wrong. In 2004, the Department of Transportation evaluated federal transportation subsidies for the period 1990-2002. It found passenger rail service had the highest subsidy ($186.35 per thousand passenger-miles) followed by mass transit ($118.26 per thousand miles). By contrast, drivers received no net subsidy; their fuel taxes more than covered federal spending. Subsidies for airline passengers were about $5 per thousand miles traveled. (All figures are in inflation-adjusted year 2000 dollars.)


Governing ought to be about making wise choices. What's disheartening about the Obama administration's embrace of high-speed rail is that it ignores history, evidence and logic. The case against it is overwhelming. The case in favor rests on fashionable platitudes. High-speed rail is not an "investment in the future"; it's mostly a waste of money. Good government can't solve all our problems, but it can at least not make them worse.

"Because Joe Biden likes taking the train" is not a good reason to spend billions. Forget new expenditures for mythical "high-speed" trains for imaginary passengers who don't want to ride in them; Amtrak's outrageous subsidies need to be redirected to the path of the dodo.

Nostalgia is not a budget priority in the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. Passenger rail's day had long since come and gone. It's long past time to send the passenger cars that can't pay for themselves--meaning just about all of them--to the scrapyard.