Thanks to Eric Francis for a detailed report on North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays recent junket to Spain to study high-speed rail, a pressing concern in Central Arkansas. Cities here are flush with money to upgrade public amenities to the standards of socialist democracies in Europe.
The Spanish government paid most of the tab. But North Little Rock taxpayers picked up Hay's expenses on a side trip to Basque country. Read on:
Tren de alta velocidad
That is, roughly, Spanish for “high speed rail,” and the primary reason North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays was in that European nation from Sept. 23 to Oct. 3.
Hays traveled to Spain as a guest of that country’s government as part of a group of American officials studying Spanish implementation of high speed rail – trains that can travel up to 300 kilometers per hour (about 186 mph), making the 380-mile trip between Madrid and Barcelona in about two-and-a-half hours.
What’s North Little Rock’s mayor got to do with high speed rail? Well, Hays chairs a subcommittee of a U.S. Conference of Mayors committee on rail policy, and is chairman of Amtrak’s recently reconstituted Mayors’ Advisory Board (his second stint in that role).
So this trip gave him a chance to learn about Spain’s 1,000 miles of high speed rail (all dedicated to passenger traffic and with no at-grade road crossings), which included riding trains, visiting the factories where the engines and cars are built, learning about the signal systems that control train movement, and the energy and environmental benefits of this type of travel. He said that “seven people can ride in the train for the same energy one person [traveling] by car or plane.”
While the Spanish government paid for his air fare, hotel, and expenses during the train study trip, Hays added that he actually flew up a couple of days early to visit the Basque region of northern Spain, home to Orbea Bicycles; North Little Rock is home to the sole North American distributor of the high-end bikes. Hays also said he visited with officials in Bilbao, Spain’s sixth-largest city, which is not yet on the high speed rail network but which has invested heavily in both transportation and infrastructure improvement over the years, including a trolley system and walking paths.
Hays said the city will pick up the tab for his hotel and per diem expenses during that side trip, which he estimated would total less than $1,000.
As for how all this high-speed rail would be paid for, Hays noted that some $8 billion of federal stimulus money was set aside for developing high speed rail, and the Obama administration has promised to budget another $1 billion per year for that purpose.
And what would North Little Rock's role be in such a rail system? Hays thinks there's a chance that Union Pacific's facility in Baring Cross, where it rebuilds diesel locomotive, could also become a service center for the engines that pull the high speed trains.