Out of Control Policy Blog

High Speed Hope Triumphs Over Reality

This article in Time is typcial of the high speed rail boosterism springing up all over in the wake of Obama's release of a $13 billion high speed rail plan.  My favorite bit:

The sobering expense of high-speed train travel has tempered the expectations of even the strongest rail advocates. "It sounds like a lot of money to Americans, but it's really just a start," James P. RePass of the National Corridors Initiative told the Washington Post. Some critics also predict a massive price tag to operate new rail lines, pointing to Amtrak's perennial shortfalls, and a proposed link between Anaheim and Las Vegas (in the home state of Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid) sparked outrage and derision among many Republicans.

Ya think?  California's rail line alone will likely cost $65 to $85 billion just for phase 1 (see the Reason study on this and other problems with it here).

It is very simple folks:

  • None of the proposed high speed rail corridors have the density needed to provide the number of riders needed for it to make sense
  • Places where high speed rail has worked all had very high rail ridership when it was still slow rail
  • The trend in the US is towards less density and away from riding rail. Even with the boom in rail ridership during the gas price spike of 2008, rail is loosing market share to autos.

I think we should focus on getting our current intercity transportation system--highways and air travel--up to snuff before we start investing in a technology that does not fit our geography, lifestyles, development patterns, or travel trends.

Adrian Moore is Vice President, Policy

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Comments to "High Speed Hope Triumphs Over Reality":

RobertD | April 21, 2009, 4:50pm | #

But I think perhaps you folks are missing the point. When the liberals in the White House and in Congress have their way and raise taxes on gasoline and jet fuels another dollar or so, then rail travel WILL be the mode of travel of choice since it will be cheaper than the now more popular alternatives. The country will be pushed into rail travel and we will become a less mobile society because of it.

Stephen Smith | April 22, 2009, 12:50pm | #

You hit the nail on the head - the US does not have the density to support rail.

And yet, despite realizing this, you (and the Reason Foundation in general) fail to realize WHY the US does not have the density to support rail. While you believe that it's because of simple consumer choices, the truth is that it's more likely due to the completely ubiquitous anti-density regulations, in the form of zoning laws and minimum parking regulations, that dot America's landscape.

People don't use trains because trains require density. But you're wrong in that density isn't desired - it's merely "zoned out," as Jonathan Levine put it in his book proving that consumers demand more density than they are allowed by current regulations.

I eagerly await the day when the Reason Foundation takes as much time to bash anti-density regulations as it does to bash rail. Sadly, I fear that day will never come.

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