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More on High Speed Rail and profitability

Samuel Staley
May 10, 2011, 12:40pm

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced another $2 billion for rail projects in the U.S. on Monday, and it looks like the money will go to 22 projects in 15 states. I blogged about this yesterday after hearing Secretary LaHood on CNBC. Investor's Business Daily weighed into yesterday as a critic of the project, noting:

• A Pew study found that all but three of Amtrak's 44 lines lost money in 2008, with an average loss of $32 per passenger. Even the heavily used Northeast Regional line was a money-loser.

• Each year, Amtrak relies on more than $1.5 billion in taxpayer subsidies — totaling about $40 billion over the past 40 years. And it's by far the most heavily subsidized mode of transportation, getting $210 per thousand passenger miles, according to a 2004 Department of Transportation report.

• Amtrak's trains are perpetually late. More than one in five Northeast Regional train trips missed its arrival time this past year. Others, like the Michigan Services line between Chicago and Detroit, saw nearly two-thirds of its trains run late, Amtrak data show.

All of this comes despite repeated promises that the government-supported rail service would one day be a viable business. Back in 1992, then president W. Graham Claytor Jr. said Amtrak "hopes to eliminate (federal support) altogether by the end of the decade."

CNN also ran a story yesterday that included at least some criticism (me) and can be found here.

The Pew study on Amtrak cited by Investor's Business Daily editorial can be found here. (I should also note that the Pew study appears to show that the Acela trains are indeed profitable even when considering depreciation on capital equipment. This was the only regular route to make money using their improved methodology.)

Reason's ongoing writing and research on high-speed rail can be found here.


Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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