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Washington Post Columnist Blasts High-Speed Rail

Samuel Staley
August 24, 2009, 1:18pm

Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson takes on high-speed rail in his most recent commentary, calling its support based on "mythology" and "not just misinformed" but "antisocial." With transit systems falling apart across the nation, putting billions of dollars into high-speed rail simply doesn't make sense.

Given this [the U.S. experience with Amtrak], you'd think even the dullest politician wouldn't expand rail subsidies, especially considering the almost $11 trillion in projected federal budget deficits between now and 2019. But no, the administration has made high-speed rail a top priority. It's already proposed spending $13 billion ($8 billion in the "stimulus" package and $1 billion annually for five years) as a down payment on high-speed rail in 10 "corridors," including Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and Houston to New Orleans.

The White House promises fabulous benefits. High-speed rail "will loosen the congestion suffocating our highways and skyways," says Vice President Biden. A high-speed rail system would eliminate carbon dioxide emissions "equal to removing 1 million cars from our roads," adds the president. Relieve congestion. Fight global warming. Reduce oil imports. The vision is seductive. The audience is willing. Many Americans love trains and regard other countries' systems (say, Spain's rapid trains between Madrid and Barcelona, running at about 150 mph) as evidence of U.S. technological inferiority.

There's only one catch: The vision is a mirage. The costs of high-speed rail would be huge, and the public benefits meager.

It's also nice to see Harvard economist Ed Glaeser and the Cato Institute's Randal O'Toole cited in the same article in the Washington Post.

Reason Foundation's work on high-speed rail can be found on our transportation page.


Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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