Commentary

Budget Buster Express: High-Speed Rail, Amtrak or Frustrated Children?

An interesting editorial in the Washington Times on February 7, 2010, suggested:

“Members of Congress must feel a bit shortchanged by the amount of playtime they received during childhood. Their ongoing fascination with one of the world’s most expensive model-train sets, Amtrak, otherwise defies explanation. Politicians continue to treat the heavily subsidized operation more like a prized toy than a solid business operation. The time has come to stop shoveling money into this runaway choo-choo.”

The editorial goes on to talk about Amtrak and high-speed rail and why both are a tremendous waste of money.

You can read the entire editorial here.

At one point the editorial says:

“Still, Congress retains nostalgia for a mode of transport that made sense when the only competition consisted of wagon trains and steamer ships. Train travel today just can’t compare to the comfort and convenience of a modern automobile for shorter-haul trips. And, despite the best efforts of the Transportation Security Administration to make flying a miserable experience, airplanes still can’t be beat on the longer routes.

A Washingtonian seeking to escape the winter in Orlando, Fla., could choose a 34-hour round-trip train ride for $220. It is more likely, however, that he would select a pair of two-hour flights for about $40 less.

We at Reason have written many times regarding the waste of money on high-speed rail:
California: And more on California most recently here.

My collegue Bob Poole wrote about Florida high-speed rail at this site.

Another colleague Sam Staley, wrote about why high-speed rail is not a “jobs program” here
and compares expectations with what Spain did here.

And finally the editorial concludes:

“…..President Obama has been spending our money to create his own real-life train set. Mr. Obama’s 2011 budget added $1 billion on top of the $8 billion in stimulus funding as a “down payment” on the creation of a shiny new high-speed locomotive program.”

I had not thought of this boondoggle as “train set for grown-ups” but come to think of it……maybe it is just that!

Shirley Ybarra is a former senior transportation policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Ms. Ybarra served as Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1998 to 2002, overseeing a budget of $3.2 billion and a staff of 13,000 people. Between 1994 and 1998, Ybarra was Virginia's Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

Ybarra also served as senior policy advisor and special assistant for policy for U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole from 1983 to 1987. In that role, Ybarra managed the transfer and privatization of Dulles and National Airports to the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority.

Ybarra authored Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995, considered the model public-private partnership legislation in the United States.

In 2001, Ybarra received the American Road and Transportation Builders Association's "Public-Private Ventures Entrepreneur of the Year Award" for her leadership in designing innovative infrastructure financing.

She holds a Master's degree in Economics and a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.