Wishful Thinking Won’t Make Florida High-Speed Rail a Wise Choice

My letter in today’s Orlando Sentinel:

The guest column “Scott’s rail decision based on bogus report” in Friday’s Sentinel misled readers and failed to make its case. Andy Kunz, who promotes trains for the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, curiously writes that the Orlando-to-Tampa rail line’s costs shouldn’t be compared with California’s because of right-of-way and terrain differences. Yet the Reason Foundation study he attacks compared the Florida line with a comparable California segment running through flat agricultural land with little urbanization. The study found the right-of-way would cost less in Florida, but other Tampa-Orlando costs were grossly underestimated and Floridians could end up paying $3 billion for the rail system because of cost overruns and operating subsidies.

Kunz alleges that Orlando’s tourist destinations mean the Orlando-Tampa line’s ridership possibilities should be compared with Amtrak’s Northeast corridor. But that corridor serves huge population centers including New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia. Anyone who claims the Tampa-to-Orlando line would get anywhere near the ridership of that entire corridor is simply misleading taxpayers.

High-speed rail projects across the world, even in Europe and Asia, have failed to deliver expected ridership numbers and routinely cost more than projected. Since I was a child, I have loved trains. But wishful thinking won’t turn Florida’s high-speed rail plan into a good investment for taxpayers. Gov. Rick Scott made the right financial decision and should stick with it.