Future of High-Speed Rail Uncertain Despite Rhetoric of Transportation Secretary

Ken Orski’s most recent issue of Innovation Briefs (Vol. 21, No. 18, August 25, 2010) asks a few important questions for high speed rail in the United States:

Despite Secretary LaHood’s confident prediction that high-speed trains would link 80 percent of America within 25 years, the debate about the future of high-speed rail in America is far from over. With new high-speed rail lines requiring massive sums of money and long-term financial commitments, railroad industry observers agree that the program will need a dedicated source of funds. This raises three questions: First, will high-speed rail engender grassroots support for a dedicated tax-financed rail fund similar to the Highway Trust Fund, that could sustain a rail investment program over several decades? Second, will there be enough passenger rail users to generate sufficient tax revenue for such an ambitious program (estimated at $500 billion)? And, lastly, will future presidents and Congresses share this Administration’s enthusiasm for high-speed rail, or will concern about budget deficits oblige them to focus on other, more urgent infrastructure priorities? Despite the optimistic rhetoric of HSR boosters and Secretary LaHood about the “inevitability” of high-speed rail in this country, there are huge uncertainties concerning all three questions.

Both sets of issues will be discussed at two forthcoming events: the former at a conference on “Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads” sponsored by Railway Age at the Washington Marriott Hotel on October 18-19; the latter at a National Press Club debate on High-Speed Rail, to be sponsored by the Progressive Policy Institute on September 29. [Italics in original]