Commentary

High Speed Hope Triumphs Over Reality

This article in Time is typcial of the high speed rail boosterism springing up all over in the wake of Obama’s release of a $13 billion high speed rail plan. My favorite bit:

The sobering expense of high-speed train travel has tempered the expectations of even the strongest rail advocates. “It sounds like a lot of money to Americans, but it’s really just a start,” James P. RePass of the National Corridors Initiative told the Washington Post. Some critics also predict a massive price tag to operate new rail lines, pointing to Amtrak’s perennial shortfalls, and a proposed link between Anaheim and Las Vegas (in the home state of Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid) sparked outrage and derision among many Republicans.

Ya think? California’s rail line alone will likely cost $65 to $85 billion just for phase 1 (see the Reason study on this and other problems with it here).

It is very simple folks:

  • None of the proposed high speed rail corridors have the density needed to provide the number of riders needed for it to make sense
  • Places where high speed rail has worked all had very high rail ridership when it was still slow rail
  • The trend in the US is towards less density and away from riding rail. Even with the boom in rail ridership during the gas price spike of 2008, rail is loosing market share to autos.

I think we should focus on getting our current intercity transportation system–highways and air travel–up to snuff before we start investing in a technology that does not fit our geography, lifestyles, development patterns, or travel trends.

Adrian Moore

Adrian Moore, Ph.D., is vice president of policy at Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.