Commentary

New Critique of High-Speed Rail Released

Randal O’Toole has penned another blistering critique of high-speed rail proposals in the U.S. The report is currently available from the American Dream Coalition web site, but versions will also be tailored for specific states, including Ohio and Indiana. One of the unique features of he study is its state by state estimates of costs for the various proposals.

Overall, Randal estimates (Table 7) annual operating losses from high-speed rail could reach $2.4 billion per year while these sysesm will displace just 0.4% of highway traffic.

Randal figures that the system proposed in the U.S. would cost upwards of $500 billion if the goal is to reach true high-speed rail speeds of 140 to 150 mph on average. The system would connect major cities in 33 states. This is twice the inflation-adjusted cost of the Interstate Highway System that connected all major urban areas in all 50 states, yet it will provide 1/10 the mobility fewer travelers will use the system. Interstates are used by almost every traveler (including bus riders), while high-speed rail serves a small, high-income nich of intercity travelers.

The critique includes a summary of the experience in Europe and Asia as well as assessments of the rail project’s impact on the environment and property rights.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.