Thursday, October 13, 2011

High-Speed Rail Can't Get Out of the Station

If you are a long time reader of my blog you know that I have posted several times about high-speed rail. Aesthetically, I am a fan. I love to ride the rails. I have taken several trips over the years on trains and have enjoyed them immensely. But from a practically standpoint, it just not a good fit for us here.

Our nation is just too large. Heck, we stretch from sea to sea; 3,000+ miles. We have vast and well maintained (mostly) highways that can take us from New York to LA in less than a week. Two and half days if you’re “Handsome Rob” And we have air travel. Hop on a plane at 6am in New York, and reach LA in time for a late breakfast. A high-speed train would take a little less than three days, coast to coast, and that would be on dedicated lines. If on a shared line, it would reach four days. Not much fast than a car, plus you now have your car in LA.

I do think there would be some places where high-speed rail would flourish. The NE-Corridor from Boston to DC is already proving its worth. I also think LA to Sand Diego and LA to Vegas would work well. As would Portland – Seattle – Vancouver. But do the high-speed rail dreamers really think a line from Chicago to Denver would be worth the money spent? Or how about that line from Houston to New Orleans?

There has to be a demand. The air routes in the USA NE are already at a saturation point. More flights cannot be added under the current technology and circumstances. It would make sense here and it has already happened to a degree with the ACELA. The run from Portland to Seattle has been well done and been helped by the fact there is a double- and sometime triple-mainline giving both passenger and freight trains plenty-o-room. Outside of these and a few other examples, the demand is not there and will not be there for the foreseeable future.

I dredge up these points because Michael Barone has written a fine article on the death of the high-speed rail dream (nightmare?)

It [high-speed rail] hasn’t failed because of lack of willingness to pony up money. The Obama Democrats’ February 2009 stimulus package included $8 billion for high-speed rail projects. The Democrat Congress appropriated another $2.5 billion.

But Congress is turning off the spigot. The Republican-controlled House has appropriated zero dollars for high-speed rail. The Democrat-majority Senate Appropriations Committee has appropriated $100 million in its budget recommendations. (Source: Real Clear Politics)

$100 million! In Seattle, that won’t even keep a homeless shelter open. In these times of shrinking state level budgets and decreased tax revenue at all levels, our congressional leaders are looking for pork fat to trim. If this doesn’t qualify, I don’t know what would.

While I don’t think our congress-critters are smart enough to look as far ahead as 2050 (when the high-speed rail project is to be done), I do believe in the back of their minds are the inevitable cost overruns. Already, there are cost overruns in California that are projected to increase the cost somewhere between 40 percent to 100 percent. Wow, who would have thought that a government project would have cost overruns? Oh the humanity.

Please comment if you have nay thoughts.


  1. But, Righty... it's the jobs!
    Anon in Boise

  2. Yeah, right! So far I haven't seen any jobs created by this boondoggle. At least not enough to make difference. Oh wait; jobs created AND saved. Must be under one of those categories.

  3. Just to be clear, I wasn't poking at you, just agreeing.