High-Speed Rail is a Big Waste of Money (updated with video from Red Eye and The Simpsons)

During his State of the Union speech, Obama mentioned funding high-speed rail.  By most accounts a government funded high-speed rail system would be a gigantic money pit.  So, unsurprisingly, Joe Biden’s proposal to spend $53 million on such a project was met with plenty of skepticism:

Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday proposed that the US government infuse $53 billion into a national high-speed rail network. The announcement was met immediately by deep skepticism from two House Republicans that could be crucial to the plan’s success, raising questions about whether it can clear Capitol Hill.House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. John Mica (R) of Florida said previous administration grants to high-speed rail projects were a failure, producing “snail speed trains to nowhere.” He called Amtrak a “Soviet-style train system” and said it “hijacked” nearly all the administration’s rail projects.

Meanwhile, Railroads Subcommittee Chair Rep. Bill Shuster (R) of Pennsylvania said Mr. Biden’s plan was “insanity,” adding: “Rail projects that are not economically sound will not ‘win the future’ ” – coopting the slogan President Obama coined in his State of the Union address.

Here’s more from the article about the cost of high-speed rail:

Building high-speed rail is no easy process, says Leslie McCarthy, a high-speed rail expert at Villanova University’s College of Engineering. “Whether or not a bill would or should pass is the easiest part of all this,” she says. “The bigger part of the question is purchasing the land, getting right of ways, zoning issues, environmental impact assessments, laying dedicated tracks in a reasonable amount of time.”She says the typical US highway project can be held up anywhere from three to five years at the low end to 12 to 20 years at the high end. “Legislators and the public aren’t aware of the number of federal, state, and local laws that agencies have to comply with that can’t be gotten around,” she adds.

In fact, the very thing that makes the Northeast so attractive for high-speed rail – its population density – could also make it the most difficult place to build. “There is so much population in the Northeast corridor that I don’t know if there is even enough room for the dedicated tracks needed for high-speed rail,” says Professor McCarthy. “And if the distances you are going are not sufficient to make efficient use of the high speeds, what’s the point?”

Wise investment or money pit?Critics agree. Only two rail corridors in the world – France’s Paris to Lyon line and Japan’s Tokyo to Osaka line – cover their costs, says Ken Button, director of the Center for Transportation Policy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

“Both of these are the perfect distance for high-speed rail, connect cities over flat terrain with huge populations that have great public transportation to get riders to the railway,” he says, dismissing French claims that other lines make money. He says they calculate costs in ways which ignore capital costs.

To supporters of high-speed rail expansion, however, US transportation must move beyond its reliance on oil. High-speed rail is the only form of intercity transportation that has a 45-year record of moving people without oil, says Anthony Perl, professor of political science at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and a fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.

If we want to move beyond oil, there must be more cost-effect ways of transportation beyond fast trains.  This H.S. rail stuff looks like a big waste of money, at least for now.  And during a period of massive budget deficits, Washington needs to prioritize spending and cut out the unnecessary junk.  High-speed rail is part of that junk.

UPDATE: Greg Gutfeld and company tackled this issue on last night’s Red Eye:

http://video.foxnews.com/v/4530336/are-more-trains-really-the-answer/

The Simpson’s monorail song, mentioned in the Red Eye video:

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