Tuesday, May 17, 2011

High-Speed Trains Fail to Impress

President Obama's dream of connecting 80 percent of Americans to a high-speed rail line appears to be dead. Congress appropriated $8 billion for high-speed rail in the 2009 stimulus bill and $2 billion more in the 2010 appropriations bill. But, after newly elected governors of Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin rejected high-speed rail projects in those states, Congress declined to include any more funds in 2011 and it is unlikely to spend any more on this boondoggle as long as Republicans have a hold on the House, says Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute.

What will Americans get for the $10 billion or so already committed?

California appears ready to spend $5.5 billion building a 220-mile per hour (mph) rail line from Corcoran -- a town south of Fresno mainly known for the prison housing Charles Manson -- to Borden -- a ghost town north of Fresno; considering that trains were not scheduled to stop in either Corcoran or Borden, this will truly be a train to nowhere.

Illinois is spending more than $3 billion, adding three trains per day (to the current five) between Chicago and St. Louis and increasing average train speeds from 51.6 to 56.8 mph, saving train travelers 30 minutes on the current 5.5-hour trip.

Washington state is spending $700 million, adding two trains per day (to the current three) between Seattle and Portland and increasing average train speeds from 53.4 to 56.1 mph, thus saving rail travelers 10 minutes on the current 3.5-hour journey.

North Carolina is spending $545 million, adding two trains a day (to the current three) between Charlotte and Raleigh and increasing speeds from 54.1 to 57.7 mph, saving travelers 12 minutes on the current 3.2-hour trip.

Unless a miracle occurs, it appears the only added impact of Obama's dream will be the cost to state taxpayers of running a few extra trains per day in Illinois, North Carolina, and Washington, says O'Toole.

Source: Randal O'Toole, "Dodging the High-Speed Bullet Train," Cato Institute, April 29, 2011.

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