High Speed Rail – Wise or Waste

I call your attention to two articles, one in the Washington Times and the other by Cato’s Randal O’Toole. These articles point to the issues with the planned high speed rail system and the problems with making it pay, or even serve the people who might use it.

It is said that only one high speed rail line in France actually breaks even, and those being built in China will cost more to ride on than 98 percent of the population can afford.

In the end, however, it goes back to the free market. If high speed rail was wanted by the marketplace, someone would build it. Having it foisted on the population by the government because it seems “cool” or “neat” makes no sense. And subsidizing the project by everyone’s taxes so a few can ride it makes even less.

As O’Toole points out, in 15 years cars will be extremely environmentally friendly, and even today two people riding in a vehicle has a smaller carbon footprint than two people in a train travelling the same distance. Is the goal really to “save” the environment, or is it to cajole us into living a certain way.

I wouldn’t sell my garages and lay off the valets yet, gang. Cooler heads may just yet prevail.



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7 Responses to High Speed Rail – Wise or Waste

  1. Reality Check says:

    I wonder if the cost comparison of rail to air includes travel time to the airport (arrive 2 hours early, going both ways, and security checks, extra baggage fees, etc.), as well as transportation to/from the airport to their final, city center destination.
    And what of congestion in the future, which nearly everyone agrees will occur. Travel time will be longer in that more efficient car (which, by the way, will only be more efficient because of government requirements).
    Just another perspective.

  2. rta says:

    Car and Van Pool programs could cut congestion by 30%-50% without requiring a single dollar of public money, and the results could be realized overnight.
    Take those same billions of $’s that were earmarked for high speed rail and use them somewhere else, like maybe paying down the debt.

  3. Chris Gallagher says:

    Whether we support high speed rail or not, it would have been nice to have one of the writers address the dollars we Americans spend every year on road building and maintenance – and the cost in human lives. Anyone got the info?

  4. Ericmarseille says:

    Hello guys that Randal O’Toole is either the biggest moron or the biggest liar in the world.
    All HSR lines are profitable in France, only a few Province to Province trips (generally using bits of several HSR lines and some portions of conventional lines) have proved unprofitable and SNCF is working on this.
    The line that Randal O’Tool admits is profitable is not only profitable, it has also paid back for its capital costs, interest and all!!!!!!!!!!!
    How many US highways, how many US airports have paid for the capital costs invested? None of course, your highways are free (hence you’ll pay for them endlessly through taxes)and your air transportation infrastructure and domestic airlines are heavily subsidized…
    I watched O’Tool’s rants on you tube and the discrepancy between what he said (and the video showing something that was supposed to be HSR) was so ridiculous that I thought I was watching soviet propaganda (and laughing my ass off by the way)
    Make up your mind about HSR but don’t listen to that clown.

  5. JVH says:

    Its probably not so cut and dried. O’Toole, and me, like things to pay for themselves. That includes the capital cost to build them. In the French and I believe the Japanese case, the hundreds of billions that was spend to build the tracks and trains was paid for by the government and will never be repaid. The operations of the trains may be profitable (it wasn’t in 2010 but was in 2009 in France) but you have to take into account that the costs of the rail and the trains were free. That’s like saying the only cost of driving my car is the gas, oil, maintenance and insurance. The cost for the vehicle itself is not included.
    Just like parking is not free, neither is rail, nor highways, nor hospitals, nor schools. However if the folks using them paid for them, all of them, think how wonderful the world would be. JVH

  6. JVH says:

    By the way, I couldn’t find in the sources I used, where anyone said anything about French or Japanese trains except to note they were fast. I will concede, however, that many have said these things aren’t profitable and don’t pay for themselves, including O’Toole. See my comments just above.

  7. Lee Bourque says:

    I don’t have the cost figures for road construction and maintenance at my fingertips. But, compared to most infrastructure funding, and funding for public transit in particular, highway construction is one of the purest “pay as you go” systems that we have. It’s paid for primarily through gas tax that is added to every gallon of gas purchased. Those who use the roads the most pay the most to use them. That doesn’t answer the question about whether any type of rail is a good idea or financially self-suffucient, but it does make it pretty clear that at least one element of the transportation system provides its own funding under a system that distributes the cost equitably.

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