Tuesday, February 9, 2010

on a high-speed rail to inefficiency and waste

From Wendell Cox in the WSJ...

On Thursday the Obama administration awarded $8 billion in stimulus funds to plan and build high-speed rail projects in California and Florida, and for other routine passenger-rail projects masquerading as high-speed rail. This is a political plum to the states that will receive the money....But this is not money well spent.

Supporters say high-speed rail is a cost-effective, "green" solution to airport and highway congestion. In reality, it is costly to build and operate and has a negligible impact on highway and airport traffic. High-speed rail is driven by little more than a romantic notion to confer a European ambiance on American cities.

Proponents also claim that high-speed rail is profitable, but this too is off the mark. Internationally, only two segments have ever broken even: Tokyo to Osaka and Paris to Lyon.

Ridership in these markets has been bolstered by high gasoline prices and one-way highway tolls of $40 and $100, respectively. These and other foreign routes have attracted much of their ridership from a strong core of rail passengers that does not exist in the U.S....

There is no need to subsidize intercity travel. Flyers pay for virtually all of the costs of running the airline system, including airports and air traffic control. Gasoline taxes and highway tolls built and maintain intercity roadways, and they also support mass transit with $10 billion in subsidies annually. Intercity buses require no taxpayer funds.

Only rail requires heavy subsidies. At the end of the day, the great danger is that true high-speed rail could cost taxpayers even more than the tens of billions in subsidies that have been paid to Amtrak since the 1970s...


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