Trains, Pains, and a Whole Lot of Subsidies


Posted by Robert Clemmer on Friday, January 29th, 2010, 12:39 PM PERMALINK


In his State of the Union Address, Obama mentioned that “there's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.” After his speech he and Joe Biden went to Florida, pitching their idea for high-speed rail. However is this something we really need?
 
While bullet trains offer a new exotic and faster way of traveling, it’s really expensive, so expensive that the private industry has yet to make the idea profitable or viable. Almost $8 billion will be used to fund the new construction of high-speed rails in California, Florida, Illinois, New England, and the Pacific Northwest. However, according to a report by the Cato Institute, this $8 billion is a severe underestimate of the total bill.
 
The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative estimated that upgrading rails to 110 mph standards would cost an average of $3.5 million per mile. The Federal Railroad Administration has plans for 8,500 miles of track, and at $3.5 million per mile the cost would actually be $30 billion.
 
However, the Florida High-Speed Rail Authority has estimated that construction of rail line would cost $27 million per mile. The California High-Speed Authority has estimated that a segment between San Francisco and Anaheim would cost $106 million per mile. These projects are estimated to cost $90 billion, completely bypassing the $8 billion set aside for all high-speed rail projects. It certainly is hard to take Obama’s commitment in the SOTU of “going through the budget, line by line, page by page, to eliminate programs that we can't afford and don't work.”
 
If the projects are going to cost a lot more than $8 billion, why would the government want to start these projects, especially in a time when our country cannot afford to waste money? According to PJ O’Rourke in an interview with Reason ,“politicians love trains. Why? Because they can tell where the tracks go. They know where everybody's going. For politicians it's all about control and power. Politicians hate cars because cars make people free.”
 
One thing to also consider is that these high-speed rails are going to be a Big Boy version of Amtrak, and there isn’t much going for the government run railroad. While Joe Biden may favor Amtrak, Peter Bagge from Reason Magazine would disagree with his take.

 (photo by ajacs)

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