Monday, February 14, 2011

High-Speed Rail: A Total Waste

The Obama administration likes to tout high-speed rail as the cure for traffic jams, reliance on fossil fuels, pollution, unemployment and just about every other problem our country is currently experiencing.  What the high-speed rail proponents seem to conveniently forget is that these projects are NEVER profitable – in fact they never even break-even.
If you want an excellent example of a rail disaster look at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority  ( that runs the Metro train and bus service in the Washington DC area.  Each and every year the rail system runs at a loss and depending on government funds to pay for maintenance and further funding.  Metro freely admits that they are forced to defer nonessential maintenance tasks due to a lack of funding.  Despite millions of dollars from Congress, and the surrounding states, Metro continues to raise fares and decrease services.
A familiar story we hear all around the country on light-rail, commuter-rail, and really any other type of public transportation is the requirement to continue to raise fares.  It’s pretty basic economics that there exists a “tipping-point” for commuters – the price at which it no longer makes sense to take public transportation.  There really is no system in the country that is capable of profitably operating below this point – NY City may be the sole exception in the country but even that system is having issues.
Basically here is how the construction of a high-speed rail system would work:
-Millions of dollars spent on planning and endless environmental studies.
-Years of lawsuits from a variety of organizations.
-Millions in rail right-of-way acquisition costs.
-Billions (Trillions?) of dollars spent on actual construction.
-A few thousand temporary jobs created in the building phase.
-Years of delays getting the rail system fully ready to open.
-Millions of dollars of the usual government project cost overruns.
-The few thousand temporary workers get fired once the project is complete.
-After a few years maintenance and labor costs increase.
-Fares are raised to compensate for increased costs.
-Fewer riders due to increasing costs.
-Services cut to compensate for lack of revenue.
-Rail system falls further into the red, with snowballing costs, and continuously decreasing ridership.
-Taxpayer bailouts, more and more taxpayer funds needed to fill the budget gap.
Amtrak has been a money-pit for a long time.  With the exception of Joe Biden most people would rather drive their own cars than pay the high fares, endure the inconvenience, and deal with the frequent maintenance issues.  Any high-speed project by the government will turn into the same mess.  The entire concept of high-speed rail is just another example of throwing money at jobs and hoping something sticks.  If there really was any sort of demand for high-speed rail the private sector would be involved and there would not be a total reliance on government.

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