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Monday, August 24, 2009

A Rail Boondoggle, Moving at High Speed

In the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson writes about the President's obsession with trains; an obessession which could cost taxpayers billions.
The Obama administration's enthusiasm for high-speed rail is a dispiriting example of government's inability to learn from past mistakes. Since 1971, the federal government has poured almost $35 billion in subsidies into Amtrak with few public benefits. At most, we've gotten negligible reductions -- invisible and statistically insignificant -- in congestion, oil use or greenhouse gases. What's mainly being provided is subsidized transportation for a small sliver of the population. In a country where 140 million people go to work every day, Amtrak has 78,000 daily passengers. A typical trip is subsidized by about $50...

The mythology of high-speed rail is not just misinformed; it's antisocial. Governments at all levels are already overburdened. Compounding the burdens with new wasteful subsidies would squeeze spending for more vital needs -- schools, police and (ironically) mass transit. High-speed rail could divert funds from mass-transit systems that, according to a study by Randal O'Toole of the Cato Institute, have huge maintenance backlogs: $16 billion in Chicago; $17 billion in New York; $12.2 billion in Washington; $5.8 billion in San Francisco. Any high-speed rail system should be financed locally; states should decide their transportation priorities.
In New Hampshire, state bureaucrats are pushing to get as much high-speed rail money as possible, thinking that thousands of Granite Staters will take the train from Concord to Nashua and Boston every morning and evening. Building this boondoggle would put New Hampshire taxpayers on the hook for millions in annual subsidies, meaning we would be responsible for paying a huge price for our neighbor's commute.

1 comment:

  1. When left to the free market, rail magnates build SUVs instead.

    I'm sympathetic to the idea of the states not getting burdened by billions for these rail lines.

    PS: "Anti-social"? Bizarre wording for the writer to use. Trains are UBER-social, in that they create interstate travel and trade. But whatever. Government all bad, free market all good. No more road projects, no rail projects, etc. I get it.

    We'll see how this logic works when gas is $6/gallon and commerce grinds to a halt and crashes the economy, like it did last year.