President Obama wants $53 billion for high-speed rail. The objective is to stimulate job creation while addressing much-needed improvements in transportation infrastructure.
We can all argue about the long-term economic benefits vs the cost until the cows come home (or stray on to the train tracks). Let’s talk about the concept itself.
Why do we need high-speed rail?
As an alternative, why don’t we improve commuter rail instead? That’s where we can get more value for the money.
Passenger volume on systems such as Metrolink and the Amtrak Surfliner route would increase with smoother, faster and more reliable service.
Improving existing regional service is within our grasp without new technology. It’s a matter of real estate – acquiring dedicated right-of-way for passenger trains on tracks not battered from heavy freight consists and free of delays (freight gets priority over passenger service).
Please read my previous article on this subject.
High-speed rail would have to compete with the airlines in almost every market. The only exception is in the crowded Northeast Corridor that is already served by Amtrak’s Acela.
It makes sense there with five major metropolitan areas within 450 miles of each other. High speed rail is a viable alternative to flying and driving, especially the latter – ever been stuck in the backup caused by the Delaware Memorial Bridge toll plazas? That’s a pet peeve of mine I’d like to talk to my Congressman about, but I digress.
No other region in the United States can match the density of the Northeast. High speed rail makes sense where several major population centers are served. It does not make sense where large cities are widely spaced. There is very little need to take a train from Los Angeles to Bakersfield; it is practical to ride the rails between DC, Philadelphia or New York, or all three on the same trip.
I’m concerned that high-speed rail has become the equivalent of the shiny Lionel train set under the Christmas tree. It looks nice and it is exciting to watch speeding around the living room floor, but it doesn’t really get you anywhere.