Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The obsession with high-speed rail

I don't understand it. I don't know why so many politicians are obsessed with putting high-speed rail across the United States.

I do believe it makes sense, including economically, in some areas of the country (like the East Coast or California). But it certainly doesn't make sense for Ohio, as I explained in this post:

In Ohio, we're having the on-going discussion about so-called high-speed rail.

I write 'so-called' because the latest proposal to spend $400 million in federal stimulus dollars would give us a system that connects only three of Ohio's major cities; costs more than $400 million to build; won't be 'high' speed as it is projected to be slower than actually driving; and, worst of all, will require Ohio taxpayers to subsidize it to the tune of $17 million a year! Oh - and that $17 million of taxpayer funds it will need is only if the rail system actually meets its ridership projections. And that's the supporters' own projection of costs!

Incoming Governor John Kasich is opposed to the plan and wants to use the $400 million for other transportation purposes. But the federal government is threatening to 'give' the money to another state if we don't do what they want us to do with it.

But in last night's State of the Union address (prepared remarks), President Barack Obama again pushed the idea:

"Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. (Applause.) This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down. (Laughter and applause.) As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway."

So we'll have 'access' ... but that does NOT ensure usage. In fact, people who already have access to rail do not use it for any number of reasons including schedules and price.

And at what cost? Well, in Ohio we know that the 'privilege' of access will cost taxpayers $17 million a year - on top of what the system itself is supposed to generate. That's a price that's too high.

But liberals just love this idea. In fact, our local paper still supports the idea for Ohio, conveniently ignoring the facts as well as the costs of the proposal.

Why - in spite of studies and data on rail projects which show such projects are boondoggles at best:

Over the past four decades, American cities have spent close to $100 billion constructing rail transit systems, and many billions more operating those systems. The agencies that spend taxpayer dollars building these lines almost invariably call them successful even when they go an average of 40% over budget and, in many cases, carry an insignificant number of riders. In a new study, Cato scholar Randal O'Toole uses the latest government data on scores of rail transit systems to evaluate the systems' value and usefulness to the public.

When you have individuals pushing an idea that we know cannot be self-sufficient, doesn't meet the projections for usage and requires billions of dollars over and above revenue to operate, a reasonable deduction is that they have an obsession with the idea.

Logic and reason are not being considered because, if they were, these people wouldn't be jamming the projects down our throats.

In spite of facts, figures, data, financial estimates, rider estimates, objections from states and individuals, they keep pushing the idea. One can only conclude that there must be ulterior motives we do not yet know. How else to explain the efforts of the President and many in Washington to insist on massive amounts of spending for high-speed rail? Especially when we're clearly broke?

Is it that they think they know better than we do? Is this part of the long-term effort to eliminate our reliance on oil? Is this a way to make us more dependent on government and government-run transportation? Do they just like it and are using the power of their offices on a personal preference?

I don't know - but I do know that if they succeed, it will cause us more harm than good.

I hope the governors will say no to the federal greenmail and that the new makeup in the House of Representatives says no to this unnecessary spending.


Mad Jack said...

Consider why the railroad was built in the first place, why it thrived and why it no longer thrives. Rhetorically, people on one side of the United States had goods and services that were in demand on the other side, and that demand was not a passing fad. Westward ho, and all that.

One question I haven't seen asked and answered is: How many people travel the route to be serviced by high speed rail right now, and how many would like to travel and cannot because of the hardship involved? Truly, it's an arduous journey between the three Ohio cities.

Alright, that's two questions. So sue me.

I don't react well to coercion, which includes greenmail. I suspect that plans have been made in DC for that $400 million, and those plans do not consider the welfare (bad choice of words) of the taxpaying citizens of Ohio. I'm also reminded that if you'd like to control you population, controlling movement is a big deal. For instance, deny public transportation service to an area see what happens. Just a thought.

When I lived in Wisconsin, the government was considering high speed rail between Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, which would include service to outlying areas. The last word was that while high speed rail was a good idea, it wasn't financially feasible.

Roman said...

One of the many problems of our lawmakers is not being a carful steward of our scarce tax dollars. They seem to think the "tax tree" can be shaken at any time and money falls for them to spend. One reason they believe this is that no matter what they do, we seem to re-elect them.

Amtrack has been a money looser since inception, but we keep up the subsidy. A high speed rail system would lose money at a higher rate.

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