HIGH-SPEED RAIL BURNS MONEY FAST

February 17, 2010

President Obama recently announced there would be $1.2 billion in government funding for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, part of $8 billion in federal money being doled out for various passenger rail projects around the country.  He said such projects could be an "economic engine."  Unfortunately, nowhere in the world does high-speed rail make a profit, says the Heartland Institute. 

For example: 

  • The director of high-speed rail at the International Union of Railways in Paris last year told the New York Times only two high-speed rail lines -- in France and Japan -- manage to break even.
  • Transportation expert Wendell Cox noted that rail promoters have never produced financial statements prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting standards to show any high-speed rail systems are profitable.
  • Invariably, he says, services are provided by government-owned railways or other large companies that do not report fully allocated costs and revenues for high-speed rail. 

High-speed rail performs best in densely populated corridors, which the Tampa to Orlando run is not, says Heartland: 

  • That line would cover 84 miles of track, with train speeds topping out at 168 mph.
  • But the trip by car takes only 90 minutes.
  • Under the rosy forecasts of the high-speed line backers, the train trip would save barely 30 minutes.
  • And once at the train station, most travelers would still need other transportation to their final destination.  

How many people are likely to give up the convenience of their car for that, asks Heartland? 

Draining billions of dollars from private businesses and individuals to subsidize projects that almost never come close to paying for themselves and will have little impact on the nation's transportation system will not speed the engine of economic growth.  It will help grind the engine to a halt, says Heartland. 

Source: Steve Stanek, "High-Speed Rail Burns Money Fast," The Heartland Institute, February 3, 2010. 

 

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