NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is The United States Turning A Corner On High-Speed Rail?

August 23, 2010

The Department of Transportation awarded $8 billion among 31 states to begin developing America's first nationwide high-speed intercity passenger rail service.   Soon, Americans might find themselves rocketing along ribbons of rails at 200 mph in sleek, painted passenger cars -- never stopping until they arrive at destinations awake and refreshed, says CNN. 

Despite funding and promises from the government, high-speed rail comes with its share of opponents, who say it is too expensive and will not save energy.  Some even question if it will ever be built. 

According to Ronald Utt, the Herbert and Joyce Morgan senior research fellow for the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation: 

  • Even in a strong economy, building high-speed rail makes little sense, offering minimal reductions in travel times at exorbitant costs.
  • For instance, a proposed $1.1 billion investment in the Kansas City-St. Louis-Chicago route would only allow customers to reach their destinations 10 percent faster than they could by driving between Chicago and St. Louis.
  • The $1.25 billion federal investment in a $3.2 billion project to build a high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa would reduce travel time between the two cities to less than one hour, compared to about 90 minutes by car.  

According to Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute: 

  • It is far more cost-effective to save energy by encouraging people to drive more fuel-efficient cars than to build and operate high-speed rail.
  • Moreover, in places that do generate electricity from renewable sources, it would be more cost-effective to use that electricity to power electric or plug-in hybrid cars than high-speed rail," O'Toole said.
  • A Department of Energy report adds that boosting train speeds to 110 mph will reduce the energy efficiency of the trains, making them less energy efficient than automobiles.  

A report from the United States Government Accountability Office also highlights potential issues with high-speed rail plans in the United States:

  • Passenger rail service, especially services at higher and higher speeds, will require new safety rules, constant public capital investment and operating subsidies.
  • It will also require a balance with freight rail service and the rest of the national transportation system.
  • Currently, only some of these elements are in place.  

Source: Katherine Dorsett, "Is the U.S. turning a corner on high-speed rail?"  CNN, August 18, 2010. 

For text: 


Browse more articles on Environment Issues