NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

High-Speed-Train Wreck

November 17, 2010

The Obama administration and high-speed rail proponents have been pushing hard for a revamped passenger rail network.  On October 28, the Department of Transportation gave out $2.4 billion in grants to high-speed rail projects.  This is on top of the $8 billion that was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the "stimulus" package.  But in all of their cheerleading, high-speed passenger rail proponents never mention what is perhaps the most damning fact about these projects, say Iain Murray, vice president for strategy, and Marc Scribner, land use and transportation policy analyst, with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

  • Most are not even considered high-speed by international standards.
  • In Western Europe, for instance, high-speed rail lines must reach a minimum of 125 miles per hour (mph) on upgraded track and 160 mph for new track.
  • China has trains that can reach speeds in excess of 260 mph for limited stretches.
  • In contrast, only three of the United States' eight new high-speed rail corridors that received funding will feature trains capable of reaching speeds in excess of 110 mph.

Embarrassingly, passenger trains in the 1940s regularly met or exceeded these speeds.  Only California's proposed high-speed rail corridor would resemble anything close to a "modern" European or Asian passenger rail line, say Murray and Scribner.

No one can predict what the transportation needs and preferences of future Americans will be.  Thankfully, it is never too late for the Department of Transportation to finally abandon its long-standing commitment to central planning.

Source: Iain Murray and Marc Scribner, "High-Speed-Train Wreck," Competitive Enterprise Institute, November 14, 2010.

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