NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Slow Death for High-Speed Rail

December 10, 2010

Tea party victories in November likely signal the beginning of the end for President Obama's ambitious and expensive high-speed rail plans.  Republican governors-elect of both Ohio and Wisconsin have vowed to return federal high-speed rail funds that had been granted to those states.  The governor-elect of Florida is also a rail skeptic, and more and more obstacles are being thrown in front of California's rail plans, says Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

  • Although California voters approved $9 billion in bonds for the rail project, the approval was conditional on getting matching funds.
  • So far, the state has received only about $2 billion from the federal government, which means it only has about $4 billion to spend on construction -- less than 10 percent of the amount needed to build from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
  • Given the improbability of finding the other 90 percent, and the fact that Republicans in Congress hope to take back some of the money that has already been granted for high-speed rail, the California rail project seems all but dead.

The Ohio and Wisconsin projects aren't even worthy of being called high-speed rail, as Wisconsin's average speed was projected to be just 59 miles per hour (mph) and Ohio's an even more lethargic 38.5 mph.

  • Yet the Wisconsin project was going to cost nearly $1 billion, nearly all of which the feds agreed to fund, while Ohio's would be more than half a billion, about $400 million of which was initially funded by the feds.
  • Secretary of Immobility Transportation Ray LaHood vowed that these lines would be built no matter what the incoming governors said, then said that if they cancelled the projects he would just give the money to other states.

New transportation technologies are successful when they are faster, more convenient and less expensive than the technologies they replace.  High-speed rail is slower than flying, less convenient than driving and at least five times more expensive than either one.  It is only feasible with heavy taxpayer subsidies and even then it will only serve a tiny portion of the nation's population, says O'Toole.

Source: Randal O'Toole, "Slow Death for High-Speed Rail,", December 6, 2010.

For text:


Browse more articles on Government Issues