NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 18, 2004

Raleigh-Durham's proposed light-rail system transporting urban commuters and a European-style "bullet train" speeding between cities at more than 100 mph stand to use huge amounts of taxpayer money, says the John Locke Foundation's Carolina Journal.

  • A study released in June by the Reason Foundation said that not one of about two dozen light-rail systems in the nation makes money.
  • Their costs per passenger mile are several times that of highways and they carry a minuscule portion of the commuter traffic in their communities, usually between 1 percent and 2 percent.

Researcher Ted Balaker also reported that astronomical cost overruns are the norm. The planned rail system in Raleigh-Durham was originally projected at $250 million; now it has metastasized into an $850 million growth on the landscape, the first leg of which is expected to open in late 2007.

The federal government has designated five areas in the United States for high-speed rail, i.e., bullet trains, with a planned project from Washington, D.C., to Jacksonville, Florida, via Richmond and Raleigh. Yet, most American cities, including those in North Carolina, would be ill-adapted to support bullet trains, says the Journal:

  • The three major metropolitan areas in North Carolina have less than 2,000 people per square mile, far less density than cities in Europe and hardly enough to support high-speed rail usage.
  • An earlier study determined that Los Angeles and San Francisco, with even greater densities than North Carolina, were not populated enough to support high-speed rail.

Florida voters have caught on to the cost and unfeasibility of a high-speed rail project in their state. They recently passed Amendment 6, which repeals a previous 2000 Amendment requiring high-speed rail service between at least five cities.

Source: Rob Fliss, "Bullet Trains Would Bleed Taxpayers Dry," Carolina Journal, October 2004, John Locke Foundation.

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