NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States Are Setting Their Sights On High Speed Trains

December 5, 2000

From New York to California, state transportation departments are investigating the potential of high-speed passenger trains to relieve congestion on highways and at airports. Since the systems they envision would be enormously expensive, officials are placing their hopes on federal funding in the form of direct grants similar to those now provided for highways, airports and transit systems.

  • A consortium of nine states in the Midwest has mapped out a $5 billion hub-and-spoke network extending from Chicago to cities such as Detroit, St. Louis and Madison, Wisconsin.
  • Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia have started improving tracks, signals and stations for a proposed Southeast Corridor line, to be operating in three to five years.
  • Oregon and Washington already operate sleek new trains between Portland and Seattle -- but officials recognize they will need $1 billion to build new tracks and eliminate bottlenecks to increase speeds above the current lazy pace of 79 m.p.h.
  • Although Florida voters amended their constitution last month to require a high-speed train system to link the state's five largest urban areas, state officials are awaiting guidance and funds from the legislature before they launch the project.

Critics call California's plan to build a $25 billion, 200-mph network a pipedream.

In many cases, funding is the major hurdle. But even if that is overcome, the question remains: if they build it, will the passengers come?

Source: Daniel Machalaba, "High-Speed Trains. All Aboard?" Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2000.


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