Higher Speed Rail
President Obama confirmed his commitment to fund a High Speed Rail (HSR) program in the US for fiscal 2010 using stimulus money. However, “[a]ccording to recent comments by the head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), little of these federal monies may go toward “real” HSR but instead appear likely to benefit some of the nation’s for-profit freight railroads to achieve modestly higher speeds for existing, half-full Amtrak trains running on their tracks. Given the extreme need for federal budget deficit reduction, these HSR programs — in whatever form — should be eliminated in the FY 2010 budget, and the T&I plan should be vetoed if it ever gets to the President’s desk.” [emphasis mine and throughout]
“Real” High-Speed Rail
In pushing for their agenda, Obama and Congress engender images of high speed bullet trains transporting “intercity passengers in spacious and comfortable rail cars traveling between cities at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour (mph). Unfortunately for these HSR proponents, such a service is unlikely to ever be available in the U.S. because of the extraordinary costs and because government’s so-called HSR initiatives seem unlikely to provide much support for such projects.”
Such systems are very expensive to build and also to operate, because they require new, dedicated rail lines built to specific tolerances and levels of durability. These levels exceed America’s existing roadbeds. And because of this need, the new rail lines would also require the acquisition of significant volumes of land to create the new, secure, right-of-way in which to build the new roadbed. Most tracks today are unable to withstand the speed and pressure of actual HSR and would require complete replacement in order to be functional. This is cost prohibitive. Thus the stimulus money should be used elsewhere.
Reflective of the inability of America’s roadbeds to handle such speeds, Amtrak’s Acela can hit speeds of 150 mph but only on a 35-mile stretch of the Northeast Corridor. Overall it averages just 80 mph between Washington, D.C., and New York City, largely because roadbed deficiencies and existing rail traffic congestion (due to multiple users) preclude such speeds on the rest of the Northeast Corridor.
Ersatz High-Speed Rail, or “Higher Speed Rail”
Therefore, in lieu of High Speed Rail and in light of roadbed and speed problems, freight vs. passenger issues and highway lines vs. third rails, we have really only higher speed rail on the table. But this would hardly lead to a difference of, say, even 40 miles an hour. So the point is moot. Thus the train hobbyists and environmentalists and all do-good Congressmen who want real HSR out there, yes, we’d all like that, but it’s not a reality in the USA without some major changes to the way we live and commute. It would also take huge changes to the way the government spends money on roads and other infrastructure, because they would necessarily need to be decreased in order to increase spending on rail costs (even if it is up the middle of highways).
The rub is that the railroads seem very accepting of all this with no chagrin either way. “Recent proposals to extend federal subsidies to the freight railroads stem from a 2007 report of a congressional commission that recommended that regular federal subsidies be provided to freight railroads. And as is apparent from statements by Obama’s pick to head the FRA, this seems to be the Administration’s intention.”
“In an interview in August, FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo indicated that some of the federal grants and much of the construction will be used to prepare freight lines for more and faster passenger trains. He further noted that while some fast passenger trains — in the range of 200 mph — will get their own dedicated rights of way, “in 90 percent of the cases or more, the host railroad will be the freight.”
Fiscal Waste on the Fast Track
“…Of the $8 billion in the stimulus bill promised to HSR, the head of President Obama’s rail initiative suggests that only a fraction of the money will be devoted to such purposes, the rest [to be] used mostly for improvements to freight railroads that indirectly benefit Amtrak’s existing trains. But regardless of which projects get the most money, neither is a productive use of taxpayer funds. Fiscal conservatives should use the FY 2010 budget to eliminate these costly and ineffective commitments.”
My thoughts exactly.
~ Get d”Clu
 Will Obama’s High-Speed Rail Plan Become a Subsidy for Freight Railroads? by Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D.
Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D., is Herbert and Joyce Morgan Senior Research Fellow in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
 Randal O’Toole, “High-Speed Rail: The Wrong Road for America,” Cato Institute, October 31, 2008.
 Wendell Cox and Joseph Vranich, “The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report,” Reason Foundation, September 1, 2008, at http://reason.org/news/show/the-california-high-speed-rail (September 30, 2009).
 National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, “Report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission: Transportation for Tomorrow,” December 2007, pp. 42-43, at http://transportationfortomorrow.org/final_report/ (September 30, 2009). See also Ronald D. Utt, “The Transportation Commission’s Proposed 200 Percent Gas Tax Increase: One of Several Bad Ideas in Its Report,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2103, January 30, 2008, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/SmartGrowth/upload/bg_2103.pdf.
 John D. Boyd, “Szabo Sees Passenger Grants Including Freight Needs,” Journal of Commerce, August 24, 2009.
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