Reason.tv: 3 Reasons Obama's High-Speed Rail Will Go Nowhere Fast

Supertrain 2010 = Supertrain 1979!

President Barack Obama has pledged $8 billion in tax dollars to build a national network of high-speed rail—trains that can carry passengers at speeds in excess of 150 MPH. 

But the Supertrain fantasy was a mistake back in the 1970s, when it gave rise to one of the most expensive—and rotten—TV shows in history. And it's just as much of a wreck in the 21st century for at least three reasons:

1. The lowball costs. CNN estimates that delivering on the plan could cost well over $500 billion and take decades to build, all while failing to cover much of the country at all. Internationally, only two high-speed rail lines have recouped their capital costs and all depend on huge subsidies to stay in operation.

2. The supposed benefits. "We're gonna be taking cars off of congested highways and reducing carbon emissions," says Vice President Joe Biden, an ardent rail booster. But most traffic jams are urban, not inter-city, so high-speed rail between metro areas will have no effect on your daily commute. And when construction costs are factored in, high-speed rail "may yield only marginal net greenhouse gas reductions," say UC-Berkeley researchers.

3. The delusional Amtrak example. Obama and Biden look to Amtrak as precedent, but since its founding in 1971, the nation's passenger rail system has sucked up almost $35 billion in subsidies and, says The Washington Post's Robert J. Samuelson, "a typical trip is subsidized by about $50." About 140 million Americans shlep to work every day, while Amtrak carries just 78,000 passengers. There's no reason to think that high-speed rail will pump up those numbers, though there's every reason to believe its costs will grow and grow.

"Supertrain 2010" was written and produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie, who also hosts. Approximately 3 minutes.

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  • ||

    This has nothing to do with substance, but if you're a fan of hardbitten crime novels, you will be floored to see who one of the creators of Supertrain was:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078697/

    Though it does bring up the charming notion of Parker robbing the Supertrain.

  • ||

    One of the main reasons people avoid Amtrak is because, for long distance travel, it's not much faster than driving. This is partially due to the ineptness of its employees, but more due to the fact that Amtrak doesn't own the rails it uses, and comes slightly below hobos on a flatcar on the right-of-way precedence set by the owners.

    But if HSR could reliably cut the travel time from, say, New York to Chicago to 5 hours, without the hassles and expense of flying, I think your customer base would expand significantly.

  • airy||

    "without the hassles and expense of flying, I think your customer base would expand significantly."

    Because the gov't always reduces hassles and expense.

  • Terry||

    Have you driven on an Interstate highway? Funded by the federal government.

  • dave||

    I would have no problem with using some High Speed rail to travel around from city to city if they would really make it a business friendly means of travel.

    For instance cars that have mini cubicles or offices for someone to work at with Internet access and plugs to charge your laptop and such. Provide a first rate service for food and drinks.

    That is something people would pay for I think.

    Keep the government out of it and come up with unique ideas to cater to people who are looking for more than just a people mover. Then they may actually be profitable without all the damn subsidy.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Amtrak has business class cars with meeting rooms by reservation in the northeast. The northeast route from Boston to Washington is the most easily profitable if it were privatized and deregulated.

  • Brett Knoss||

    If they charge prices relavite to hotels it could be. I see no problem with tains as an expensive way for the rich to travel when they pay the high price. The problem is subisdization and the promotion of trains as a practical solution for passenger transit. passenger rail has not been profitable since Greyhound Bus Lines started opperations in 1929.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Not quite true- the private freight railroads were still running a few profitable long distance passenger services until the 1960's, and even after Amtrak was created in the 1970's there were some railroads that did not turn passenger operations over to Amtrak. The problem was that the Interstate Commerce Commission was forcing the railroads to continue to operate unprofitable passenger and freight services at the expense of profitable ones.

  • ||

    I won't get on a commercial flight due to tsa and you know those bastards will horn in on trains too, see you on the highway.

  • Medic001||

    Driving is still faster. From Seattle to San Diego it's 36 hours. If I drove I'd be there in 24-26.

    However, I LOVE the train. I use it to write relax, and take a break.
    Just don't eat their pizza.

    I always pack out my own grub.

  • MNG||

    No Simpson's Monorail jokes yet? WTF you lazy, uncultured bastards...

  • North Haverbrook Resident||

    We don't like to discuss that topic around here.

  • Ogdenville Resident||

    Yeah, you're being very insensitive.

  • Brockway Resident||

    That's not a joke.
    My mom died in that infernal contraption.

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...most traffic jams are urban, not inter-city, so high-speed rail between metro areas will have no effect on your daily commute.

    That's not necessarily true. If the trains go through city centers, they might increase congestion.

  • movie or not into city||

    I guess the commuters catch The Magic Carpet (1951) when they leave the Big Train" (1998) and head to The Final Destination is a (2009)

  • ||

    I doubt they're going to build the HSR with street level crossings. Though the History Channel would probably support it so they could produce another "America's Deadliest Train Accidents" special.

  • BakedPenguin||

    You're right, but that doesn't provide for good sarcasm.

  • ||

    How could HSR possibly reduce expense? You don't need billions of dollars in infrastructure or right-of-way in between points if you're flying.

  • ||

    Um, I'm pretty sure airports are expensive.

    I'm ready to believe that cars and air travel are subsidized in many ways and it's unfair to blame trains as being uniquely govt-needy. I think the real problem, even in the half of the country where trains could be competitive in terms of time between cities, is that trains are far more inflexible in terms of routing and scheduling. Air travel can respond to demand, but name me a hot vacation destination that a train can get to. It's not like someone was going to suddenly build a rail line to Padre Island or Steamboat Springs the moment it took off as a spring break destination.

  • ||

    This concern is why, during my brief fits of caring about transportation efficiency, I'm more of a bus proponent. Still not sure how buses got such a bad rep in liberal circles compared to trains -- the damage Greyhound has done to the rep of intercity buses, while significant, should pale in comparison to Amtrak's foibles.

  • ||

    Then Obama needs to spend federal cash on something like this.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Perhaps without the excessively overbuilt highway system (fuck you Eisenhower), and over regulation of the railroad industry (separation mandates, technology mandates, government not letting railroads abandon unprofitable services), privately operated passenger service on shorter distance intercity routes might be more viable these days.

    ~300 mile services is where Amtrak actually makes some sense, in my opinion. I don't mind it, as long as the government is subsidizing any kind of transportation infrastructure.

  • Brett Knoss||

    The Interstate highways were paid off with gas tax. In fact until inflation and fuel efficient cars appeared in the 1970's we were able to build enough highways with gas tax.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    "The Interstate highways were paid off with gas tax."

    Bull fucking shit. Tell me the proper continuing maintenance of interstate and intrastate highways are still being paid off solely with gasoline tax and tolls.

  • ||

    I'd take HSR if I could. Either fly or drive to a big enough city and you really can't drive around that much anyway.

    Considering that the next secutiry measure for air travel will probably be a thorough rape of you and your wife and having to watch your kids get beat to a bloody pulp for having "plastic explosive" gum, HSR sounds better and better all the time.

  • ||

    Having spent an hour in a train stuck in the Buffalo station while ICE agents came through and checked everyone's papers (which they putatively have the authority to do within 100 miles of an international border), I can assure you rail is headed that way too.

  • ||

    SugarFree, what on earth makes you think that TSA won't expand its brief to cover the new high-speed rail. Just one nutter setting his shoe-laces on fire is all it would take.

  • ||

    Of course I'd think they'd fuck it up too, but the concept is not totally unsound. Unlike, say, ruining health care for the vast majority of Americans or turning millions of acres into near useless windfarms to shut Chad-tards up.

    But since the TSA is never going to let up on air travel, at least HSR might be somewhat useful until someone asshole figures out how to fly a train into a building.

  • Brett||

    A bomber on a train? No one would smuggle a bomb onto a train, just blowup the track on a curve and the train will go hurling off the track, or you could pile rubble on the track. A man commiteed suicide by parking on a railroad crossing and it resulted in bad wreck.

    You can't just secure the train you have to secure the miles of track.

  • ||

    I like the idea that they're going to rape you and your wife.

    Serially? Parallel? In tandem? Who the fuck knows?

  • ||

    It all depends on staffing at the particular TSA security check point.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Amtrak has relatively low key security in most cases. There hardly any cops to be found, except at major terminals. Just walk a wide radius around the occasional dog, if you're worried. Unlike Greyhound, who forced me to ditch a knife because they were shaking down people before boarding. Assholes.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Honestly, who goes on Greyhound unprepared to defend themselves? Its almost like being on some Star Wars transportation system, sitting next to someone who has a life sentence in twelve systems. And that freak in Alberta.

    I hope at least some kid found my knife in the shrubs, so its not going to waste.

  • Sam Grove||

    And there won't be security procedures on HSR?

  • ||

    "President Barack Obama has pledged $8 billion in tax dollars to build a national network of high-speed rail—trains that can carry passengers at speeds in excess of 150 MPH. "

    It's going to cost 1.5 billion to extend the DC metro 10-15 miles from Falls Church to Dulles, but Obama can build a nationwide network of awesome bullet trains for 8 billion. F'n awesome.

  • Mike||

    Don't you know Obama has a magic wand! He can do anything regardless of economic reality.

  • Sir Galahad||

    How about a plug for Randal O'Toole's Gridlock (published by Cato) that exposes just how big of a boondongle transportation policy in this country is and how much it really costs the tax payers.

  • ||

    R.O. exposed nothing. He has no conception of

    . External Costs
    . The Subsidies for Roads, Cars, Trucks
    . The Govt restrictions on Rrail
    . The fact that Rail is three times as
    economic as road per ton of freight
    and passengers carried
    . Chinese aviation cos are now
    complaining they are losing
    passengers to Fast Rail
    . One six car passenger train removes
    5 miles of cars from the roads

    Etc

    Brian Buckley
    The Policy Centre
    buckleyb29@hotmail.com

  • ||

    Terrible report. Lots of hype -- few hard facts.

    Move on.....

  • TP||

    I suppose a case could be made if it accommodated a large number of daily business commuters. I don't see that in this case. In South Jersey, there are two examples which come to mind. The River Rail (light rail), and the Gambler's Express (standard rail). The gambler's express was designed to get people from Philly to the AC casinos for pleasure (not that I would consider going to AC a pleasure). It has failed miserably, even with heavy state subsidies. But they still run it. Why? Well, I'm sure the AC casinos have something to do with that.

    The other, the River Rail, travels from Trenton to Camden. There's a transfer in Camden for the PATCO High Speedline that goes into Philly. It is used primarily by people trying to get to work. They can't run enough trains. In the first year of operation they had to double the number of trips to every 15 min during peak to handle the demand. In, fact in 2008 it has reached capacity again at 9,000 riders/day. The "pleasure travelers" to the Camden Waterfront have done "0" for the rail, and all late evening trips have been canceled. Does it make money? Not sure. I'm sure there are some subsidies due to the fact that it handles a lot of lower income people.

    I don't see this proposed HSR as being anything more than "keeping up with the Europeans". It is a waste, and will ultimately fail.

  • e||

    Don't forget "keeping up with the Chinese and Japanese". Who also tried to build high speed rail, and failed. And by "failed", I mean succeeded.

  • ||

    Chinese airlines are now complaining that they are losing passengers to High speed Rail. One advantage is delivery into city centres.

    Another is they don't frisk nuns, six year old girls, and great aunts on rail services.

    Brian Buckley
    The Policy Centre
    buckleyb29@hotmail.com

  • ||

    I cant help but wonder if Obama will ever realize that he ones who actually make the decisions have all been bought and paid for?

    Jess
    www.anonymous-web.es.tc

  • ||

    The idea that a post is even needed to explain what a bad idea this is shows that we are in a lot of trouble. There is absolutely no justification for HSR other then getting some unions some jobs.

  • Almanian||

    "But it works so well in Europe."

    They're talking about "light rail" on the Woodward corridor in Detroit. I will "spur economic development."

    Hahahahahahahahaha!! Sure it will! That's fu...wait, you want MY tax money for that? WTF?

    Passengers trains are neato to look at, from, like, 1880 and the 1920's. Today - use 'em to move stuff, not people. They're great for moving stuff. They SUCK for moving people - use busses and planes for that. Much more flexible and cost effective.

  • Almanian||

    I know I'm kidding myself and they're not listening, but I'm an optimist...

  • Brett Knoss||

    Didn't Detraiot have a monorail in the 80's?

  • Brockway Resident||

    It's "Delta City" now.

  • ||

    Detroit's early sustainable growth was built on an efficient and extensive street car system. Then we moved to disposable cars, which became disposable neighborhoods, which became disposable cities and suburbs. The M-1 line would connect downtown to where the commuter rail would come. The commuter rail would go to the airport. That makes a lot more sense than adding another lane to 94.

    The People Mover is Detroit's equivalent to Chicago's loop. We just couldn't get it together to build the el that would've fed it.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    The freight railroads are private property. Government subsidized high speed rail won't work without what amounts to a forcible takeover of parts of the private freight network- at the expense of the highest volume mainlines. Passenger and freight trains don't mix very well, without both of them making significant tradeoffs. And freight is far more productive than passenger service.

  • Railroader||

    You are right on the money here. None of that $8 billion is slated to develop the tracks that these trains would be running on. Essentially the administration is just assuming that they can monopolize some of the most lucrative stretches of freight railroad tracks in the country.

    Of course Amtrack does this today, and pays the freight RR's who own and maintain that track a healthy price for the privilege.

  • creech||

    Outside the NE corridor, the average Amtrak train carries about 3 or 4 buses worth of people. Yet each Amtrak train represents one less freight train that can be run. Each freight equals about 200 tractor trailer loads. So we add four buses to the interstate highway system and subtract about 200 trucks every time we drop a passenger train and add a freight train. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

  • ||

    So we can either force freight into a less efficient system, or build a parallel high-speed train network.

    And this is being sold as eco-friendly?

  • ||

    About 140 million Americans shlep to work every day, while Amtrak carries just 78,000 passengers. There's no reason to think that high-speed rail will pump up those numbers, though there's every reason to believe its costs will grow and grow.


    What about all those workers who live in Chicago and work in St Louis, regularly clogging up I-55 at the Springfield bottleneck? High speed rail would remove two cars an hour from that route. Respond to that one, smart guy.

  • ||

    I'm amazed that the Amtrak number is so low. There must be far more people who walk or ride bikes to work. Heck, there must be more people who ride electric scooters and Segways to work than take Amtrak.

  • Brett Knoss||

    Notice the word bottleneck. If I-55 is only clogged around springfeild that means more road only needs to be built around Springfield. Widen 1-55 of build a bypass seperating people travelling in the city from those traveling though the city.

  • Slut Bunwalla||

    speeds in excess of 150 MPH.

    That's...not really all that fast. I mean, passenger planes go, like, 500 miles an hour. Hell, NASCAR drivers routinely go faster than 150 mph.

  • ||

    You don't need billions of dollars in infrastructure or right-of-way in between points if you're flying.

    And you can re-route airplanes to more profitable routes with little or no difficulty.

  • ||

    Still not sure how buses got such a bad rep in liberal circles compared to trains --

    If only Nick and Nora had traveled from San Francisco to New York by luxury bus, the whole transportation landscape would be different.

  • ||

    There has been talk about building High speed rail in both areas I have lived in the past couple of years to connect to the Chicago and Boston suburbs. This is connect the cheaper cost of living areas of rual Northern Illinois and Southern New Hampshire for daily commuters. In the most part a big waste of money when bus services already exist for this purpose.

  • Brett Knoss||

    Cessna currently has a plane that can go 500 km/hr it costs half a million dollars but if the costs could be brought down with new composite tequnies that could be the futre of personal transit. The key is GPS it can be used by the average person for navigation and even take off and landings in IFR conditions.

  • HeadTater||

    But the choo-choo is so cool looking! And Europe has 'em. Asia has 'em (well Japan). We need one as well.

  • e||

    well Japan Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Turkey

    fixed that for you.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H....._by_region

  • Medic001||

    Monorail...monorail...monorail...whats that...monorail...

  • ||

    You seemed reasoned until you said we need to build more highways. We should be scaling back our highways to Canada-style two lanes and increasing our rail capacity. Anything above three is just asking for idiots to clog up traffic.

  • ||

    Wrong Way, Go Back. This is Road
    Socialism territory.

    . Rail freight is three times more economic than road freight

    . One six carriage passenger train
    takes 5 miles of commuter cars
    off the roads, thus reducing the high
    costs of congestion

    . Road freight is also heavily
    subsidised

    . Road injuries, the illnesses and deaths from gas and particle pollution,
    cost hundreds of billions $ a year. Train deaths and injuries are miniscule per mile covered.

    . Have a look at China: Building fast rail links between than 80 major cities; and Metros under those cities.

    Rail is simply more economic that road
    and occupies a fraction of the land
    space.

    Brian Buckley
    The Policy Centre
    buckleyb29@hotmail.com

  • Bob H||

    "One six carriage passenger train
    takes 5 miles of commuter cars
    off the roads"
    Only if 6 carriage loads of people are willing to actually ride them. Mostly, people don't. Trains, even commuter light rail like DC's Metro system don't go to most places directly, nor are the terminals commonly located within 5-10 minutes walk of most homes. Switching from bus (or cab for the well off) to trains is time consuming and annoying. No thank you.

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  • ||

    The delusional Amtrak example....another money pitt. That's for sure, this is just another FDR style government program to syphon more money off the middle class folks and keep them down. The more money O can draw away from the people, the closer he will have us to serfdom and him being king. liberal arts colleges

  • ||

    $8 billion will get the ball rolling. Of course it will be up to the states to fund the rest of the trillion dollar project.
    Another PR move by the floppy eared poser.
    Why can't we just fly? WoW Game Card

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    The article is very interesting, but some issues still remained less affected. I hope that a future article and will reveal things behind the scenes, things that show us the true face of this.vanzari auto

  • sathi2000||

    Why is it OK to spend billions on public roads and airports but not on a better system of transport??? You would think with all the bailouts that the airlines get, they could make money instead of always losing money. They don't build the airports and they don't man the traffic control towers either. How much profit has been made by our road system. Oh, I forgot, the government builds and maintains ALL of the roads. How can trains compete against massive subsidies given to roads and airlines?
    http://destinationsoftwareinc.com

  • Wow...||

    We can't subsidize transportation infrastructure now! High Speed rail needs to make money without government subsidization, like the interstate highwa.....oh wait. Or the airline indus....oh wait.

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