The USA Today editorial board makes its case for high-speed rail investments in select locations. And Reason Foundation's Robert Poole offers the opposing view that the U.S. has few, if any, places where the economics of high-speed rail will actually make sense. Poole writes:
Experts agree that the most successful rail corridors in Europe and Japan are those linking major cities 100 miles to 400 miles apart. What many studies neglect to mention, however, is that those cities are highly concentrated, with major fractions of their jobs in a traditional "central business district," unlike the large majority of decentralized U.S. metro areas. So most people there do want to go downtown-to-downtown, whereas most Americans need to travel suburb-to-suburb..
Countries such as France, Italy, Spain and Japan are also more attractive for high-speed rail because the cost of driving there is so much higher. Not only are gas taxes three to five times higher, but most of their intercity highways are toll roads. In addition, America has the world's most competitive airline markets, so our cost of flying is also lower.
Measured against international criteria, only a handful of U.S. corridors — Boston-NYC-Washington and maybe Los Angeles-San Francisco — are potentially good candidates for high-speed rail. But even here we must question the value proposition.
Amtrak estimates it would cost $117 billion to build true high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor. Yet its own numbers show an annual operating loss of more than $350 per passenger if annualized capital costs are included.
The California project is now estimated to cost $66 billion — about twice what Warren Buffett paid for the (profitable) Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. Reviews of projected ridership in California suggest the project would not even cover its operating costs, let alone the enormous construction cost.