from an expert in the field:
David Crane is a member of the California High-Speed Rail
Authority Board (
www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov) and special
adviser to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
JUNE DEBATE RESULTS:
Do timesaving devices
really save time?
TO THE SURPRISE of skeptics, California voters last year approved
billions of dollars for the nation’s first and only contemporary high-speed train operating on dedicated right of way—a 21st-century alternative for a transportation system originally designed for the 19th century.
President Obama has also embraced the need for this modern and
environmentally superior transportation alternative, putting up billions to help speed development of true high-speed train service in this country.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Americans are fed up with congestion, time wasted at the
wheel in commutes, the endurance test posed by our air travel system and tax dollars squandered on expansion of inefficient and worn-out modes of transportation. They want the transforming new option offered by travel on high-speed trains on dedicated rights of way safely
separated from other trains, vehicles and pedestrians, serving relaxed passengers as they read,
gaze, work and connect wirelessly with the rest of the world.
In California, construction will commence before 2011, with completion of the Los Angeles
to San Francisco backbone of the system through the Central Valley expected between 2018 and
2020. The economics and track records of high-speed trains are solid. They carry hundreds of
millions of passengers each year in 11 countries, including seven of the world’s top 10 economies.
High-speed trains are intended for city-to-city travel over moderate distances—the kinds of
distances that aren’t always well served or served at all by airlines today. They will use only one-third the energy of airplanes and one-fifth the energy of passenger automobiles and will improve
air quality and health. Development and construction across the country will employ millions.
In most areas, we can no longer build our way out of congestion. In California alone, high-speed trains will alleviate the need to build, at a cost of nearly $100 billion, about 3,000 miles
of new freeway plus five airport runways and 90 departure gates over the next two decades.
Our world is ready for a transportation system that meets today’s challenges. California
voters have demonstrated that Americans are ready to fast-forward to a completely new 21st-
century solution to modern transportation needs. C
Percentage reflects votes
received by June 15, 2009.
MAY DEBATE RESULTS:
from an expert in the field:
Should government regulate con-
sumer protection for air travel?
YES: 65% NO: 35%
Percentage reflects votes received by
May 31, 2009. Results may reflect
Debate being picked up by blogs.
Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute
www.cato.org) and author of High-Speed Rail: The Wrong
Road for America.
THE NETWORK RECENTLY proposed by the Federal Railroad
Administration will cost roughly $100 billion to build, according to
state-cost projections, and even more to operate, little of which will
ever be recovered by rail fares.
Even with subsidies, Amtrak will charge a stiff premium to ride
these trains. For example, it currently costs $99 to go from Washington to New York in two
hours and fifty minutes on Amtrak’s high-speed train, $49 to go in three hours and fifteen
minutes on its conventional train, and as little as $20 to go in four hours and fifteen minutes
on an unsubsidized bus with leather seats and free Wi-Fi.
That means high-speed rail riders are limited to people too wealthy to care about the
price plus people whose employers pay their way. Why should ordinary taxpayers subsidize
trains for wealthy bankers, bureaucrats and lobbyists?
Further, recognizing that true 150- to 200-mile-per-hour bullet trains would be prohibitively expensive, the administration instead proposes moderate-speed rail: passenger trains
running on existing freight lines at top speeds of 110 miles per hour, but average speeds of
only 65 to 75 mph.
Even true high-speed rail fails to attract many auto drivers. While French and Japanese
high-speed trains are attractive to tourists, the average ridership for each resident of France
and Japan is less than 400 miles a year.
Nor is moderate-speed rail good for the environment, being powered by diesel locomotives that use about as much energy and emit about as much pollution and greenhouse
gases, per passenger mile, as automobiles and airplanes. For this reason, Florida’s official
analysis of high-speed rail concluded that “the environmentally preferred alternative is
the No Build Alternative.”
Historically, America has built transportation systems that everyone uses and that pay
for themselves out of user fees. High-speed rail will require huge subsidies and serve only a
tiny elite. That’s not the kind of change we should support. C
Opinions expressed are those of the
individuals or organizations represented
and are presented to foster discussion.
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