Barack Obama just announced his plan to spend $13 billion to build a vast high speed rail network across the nation. The stimulus will provide $8 billion initially, after that it will require $1 billion each year for the next five years.
“There are those who say high-speed rail is a fantasy — but its success around the world says otherwise,” Obama said today. “Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system, and everybody stands to benefit.” Above is the map of how the Department Of Transportation wants the rails to sprawl across the nation.
Developing a high speed rail system falls right in line with two major priorities for the administration. It provides “jobs that can’t be exported” and it cuts back on the import of oil as well as greenhouse gasses.
Certainly rail advocates (and train-riders) are excited about this development, but it really just presents a ton of questions.
For example, why does the administration insist upon high speed rail, as opposed to just standard commuter railways? High speed is obviously very cool, and fun to say, but it’s not like the government is telling GM to build a bunch of cars like the Tesla Roadster. It’s saying it wants cars more like the Prius. Repairing the suffering commuter rails might provider greater benefit to riders over building a massive high speed network.
The current rail business is terrible, so how will this change? If we want to go from New York to Philadelphia we could spend $20 for a round trip ticket on a Chinatown bus or spend $129 to make the same trip on the Amtrak Acela, or on regular speed trains at $64. Even at those high prices, Amtrak’s not profitable.
Perhaps the administration will learn from the French who have a profitable rail system. Even the monstrosity known as the Eurotunnel that connects London and Paris makes a profit now, so we suppose anything’s possible.
We’re looking forward to zipping around the nation in a fast rail system. We’re just wary of a poorly run money pit being introduced on life support.