Monday, February 14, 2011

Hell Of A Way To Run A Railroad

Robert Samuelson absolutely demolishes the alleged case for "high speed rail" today. Here's a sample, but read the whole thing:

Rail buffs argue that subsidies for passenger service simply offset the huge government support of highways and airways. The subsidies "level the playing field." Wrong. In 2004, the Department of Transportation evaluated federal transportation subsidies for the period 1990-2002. It found passenger rail service had the highest subsidy ($186.35 per thousand passenger-miles) followed by mass transit ($118.26 per thousand miles). By contrast, drivers received no net subsidy; their fuel taxes more than covered federal spending. Subsidies for airline passengers were about $5 per thousand miles traveled. (All figures are in inflation-adjusted year 2000 dollars.)


Governing ought to be about making wise choices. What's disheartening about the Obama administration's embrace of high-speed rail is that it ignores history, evidence and logic. The case against it is overwhelming. The case in favor rests on fashionable platitudes. High-speed rail is not an "investment in the future"; it's mostly a waste of money. Good government can't solve all our problems, but it can at least not make them worse.

"Because Joe Biden likes taking the train" is not a good reason to spend billions. Forget new expenditures for mythical "high-speed" trains for imaginary passengers who don't want to ride in them; Amtrak's outrageous subsidies need to be redirected to the path of the dodo.

Nostalgia is not a budget priority in the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. Passenger rail's day had long since come and gone. It's long past time to send the passenger cars that can't pay for themselves--meaning just about all of them--to the scrapyard.

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