Don’t miss Robert J. Samuelson’s column in today’s Washington Post, High-Speed Rail Is a Fast Track to Government Waste, Feb. 14, 20100. Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/13/AR2011021302203.html?wpisrc=nl_pmopinions
Samuelson’s point is that the case in favor of high speed rail rests on “fashionable platitudes.” But the facts, history and economics tell another story. He also reminds us how in 1970 the feds told us that Amtrack “would become profitable and self-sustaining after an initial infusion of federal money.” But it’s now 40 years later and it still hasn’t happened.
Samuelson stresses that the present scheme whereby the feds would give states seed money with which to build the new railroads, will result, upon those railroads’ completion, in an ongoing financial obligation of states to the new railroads. But taking on new long-term financial obligations is the last thing states need. Our own state, California, needs another financial monkey on its taxpayers’ back like the proverbial hole in the head.
The historical record is crystal-clear. Public transportation systems have always relied on public subsidies to operate. In modern America the rosy ridership projections of public transportation builders have never materialized. The new would-be railroad builders have not explained how their pet projects of today are different from those others, and why.
Follow up. What the ongoing discussion of high-speed rail generally omits is the high cost of track maintenance. We are told that In Japan and China the “bullet train” tracks are continuously patrolled to make sure that there is no trash of any kind on the rails. Also, small self-propelled little cars drive on those tracks continuously and perform precision measurement of the rails, to make sure that they are perfectly smooth and horizontal, and that there are no deviations in their dimensions and elevation. This work has to be performed continuously, regardless of the ridership figures.