New Report Documents Massive Cost of Proposed High-Speed Rail Program

The Cascade Policy Institute released a report on June 24 documenting that President Obama’s proposed high-speed rail program will cost $1,000 for every federal income taxpayer, yet the average American will ride high-speed trains less than 60 miles a year. The report estimates that the average Oregonian will take a round trip on high-speed trains only once every 10 years.

The federal government is proposing to build true high-speed rail lines, with trains going faster than 120 miles per hour, only in California and Florida. In Oregon it is merely proposing to upgrade existing freight tracks to boost top Amtrak speeds from 79 to 110 mph.

Trains with a top speed of 110 mph will have average speeds of just 55 to 75 mph. Not only will that attract few people out of their cars, but such trains actually will be less energy efficient and more polluting than driving.

“High-speed rail is an idea whose time has gone,” says Randal O’Toole, a Cato Institute senior fellow and the report’s author. “It is bad for taxpayers and bad for the environment.”

Premium fares and a downtown orientation mean that the main people riding these trains will be bankers, lawyers, government officials, and other high-income people who hardly need subsidized transportation.

The administration has compared its high-speed rail plan with President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. But interstates were paid for entirely out of gas taxes and other user fees, not general taxes, and the average American travels on interstates 4,000 miles annually. By comparison, taxpayers will pay for the cost of building high-speed trains that will only be used by a wealthy elite.

On June 17 the Federal Railroad Administration released criteria for state applications for high-speed rail projects. The Cascade report urges Oregon to use its share of federal high-speed rail money for safety improvements such as grade crossings and signaling systems, but not for new trains that will obligate taxpayers to pay millions of dollars in annual subsidies for many decades to come.

Download the complete report here.
Download a summary of the report here.

For more information, contact:
Randall O’Toole, 541-595-1460 or
John Charles, 503-242-0900

Cascade Policy Institute is a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research and education organization based in Portland, Oregon.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 7 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Ralph Branxton

    High speed rail my arse. These people will never even get the stupid thing built.
    Trust me on that.
    And it will be slow, not on time, smelly, dirty, and rotten.

  • Tim Lyman

    If there was a market for high speed rail in the US, private money would have already built it. It’s only prospect for providing any utility is in the northeast where short haul commuter rail is already widely established. The rest of the country’s urban centers are just too far apart to make it useful. Most business travel (exclusing local sales calls) is over 500 miles. No one is going to spend 7-8 hours on a train when they can spend an hour on a plane.

    Most business travel is over
    There’s no prospect for short haul service, our metro areas are too widely dispersed.

    • valley person

      “If there was a market for high speed rail in the US, private money would have already built it.”

      Substitute: If there was a market for an *interstate highway system* in the US, private money would have already built it.

      Or: If there was a market for a *municipal airport system* in the US, private money would have already built it.

      Even the private freight railroad system was heavily subsidized by the Federal government giving huge areas of land away.

      Whether we want or need high speed rail is one thing. But it can never be built by the private sector alone.

      • Anonymous

        The interstate highway system was not built for motorists, it was built to move military equipment in the event of an invasion of the US.

        At the time construciton of interstate highways began public ownership of roads had been policy in the US since the pilgrims. Private toll roads coexisted with public roads, but were the exception rather than the rule. By the time of the interstate highways there hadn’t been a private toll road in the US for almost fifty years.

        Airports were, for many years, private endeavors, until local governments figured out they could make a buck from aircraft users and began building airfields. Private airstrips still outnumber public ones. Most municipal airports are still pseudo private, existing under port authorities sustained by user fees rather than administered by municipalities and funded out of a general budget.

        The government did not ‘subsidize’ railroads with land. The American rail network was built with private money. The only railroads to receive land grants of any size were the UP and CP when building the transcontinental railroad. All the land in question was worthless until the transcontinental railroad went through and the only reason any of it had any value after the railroad went through was because of the privately funded railroad. The government gave the two railroads every other section of government owned land along the right of way, keeping half the land for itself. A pretty good deal for the government. Any time you can increase the value of an asset by thousands of percent, you’ve done well.

        • valley person

          “The interstate highway system was not built for motorists, it was built to move military equipment in the event of an invasion of the US.”

          I would brush up on your history reading. An interstate highway system had been lobbied for many years by the automobile and trucking industries. The idea that we were going to drive tanks from one coast to the other to repel an invasion (from who?) is a bit silly. If it was truly a defense system it would have been paid for by defense appropriations after all. And I have yet to see a tank driving down an interstate (probably a good thing).

          On railroad land grants, these began in 1850 in Illinois. Some companies that got major grants over the years include: Illinois Central, Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, Minnesota & Northwest, Union Pacific, St. Paul & Pacific, Central Pacific, Southern Pacific, Northern Pacific, Texas & Pacific, and Santa Fe.

          The Oregon and California railroad was from Portland to the California border, hardly coast to coast.

          “The government did not ‘subsidize’ railroads with land.”
          Oh yes indeed the goverment did. These railroads were built with private money raised based on the value of the land given away. Its not like land was without value, even back then.

  • Jerry

    These fools will never learn. We already have what we want. We don’t need what we are being forced to buy.
    These people are sick to their very core.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    Oh goody goody, more choo choos for the government to play with.

    Could someone please tell me the last time the government built a choo choo that panned out?

    Ahh, the Choo Choo – It reminds me of my youth, and thus, it reminds me of God.

    Is there a God? If so, is it possible God could smack you in the head upon entry into the after life and say “you stupid schmuck, it was the Jehova’s witnesses all along?”

    I think if that happened I would just say to God – “you are right, I am a stupid schmuck and now that I have admitted it, can you answer me one question God?”

    “God – Which will come first – A liberal admitting a non defense program was indeed fully funded and had simply failed? Or a liberal who will give up his fetishism for choo choo trains?”

    Im not sure if God would smack me in the head again, or if God would simply be thrown into a cosmic infinite loop, thus ceasing to exist and testing that whole Einstein everything into a singularity space time does not exist thing.

    *Liberals – People who never grew out of the need to play with choo choos but still insist that you treat them like adults.*

    I am *Rupert in Springfield* and I approved this message because I am a conservative and thus have a direct line to God and know everything God thinks.

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