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All Da King's Men

High Speed Rail-Roaded

By Da King Published: February 9, 2011

On sunday, and then again on monday, President Obama announced plans to cut federal spending by $80 billion per year for five years. That's a total of $400 billion in spending cuts.

On tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden announced plans to spend the lion's share of that first year's savings on a $53 billlion plan to build high speed rail.

Biden explained that we will move into the future by embracing a technology from the past - trains. He also explained how we will grab the leading edge in technology by copying China and Japan. Here's Joey:

Biden, who estimated he has ridden Amtrak trains between Washington and his home in Wilmington, Delaware, some 7,900 times, made a strong pitch for rail transportation to enable the United States to compete and lead internationally.

"This is about seizing the future," he said, making the announcement at Philadelphia's busy 30th Street station with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The United States should follow the example of Japan and China and build high-speed rail, Biden said. "If we do not, you tell me how America is going to be able to lead the world in the 21st century," he said.

Joey is an expert on trains because he has ridden them. It's also rumored that Joey's parents let him assemble the train track around the Christmas tree when he was a kid, further enhancing his expertise on the subject. I assume Joey is also an expert on sewer systems because he has used toilets.

Allow me to explain how America is going to "lead the world in the 21st century" with high speed rail, as our illustrious VP claims. From the New York Post:

When incoming Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio cancelled high-speed rail projects, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood refused to let them spend the dollars on other transportation and sent the funds instead to California and other states.

Walker argued that Wisconsin didn't need $810 billion for a 78-mile line between Madison and Milwaukee because there's already a transportation artery -- Interstate 94 -- that enables people to get from one city to the other in a little more than an hour.

Kasich's rationale? "They tried to give us $400 million to build a high-speed train that goes 39 miles an hour." Train boosters countered that its top speed was 79 miles per hour -- about the same as many drivers on Interstate 71.

Or consider the $1.1 billion track improvement on the Chicago-St. Louis line in Illinois. It would cut travel time between the cities by 48 minutes, but it would still take over 4½ hours at an average speed of 62 miles an hour.

None of these high-speed projects are really high speed. Japan has bullet trains that average 171 miles per hour, France's TGV averages 149 miles per hour. At such speeds, you can travel faster door-to-door by train than by plane over distances up to 500 miles.

You see, we aren't really building high speed rail like Japan has. We're building an inferior product (remember when Japan was the one who built the inferior products ? It wasn't that long ago). We're just calling ours high speed rail, because, you know, it sounds more impressive that way. What we'd really be building for the most part is just....passenger trains, like Amtrak, which the taxpayers have to subsidize every year. Amtrak has NEVER paid for itself, never turned a profit. So naturally, the resident geniuses in the White House want to expand upon that failed concept, because we taxpayers just can't wait for another huge government boondoggle to support endlessly, especially when the federal government is already $14 trillion in debt and the states are almost all broke too. What could go wrong ? This is how Biden claims we will "lead the world in the 21st century". This is how President Obama says we'll be "investing" for the recreating the transportation method Abe Lincoln used to make his campaign stops with in the 1860's.

But what I really want to know is - who is going to ride these trains ? In Ohio, there were plans to build "high speed rail" lines from Cleveland to Columbus to Dayton to Cincinnatti, before Governor Kasich scrapped the idea. Would there be enough passengers to justify this expense and turn a profit eventually ? I don't see how. I see a few business people making the trek occasionaly, and maybe some students going back and forth on the weekends, but that's about it. Mostly I see a future with empty trains riding around the countryside wasting fuel at taxpayer expense. The United States is not built like Japan or France. Those countries have a more dense population. The United States is spread out. That's why our transportation systems are built on interstate highways and airports. Trains are less competitive here. In Ohio, for example, it is much easier to drive your car from Akron to Columbus than it is to drive to Cleveland in order to catch a train to Columbus. Plus, if you drive your car to Columbus, you HAVE YOUR CAR TO GET YOU AROUND LOCALLY. That is way more convenient and less expensive than taking cabs around after you exit the train station. I don't see the market for trains, high speed or otherwise. That's why Amtrak loses money. There isn't enough of a market for it.

Places where trains make sense, cities like New York, Washington D.C., etc., already have trains, because there is a market for them. If there was really a market for passenger train travel in America, we'd already have that too. In fact, once upon a time, we did have passenger train travel across this country, but technological advances left it in the dustbin of history. It should probably remain there.

Finally, the true costs of building high speed rail are not being mentioned by this administration. CNN estimates that cost to be $500 billion. That's more than Obama's $400 billion in spending cuts, and it doesn't count the continuous taxpayer subsidies needed to pay for unprofitable train lines, nor does it include the ongoing maintenance costs necessary for those train lines. I leave you with the following Reason.TV video about high speed rail:

Before our government muckety-mucks decide they will do something, perhaps they should pause to consider whether they should do it.



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