Wednesday, February 9, 2011

High speed failure?

The next great boondoggle to be offered through Washington this year will be the start of investing $52 billion over the next twenty years for a high speed rail system within the US. This is a project that just never seems to go away. Every few years this idea rears it's head like Punxsutawney Phil. On the surface it's a decent idea, an alternate to both autos and planes. Less pollution and less congestion isn't bad. Unfortunately, that's where the good idea comes to an end.

The problem is the rail pushers try to compare what happens in the US to what happens overseas. The issue is the scale of the landscape. Those in favor of high speed rail consistently show us how well this works in Japan or in Europe. It does seem to work well in those locations. Here is the issue as I see it. Japan for instance, is a highly densely populated society in a relatively small area. The entire country of Japan is no larger than the state of California. Rail likely works well in this type of environment. The proposal is to bring high speed rail to eighty percent of the country. Sorry this just won't work in Omaha.

Rail also works in the high density areas of Europe. The largest country in Europe is Spain. Spain has little high speed that I am aware of and is about the size of Texas. Like Texas, Spain has a land mass that is wide and open compared to it's brethren countries. Europe is approximately the same size as the US. Not the Americas, the US. The continent is much older and therefore has a much higher population density. That is why rail works there. The population of the US is far too dispersed for that type of system. It works in the dense east coast where you can move from Boston to Philadelphia to Baltimore to Washington and not realize you left another city. OK, a slight exaggeration, I'll give you that.

A rail system in the east coast is one thing. I fail to see a concerted use or the benefit of a rail system from Nashville to Chicago. One aspect as a positive would be the building of a system like the interstate highway our grandfathers built which would bring jobs to an economy over a long period of time but I for one don't see the system as a success. Americans will still be more likely to jump in their cars and drive to where they want to go. To compete, the prices would have to be far lower than air travel. Why pay $200 to ride from Charlotte to St. Louis in fifteen hours when you can fly there for the same amount or less in three?

Some things just don't translate from one point to the next. Just because the Smart Car works in European cities doesn't mean it works on the open highways in the US. High speed rail is the same thing. Besides, I want a car bigger than the bugs that hit the windshield.

1 comment:

  1. And the "smart" car is d*mn ugly, too!

    Didn't we have passenger trains all over the country years ago? They have mostly gone the way of the buggy whip. We moved on when cars became ubiquitous. Time for the politicos to move on and drop this boondoggle before it gets a head of steam and chugs into the taxpayers wallets for untold years to come.