Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Buckeye Inst: "High-Speed Rail a Waste of Money"

COLUMBUS - The Obama Administration's proposed high-speed rail plan will cost $1,000 for every federal income taxpayer, yet the average American will ride high-speed trains less than 60 miles a year, says a new report from the Buckeye Institute. The report estimates that the average Ohio resident will take a round trip on high-speed trains only once every 19 years. The report can be found at

On Wednesday, June 17, the Federal Railroad Administration released criteria for state applications for high-speed rail projects. The new report warns that the cost of these projects could grow to be hundreds of billions of dollars with very little public or environmental benefit.

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 Ohio and most of the rest of the country, 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, says the report, such trains will actually 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 means that the main people riding these trains will be bankers, lawyers, government officials, and other high-income people who hardly need subsidized transportation. Not only will each federal income taxpayer pay $1,000 for someone else to ride the train, that passenger probably earns more than the average taxpayer.

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 per year. By comparison, general taxpayers will pay for the cost of building and much of the costs of operating high-speed trains that will be used mainly by a wealthy elite.

The report urges Ohio to use its share of federal high-speed rail stimulus 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.

The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions is a nonpartisan research and educational institute devoted to individual liberty, economic freedom, personal responsibility and limited government in Ohio.