The magic elixir of high-speed rail

Fix the economy?  High-speed rail.  Cure transportation gridlock?  High-speed rail.  Restore American entrepreneurship?  High-speed rail.  Solve America’s health-care problems?  High-speed rail.  Hearing President Barack Obama extol the virtues of high-speed rail is like listening to a 19th Century carnival hawker claim a single bottle of Dr. Goode’s Magic Elixir will cure all that ails you.

Just as those foul-tasting nostrums failed to cure patients’ maladies, high-speed rail will solve none of our pressing national problems; in fact, it will make them worse by increasing our deficit and draining money from more productive endeavors.

The fact of the matter is, not since World War II has America been a country in which its people travel by rail.  Yes, there are a few transportation corridors in which commuter rail serves as a popular means of transportation; the rail link between New York City and Washington, D.C., for example.  But beyond those few examples, Americans overwhelmingly prefer to travel by car or plane.  Environmentalists, train buffs, and President Obama may wish it were otherwise; but it just ain’t so.

Yet, in his State-of-the-Union address last month, and in his recently unveiled FY 2011 budget, Obama persists in proposing to throw money – lots of money — at the myth that is high-speed rail; as if following a magical formula, “if you fund it, they will come.”

Sure, high-speed rail works in other countries – Japan and Europe, for example — and the trains themselves are really cool-looking.  But the economies and geography of such countries are far different from ours.  High-speed rail is not a one-size-fits-all solution that performs identically in one country or region as in another.  If built here with taxpayer dollars (which is the only way they will be built) – such projects inevitably will become black holes into which countless billions of dollars will disappear.

I heard the sales pitch repeatedly during the years I served in the Congress.  One time, it was an Atlanta-to-Chattanooga high-speed rail line; another time, Atlanta-Birmingham, or maybe Charlotte.  All these proposals lacked one thing – a basis in reality.

Yet, here we are again, in 2011, debating high-speed rail; this one weighing in at an initial cost of a half-trillion dollars, exclusive of the inevitably massive operating costs, over the next 25 years. During his State of the Union address last month, Obama claimed his plans would “give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail” — to which one might ask, “so what?”  Access to a costly rail system means nothing if people won’t use it.

At least one state governor – Florida’s Rick Scott – has seen through the smoke and mirrors of Obama’s proposal, and already turned down $2.4 billion in federal funds for a proposed, Orlando-Tampa high-speed rail line. Scott knows the initial dollars are the tip of the iceberg, and the system would wind up costing Florida taxpayers many times that figure over the long run.

Other states that have taken the high-speed rail plunge are feeling the bite that is fiscal reality.  California, for example, is in the initial phases of a vast high-speed rail network. But costs are expected to run between $65 and $81 billion – far beyond the early estimate of $45 billion.

Vice President Biden boldly declared early last year that the administration’s high-speed rail proposal would be the key to “taking cars off congested highways, reducing carbon emissions, and saving billions of dollars in human productivity.”  To the vice president, this may be  – to quote his whispered note to his boss at last year’s health care news conference – another “big, f—ing deal.”  However, with our country facing a staggering, $14 trillion debt and a projected $1.7 trillion budget deficit, let’s hope cooler minds than Biden’s prevail on this one. High-speed rail is an idea whose time has not come; and probably never will.

by – Bob Barr, The Barr Code

162 comments Add your comment

Tim

February 28th, 2011
6:53 am

Good call Bob, lets keep burnin oil and driving cars. What could possibily go wrong with that?

Karl Marx

February 28th, 2011
6:58 am

High speed rail burns tax revenue like a hummer burns gas and it will do nothing for highway congestion.

EVFan

February 28th, 2011
6:59 am

Bob,
I did some quick math on the congestion issue in the FL HSR boondoggle and determined that even taking the most optimistic rider estimates, car traffic would be reduced by only 3.3% in the Orlando area. And that’s the most congested.
As to pollution, if we believe the Pres, we’ll soon have 1M electric cars on the road with zero carbon emission. Moving most of us to EV’s, of which I am a huge fan, will do more for the atmosphere and energy independence than the HSR boondoggle in FL and elsewhere ever would.

Thou shall not encroach

February 28th, 2011
7:26 am

No high speed rail? Have we all forgotten how compelling it is to see a woman like Lady Liberty being tied to a high speed rail track by a scoundrel, like Obama, only to be saved at the last minute by a hero: Bob Barr. (I know, Barr is the one with the moustache).

In fact, I can’t wait for Barr’s next blog, when we get to witness the same thrill again. Of course, his actual narrative changes slightly to accomodate the impossible fantasy he seems so fixated upon, but what fun it is to see the journalistic equivalence of a saturday matinee serial.

Next week, that dastardly Obama tries to trick the blindfolded babe holding the scales of justice into accepting a free government papsmear. Same batty time. Same batty story.

Mike

February 28th, 2011
7:40 am

High speed rail burns tax revenue like a hummer burns gas and it will do nothing for highway congestion. And mid-night basket-ball stopped crime what a nd was to spend my tax dollar.

Carlosgvv

February 28th, 2011
8:38 am

We can debate the merits of an extensive high-speed rail system for our country. What we can’t debate is that our country is almost broke and can’t possibly afford such a system. This is a desperate attempt by Obama to fool the public since he knows he is getting closer to being a one-term president every day. By the way, Japan and Eurpoe have these systems because they practice long-term planning. Our politicans and business exclusivly practive short-term gains.

Monday | Allied Public Affairs

February 28th, 2011
8:44 am

[...] The Magic Elixir of High Speed Rail [...]

the watch dog

February 28th, 2011
8:47 am

I have been strongly in favor of only legal immigrants in the U.S. However, with a high speed rail program, I see an opportunity for the formerly illegal immigrants staying in their own country and still work in the U.S. for the benefit of all concerned. It would be high speed rail linking Mexico City with Dallas , Texas. It would be built with the cooperative effort of both countries, the hard work would be done by the immigrants at wages that they get for pickin peaches. The train would have the speed of 200 mph., fast enough to shoot the immigrants back to Mexico every night after work. I knew there was a solution. Now, I know it sounds somewhat absurd, however it could work. After all, now that the space ship has been laid to rest, the humongus money formerly spent on Space could be spent cooperatively in U.S. and our neighbor to the south.

Tony

February 28th, 2011
8:53 am

I completely disagree with this article. The reason that “Americans overwhelmingly prefer to travel by car or plane” is because it has previously been faster and more convenient. However, if there are high-speed rail alternatives that are more faster and more convenient, then I believe Americans will begin to embrace it.

The proof of this is in the example Mr. Barr provided in the Northeast corridor between NYC and D.C., where it is much less of a hassle to travel by train rather than car or rail. There are other areas of the country where this could also be the case.

Not to mention that the investment in these high-speed rail networks will provide thousands of jobs to people associated with the projects.

LA

February 28th, 2011
9:23 am

High speed rail = MARTA on steroids.

LA

February 28th, 2011
9:25 am

“if you prefer the feel-up from the TSA when you travel. ‘

Uh, there will be TSA type security on a rail system as well, ma’am.

LA

February 28th, 2011
9:25 am

“What we can’t debate is that our country is almost broke and can’t possibly afford such a system. ”

Amen.

Aquagirl

February 28th, 2011
9:43 am

“Uh, there will be TSA type security on a rail system as well, ma’am”

ORLY? Where did you find this little factoid? I know it’s a shock to you, but some people are already using trains in this country. Please, show me an example of TSA workers grabbing their junk or perusing nekkid body scanners. Your fertile imagination doesn’t count as evidence, no matter how many times you’ve fantasized about it.

AudreyinGA

February 28th, 2011
9:54 am

Enter your comments here

jconservative

February 28th, 2011
10:03 am

Carlosgvv at 8:38 – “By the way, Japan and Eurpoe have these systems because they practice long-term planning. Our politicans and business exclusivly practive short-term gains.”

Agreed.

I would add to that thought that the American voter has never been a person that looked to the past for lessons or tried to plan for the future. The American voter is a “today” person. This is true in particular for the “baby boomer” generation. “I want what I want when I want it.” seems to be the governing principle.

AudreyinGA

February 28th, 2011
10:04 am

More ancient thinking from an ancient mind telling you it works over there but it can not work
over here.

Glenn

February 28th, 2011
10:12 am

We really should go back to the horse & buggy . The Amish never have gridlock or any real traffic problems . Of course Obama would raise taxes on horse feed .

Ragnar Danneskjöld

February 28th, 2011
10:15 am

High speed rail serves as a substitute for air travel only – it will not displace any automobile travel. The airlines are not exactly rolling in money, and the infrastructure required for high-speed rail would make the average cost per ticket substantially higher than those of airlines.

As with all economic losers, only the government would contemplate such an expenditure.

Cekker

February 28th, 2011
10:22 am

Aquagirl says:
‘…and the rest of us use transportation that doesn’t involve flying bombs…’

Come up for air waterhead! Bombs can explode on trains too you know. See — Madrid 2004, London 2005, Mumbai 2006, Moscow 2010

LA

February 28th, 2011
10:25 am

“Where did you find this little factoid? ‘

I look at how the US government handles security situations, ma’am. The government is as predictable as the left screaming HALIBURTON whenever W is mentioned.

“I know it’s a shock to you, but some people are already using trains in this country.’

Your mindless sarcasm isn’t really doing you any good, ma’am. All it takes is one bomb going off for the government to freak out and shove the TSA in our faces.

“Please, show me an example of TSA workers grabbing their junk or perusing nekkid body scanners.”

Project much, ma’am? I never said anything about the TSA grabbing your “junk.” But, since you brought it up….

100 Naked Citizens: 100 Leaked Body Scans

At the heart of the controversy over “body scanners” is a promise: The images of our naked bodies will never be public. U.S. Marshals in a Florida Federal courthouse saved 35,000 images on their scanner. These are those images.

A Gizmodo investigation has revealed 100 of the photographs saved by the Gen 2 millimeter wave scanner from Brijot Imaging Systems, Inc., obtained by a FOIA request after it was recently revealed that U.S. Marshals operating the machine in the Orlando, Florida, courthouse had improperly — perhaps illegally — saved images of the scans of public servants and private citizens.

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/11/giz-scans/

LA

February 28th, 2011
10:27 am

“Your fertile imagination doesn’t count as evidence, no matter how many times you’ve fantasized about it.”

I’m not exactly sure whether or not you are just really stupid or maybe too much bong smoke fried what little brain cells you had left. I made three small comments and none of them had anything to do with what you incorrectly typed.

Bottom line: Go sell stupid somewhere else, troglodyte.

allen981

February 28th, 2011
10:28 am

Hey Tony, get over your long lost fascination with trains. We had a fully functioning passenger rail system here into the 1960s. It died because it didn’t work.

Proponents of high speed rail overlook some clear, uncompromising facts:

– Point to point rail systems only work between major (5 million-plus) cities within 300 miles of each other (hence, the northeast.) A Eurostar study in 2006 showed that high speed trains win out over cars only when city center to city center travel is 3 hours or less, and only in major markets. A train to Charlotte, the nearest major city to Atlanta? Over 3 hours.

In addition, look at the DOT’s city pair traffic data. All those people on I-85, and all those people on planes, are going to points beyond. A train would be of absolutely no use to them, and there will never be enough people going point to point, Atlanta-Charlotte, to support such a system.

A high speed train to Washington? Totally impractical, and it’s absolutely ridiculous to waste a few hundred billion bucks trying to make it work.

The U.S. had an extensive passenger rail system right up through the early 1960s. It failed because of jets and interstate highways.

LA

February 28th, 2011
10:28 am

Cekker

Aquagirl isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.

LA

February 28th, 2011
10:30 am

Aquashrill

Here are some more articles for your low IQ to process.

Leaking Naked Photos, Crotch Grabbing, and Other TSA Hobbies

If you’re an experienced traveler, you may have noticed by now that the TSA has installed the full body scanners in basically every airport in the US. It was over three years ago when I reported that “The TSA is Going to Photograph You Naked!!!“, and the mandatory scanning has now gone into effect.

Despite promises that these full body scanning systems will not save naked photos of you, recently it was discovered that 35,000 photos of naked citizens were being stored by the U.S. Marshal’s Service (another Federal agency) and over 100 of those photos were leaked.

http://onemansblog.com/2011/01/18/leaking-naked-photos-crotch-grabbing-and-other-tsa-hobbies/

LA

February 28th, 2011
10:31 am

Aquashrill

And another one even though you will scream, FOX NEWS ISN’T REAL WHAAAAAAA I WANT MY MOMMY!!!!!!!!!

Uncovered: Images From Full-Body Scanners Hit the Web

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/11/16/leaked-images-body-scanners-hit-web/#ixzz1FGgCeIwJ

Azazel

February 28th, 2011
10:41 am

If you build it, they will come!! Technologies exist to make HSR cheap and energy efficient — if not self powering. Interestingly, there are signs along the I-70 corridor between Kansas City and St. Louis (a little over 200 miles) “reminding” those who make this commute that rail travel between these cities saves GAS.
As with air travel, HSR commuters would still need local transportation to a final destination.
The old ATS (Atlanta Transit System) handled this very well with nearly door-to- door access.

As space for parking becomes a premium commodity in crowded downtown areas, then some combination of HSR and local access will be a necessity.

How much gas is used by commuters from eastern Alabama to Atlanta, or from Atlanta to Macon, or from the northern Atl. ex-burbs to inside 285 — everyday.

Aquagirl

February 28th, 2011
10:41 am

“Aquagirl isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed”

This from someone who thinks rail security is the same as airline security. Is it beyond you that trains don’t carry as much fuel or can’t be hijacked to secondary locations? They’re less of a security risk. Period.

“All it takes is one bomb going off for the government to freak out and shove the TSA in our faces.”

Yep, there’s that fevered imagination again. Paranoid much? Somebody’s been hitting the bong again, but it sure ain’t me.

Oh, and in case you decide to venture out of TalkRadioVille, gas prices have risen 19 cents in the past week. I know if it’s in the AJC your immediate assumption is that it’s a commiepinko lie, but you might notice higher prices when you buy a taxpayer subsidized airline ticket. We’re not going to cut you a blank welfare check, y’know.

Talker

February 28th, 2011
10:42 am

A lobbyist can take Bob to Europe on educational junket and he will change his mind!

Aquagirl

February 28th, 2011
10:48 am

Wow, LA, you have an awful lot of crotch-grabbing and bodyscan links at your quick disposal. How surprising.

I’m sure you have a whole folder full, better to remind yourself how horrible—horrible! it would be to have those precious jewels gently nestled by the firm, commanding hands of the mustachioed stud kneeling before you.

Dr. Pangloss

February 28th, 2011
10:50 am

We travel by car or by plane because those are the only choices we have. I’ve been in places that had commuter rail, and it was great. I spent seven years commuting in the constipated traffic of Atlanta, and it was horrible: the congestion, the time it took to go to and from work, the accidents, the pollution that you could see with the naked eye. Every night I prayed for a MARTA station in my neighborhood, but Cobb County wasn’t having any of that.

LA

February 28th, 2011
10:55 am

“This from someone who thinks rail security is the same as airline security. ”

Funny thing is that I NEVER wrote that. Again, you have a serious reading comprehension problem.

“s it beyond you that trains don’t carry as much fuel or can’t be hijacked to secondary locations? ”

I guess you missed the Madrid, London and Russian train bombings.

2004 Madrid train bombings

191 deaths.

You were saying?

“They’re less of a security risk. Period.”

Do you work for the US Dept. of Defense? If not, please shut up.

“Yep, there’s that fevered imagination again. Paranoid much? ”

LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You take THAT as paranoia???????? I stated a fact, ma’am. After 911, Bush implemented the TSA and here we are.

“Somebody’s been hitting the bong again, but it sure ain’t me.’

You have the IQ of a carrot.

“Oh, and in case you decide to venture out of TalkRadioVille, gas prices have risen 19 cents in the past week.”

WTF does that have to do with anything??????? Geez little girl, you really do have problems with projecting.

“but you might notice higher prices when you buy a taxpayer subsidized airline ticket.

I fly on private jets, little girl.

“We’re not going to cut you a blank welfare check, y’know.’

Of course not, I don’t vote democrat.

LA

February 28th, 2011
10:56 am

“Wow, LA, you have an awful lot of crotch-grabbing and bodyscan links at your quick disposal. How surprising.”

It’s called Google, low IQ. You asked so I provided some linkage. Make sense, small IQ?

“it would be to have those precious jewels gently nestled by the firm, commanding hands of the mustachioed stud kneeling before you.”

I’m sure you’re wet just thinking about it.

LA

February 28th, 2011
10:59 am

Aquagirl

One thing I notice about your mindless rants is the fact that you don’t debate facts. I posted THREE columns about body scan pics being leaked and all you do is change the subject to gas prices.

Grow up, little girl.

Steve Anderson

February 28th, 2011
11:00 am

Aquagirl

Are you the same person who is banned from Jay Bookmans blog for “hacking” e-mails of @@?

LA

February 28th, 2011
11:01 am

“How much gas is used by commuters from eastern Alabama to Atlanta, or from Atlanta to Macon, or from the northern Atl. ex-burbs to inside 285 — everyday.”

Who cares?

Aquagirl

February 28th, 2011
11:07 am

@ Steve, no. I’ve never been banned from anyone’s blogs. Why would you think that? I suppose I could go over there and post something but I’m not one of the regulars on Bookman.

And how the h3ll would you hack someone’s e-mails from their posts on the AJC blogs?

@LA, I’m for a system which requires less security. You seem wedded to the one where you’re groped and scanned. I don’t think it takes Freud to figure out who gets wet at the idea of the TSA sexing you up.

Carlosgvv

February 28th, 2011
11:15 am

jconservative – “I want what I want when I want it”

Unfortunately, this does seem to be the governing principle and it is this infatile attitude that is getting us well on the way to being a third world country.

[...] critics weighed in against President Obama’s high-speed rail plans. (Newsweek, Reason, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Fox and Hounds [...]

Brain

February 28th, 2011
11:37 am

This is just like the false argument that consumers speak loudly about their preference for cars….They WANT a Suburban that gets 14mpg over a Prius at 51 mpg…..Or , maybe , they’d prefer a Suburban that got 30mpg, but don’t have that option.

On the grounds of fiscal restraint, I would agree that funding for rail is a huge fiscal challenge. But, we could have paid for in 9 times over if we weren’t fighting two wars for oil….And what we’ll spend in Libya to stabilize that country after the fall of Khadaffi will make the CA expenditures seem minimal, too……All for oil.

Supreme Being

February 28th, 2011
11:46 am

Obama’s plans for high speed rail are just empty words that play well for TV sound bites. It sounds good to simpletons and liberals like Aquagirl. This meritless idea is just further evidence that he has no plan and is out of touch with the economy. A fereally sponsored rail system would be a welfare train like MARTA. It would not solve our dependence on oil or prove any more effective mode of transportation than AMTRAK. If it were a vaiable option…it would exist because markets would demand it…not becuse of a sound bite in a speech.

allen981

February 28th, 2011
11:48 am

No one is looking at the facts: our country is too big, our cities too small, and we travel too far, to make high speed rail work.

What’s wrong with planes??? They are faster, they conserve far less fuel than even 15 years ago, and they are remarkably safe. Our airports are not at capacity, and in fact, former hubs such as Cincinnati and Memphis are very much under utilized.

And for the question about east Alabama commuters, commuter rail is not even part of the discussion; and it will not work either, in Atlanta, since there’s no central business district/job concentration areas to commute to. Downtown? Who works there? Very few.

Let’s make better, more efficient cars and planes, improve our roads, and take advantage of the infrastructure we have.

cyril

February 28th, 2011
11:53 am

Does anyone else remember how after 9/11 there was a call for a real national high speed rail system to get folks from point A to point B, because this country finally realized that the dependence on an airline only based system to reach our destinations may not be the smartest move once all the planes were grounded for days? Am I the only person who remembers this? Seemed like both Democrat & Republican were were supportive of this, but now yet again, it’s all about autos.

[...] The magic elixir of high-speed rail | The Barr Code. This entry was posted in Opinion, United States, US Government and tagged Barack Obama, [...]

Aquagirl

February 28th, 2011
12:06 pm

“A fereally sponsored rail system would be a welfare train like MARTA.”

Wow, they might even let colored folks ride in the same cars as white people. I can see how this would upset you greatly.

Jimmy62

February 28th, 2011
12:09 pm

Some of the high speed rail proponents in this thread seem to be under the mistaken impression that high speed rail doesn’t utilize oil or fossil fuels. Even if it’s electric, where do you think that electricity comes from? In this country it typically comes from coal power plants, not exactly the clean fuel of the future.

Where’s that Simpsons Monorail episode when you need it?

Patriot

February 28th, 2011
12:11 pm

Aquagirl – Not that you bother to read, but here is a link (one of literally hundrends on the web) about the TSA patting down 9 year olds AFTER they got off a train to Savannah. Good luck spinning this one. The TSA will be invading every aspect of our society with their goodies. Now they are talking about taking our DNA when we travel.

http://modernsurvivalblog.com/current-events-economics-politics/tsa-searching-9-year-old-after-a-train-ride/

Patriot

February 28th, 2011
12:12 pm

LA

February 28th, 2011
12:24 pm

“I’m for a system which requires less security. You seem wedded to the one where you’re groped and scanned. I don’t think it takes Freud to figure out who gets wet at the idea of the TSA sexing you up.”

Aquashrill, grow up. Seriously, you brought up sex, groping etc. Maybe you ran out of batteries?

LA

February 28th, 2011
12:26 pm

“Wow, they might even let colored folks ride in the same cars as white people. I can see how this would upset you greatly.”

Aquagirl wins the “dumbest comments of the day” award. Not only does she misinterpret what people write, but she also projects crap that no one brought up.

List of her stupidity:

1: Groping.
2: Sex.
3: Racism.

You remind me of Tranny Godzilla only younger and more insane.

LA

February 28th, 2011
12:26 pm

Patriot

She doesn’t read and that’s how she constantly puts her over-sized foot into her mouth.