High-speed rail subsidies are a bad investment

I mentioned high-speed rail in my post last week about the Charlottephobia infecting some people in metro Atlanta. Anyone who wants to know whether metro Atlanta, and Georgia, should fret over “losing” the high-speed rail race absolutely must read this column by the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson (links in the quoted sections are original throughout):

Vice President Biden, an avowed friend of good government, is giving it a bad name. With great fanfare, he went to Philadelphia last week to announce that the Obama administration proposes spending $53 billion over six years to construct a “national high-speed rail system.” Translation: The administration would pay states $53 billion to build rail networks that would then lose money — lots — thereby aggravating the budget squeezes of the states or federal government, depending on which covered the deficits.

There’s something wildly irresponsible about the national government undermining states’ already poor long-term budget prospects by plying them with grants that provide short-term jobs. Worse, the rail proposal casts doubt on the administration’s commitment to reducing huge budget deficits. … How can it subdue deficits if it keeps proposing big spending programs?

High-speed rail would definitely be big. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has estimated the administration’s ultimate goal — bringing high-speed rail to 80 percent of the population — could cost $500 billion over 25 years. For this stupendous sum, there would be scant public benefits. Precisely the opposite. Rail subsidies would threaten funding for more pressing public needs: schools, police, defense.

Samuelson then recounts the long, sad history of Amtrak, including higher fares relative to other modes of transportation and an inability, because its passenger load is so small as to be irrelevant (one-tenth of 1 percent of all passenger miles in the country, according to Samuelson), to reduce traffic congestion or improve the environment. And all of this comes at an exorbitant level of subsidy — $35 billion for Amtrak since 1970, the vast majority of which likely benefits upper-income travelers on the East Coast — compared to other types of transportation:

In 2004, the Transportation Department evaluated federal transportation subsidies from 1990 to 2002. It found passenger rail service had the highest subsidy ($186.35 per thousand passenger-miles) followed by mass transit ($118.26 per thousand miles). By contrast, drivers received no net subsidy; their fuel taxes more than covered federal spending. Subsidies for airline passengers were about $5 per thousand miles traveled. (All figures are in inflation-adjusted year 2000 dollars.)

High-speed rail would transform Amtrak’s small drain into a much larger drain. Once built, high-speed-rail systems would face a dilemma. To recoup initial capital costs — construction and train purchases — ticket prices would have to be set so high that few people would choose rail. But lower prices, even with favorable passenger loads, might not cover costs. Government would be stuck with huge subsidies. Even without recovering capital costs, high-speed-rail systems would probably run in the red. Most mass-transit systems, despite high ridership, routinely have deficits.

But for me, the kicker is this observation:

The reasons passenger rail service doesn’t work in America are well-known: Interstate highways shorten many trip times; suburbanization has fragmented destination points; air travel is quicker and more flexible for long distances (if fewer people fly from Denver to Los Angeles and more go to Houston, flight schedules simply adjust). [emphasis added]

This isn’t just about the difficulty of prying Americans out of their cars and off airplanes; it’s about the wisdom of doing so. In no other facet of American life are people demanding less flexibility and adaptability. Why would that be different for transportation?

Rail only begins to make sense for traveling over long distances. And, for the vast majority of 21st-century America, it doesn’t make any sense to spend billions of dollars we don’t have to build an inflexible, hugely subsidized, slower, publicly operated transportation option (rail) to compete with a highly flexible, less subsidized, faster, privately run transportation option already in widespread use (air travel).

– By Kyle Wingfield

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95 comments Add your comment

I Report :-) You Whine :-( mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

February 15th, 2011
5:43 am

It’s the dummycrats signature boondoggle and they’re proud of it!

And so is China.


How can you tell if a dummycrat is lying? They got their mouths open, hahahaha-

Health and Human Services

Spending: $886.8 billion Percentage change from 2011: 1 percent decrease

• Put off steep Medicare cuts to doctors for two more years, at a cost of $54 billion over 10 years. -Urinal

This was one of the ways they were going to pay for obozocare, “cutting” Medicare, and gosh, not only are we still paying for Medicare, they pile obozocare on top of it.

The fiscal discipline of a teenager.


February 15th, 2011
6:55 am

And the Republicans can’t seem to get it together, either. God forbid the two biggest mouthed critics of President Obama’s attempts at cutting the budger–Cantor and Boehner–will not even answer pointed questions about cutting a mulit billion dollar defense boondoggle. The Pentagon doesn’t want a second engine for a plane that isn’t needed, and, because this engine or its parts are made in their districts, these bozos won’t even be put on the table. Such hypocrites. As for high-speed rail…any one that has taken the Eurostar from England to France, or the TGV inside France, knows how wonderful access to an alternative form of travel can be. The Repugs always make fun of France, yet, with high-speed rail, the fact that 70% of their electricity comes from nuclear power plants, and a superb health care system, we could learn a lot. No, I am not French, but when I retire, it won’t be in this country run by religious, hypocritical idealogues.


February 15th, 2011
7:38 am

Obama is only proposing it because the railroad construction jobs are union jobs, which will bolster his base. You are absolutely right in observing that the high speed rail makes no sense because low ridership will guarantee that it will be a huge money-loser. It sounds like a great isea until you look into the economics.

Rail travel in the Eastern corridor of the US makes sense because of the number of population centers in close proximity. That’s also a reason that it works well in Europe, along with the fact that in Europe rail travel is a viable economic alternative to flying and rail travel is quick because of the short distances.

Jack Bennett

February 15th, 2011
7:47 am

Part of the problem is in the definition of high speed. Railroads ran passenger trains at 79mph on existing track and right of way. It is stupid to be against what you don’t understand. And what is the alternative? all transportation eggs in one basket? When gas is 5$ a gallon, and there no alternatives, what good would 15 lanes, 20 lanes or 50 lanes of highway do? I guess Kyle is OK with sending a Dictator 150 billion (murbrak) but begruges 1.5 billion for Amtrack commuter rail and.
A good rail system will get trucks off the highway as well as providing safe commuter alternatives.
J M Bennett Railroad signal worker and proud BRS union member.


February 15th, 2011
7:51 am

Did the airline subsidy calculation include the cost of 3000 lives on 9/11?

Road Scholar

February 15th, 2011
7:53 am

How will high speed rail look when gas gets to $4 a gallon? How about $5/gal? Anyone for $6? At least rail can be driven by electricity, not just oil!

As for the airlines, they operate on oil if you haven’t noticed. Ticket prices are already going up, along with delays. Service is going down. I thought competition was the basis for our capitalism?

For those who say that rail, esp Amtrak and the NE rail corridors, operates at a loss, have you thought what roadway investment would be required to eliminate rail and transit to address the existing, let alone future needs? And what about polution? Oh that’s right polution doesn’t exist! Our air will look like China’s if we don’t do something different. Besides it woud create jobs. Oh that’s right here in Ga, we won’t increase our user fees (gas tax) to even address our needs let alone new jobs!


February 15th, 2011
7:55 am

And all of this comes at an exorbitant level of subsidy — $35 billion for Amtrak since 1970

Wait, you seriously wrote that?? $35 billion OVER 40 YEARS? That’s less per year than it cost for a week of reconstructing Iraq. Your priorities are seriously screwed if your numbers are right.

Hank Reardon

February 15th, 2011
8:49 am

Three words:
Cost Of Oil

Not just per barrel in the market…in defense resources we stupidly throw at the Middle East to ensure OPEC keeps prices low.

History is typically a great indicator of what will transpire in the future, but not on this issue. This is uncharted territory.

The US better keep up with the changing world, or get left behind.

There is no stopping population growth and all the increased demand for resources that come with it. And y’all know what increased demand leads to…


February 15th, 2011
9:43 am

Kyle, I agree with the sentiments, and the obvious fact is that the air and road systems are vastly more flexible than rail transit. That said, all the facts in this analysis are wrong. The reason you can get anywhere by road and air is because the investments have been made to make it so. Fuel taxes come NOWHERE close to covering the cost of just road MAINTENANCE now, forget about actual new investment and development. As is obvious, if new roads have to be built today, the only way to do it is with Tolls, which voters seem to hate, so no new roads are being built.

The same myopic view of government and transportation investment costs that wants to kill rail transit is ALSO killing new road investment.

Kyle, I like a lot of your columns. But this one is just off in left field. We need new transportation investment, in every form available, because gridlock is bringing this country to a standstill.

But if you want to live in a country with nationwide traffic jams, by all means, please publicly and openly advocate such an agenda. GRIDLOCK FOR ALL!


February 15th, 2011
9:44 am

Let’s face it. Airlines will never allow competition by another form of transportation to threaten their profits. Enough said. Half the population want the country to move forward while half want it to stand still. As we debate and squabble over twentieth century issues, our competition is moving ahead at a dizzying pace. Half the population embraces the future while half the population fears the future and want to hold onto the past. Our population becomes older and resistance will become the status quo. Beyond our shores there is an emerging world with youthful populations as its majorities.


February 15th, 2011
9:45 am

“could cost $500 billion over 25 years”


Just maintaining our roads, forget about building new ones, is going to cost $2 Trillion over the same time frame. Jesus.


February 15th, 2011
9:49 am

“High-speed rail subsidies are a bad investment”

Lasik surgery or just eye glasses for Conservatives would be a good investment. So they could actually figure out how to read and look at the statistics and figure out the difference between new investment in capacity versus maintaining the status quo.


February 15th, 2011
10:06 am

jm, it’s not a matter of not being able to read, it’s a matter of dishonesty. They are fully aware they leave out the fact air and road systems run on already-established infrastructure, heavily subsidized by previous generations of taxpayers. Why should they invest? They take the free ride quicker than a NYC turnstile jumper.

Then these pseudo-libertarians can hop in their fat SUV’s and drive 10 miles to the nearest grocery store while muttering about the darned gub’ment spending their money. That is, unless they encounter inconveniences like traffic or the Dali Lama’s nephew.

Question Authority

February 15th, 2011
10:18 am

Its not an investment. It is theft of money from the taxpayers. Worse, it is theft from future generations who don’t even have a say. None of this will be paid for with current revenues. It will be paid with debt at the Federal level and bonds (debt) at the local level. In the end, it will be a great subsidy for developers who own land near stations, companies who will build the wasteful system, and government administrators who will make way too much money shuffling money.

Add to this the inflation impact which is just a hidden tax on everyone and we have the collapse of the dollar and the american economy. The only positive outcome of these will be the collapse of the government at all levels and a situation that will force all of you rail supporters to finally realize that THERE IS NOT ENOUGH MONEY for all this government waste.


February 15th, 2011
10:22 am

“Rail only begins to make sense for traveling over long distances.”

Actually, it is quite the opposite. Rail makes much more sense for short and/or highly congested distances. If given the choice between air travel or rail for a distance of 400 miles or less (particularly if it was a high speed train travelling 150 miles per hour), people would choose rail, given the hassles of air travel.

By making such a statement you are obviously so ignorant of the topic that it is not even worth considering any of your other points!

Here Spot

February 15th, 2011
10:30 am

More Obama Horse Apples and Biden is choking down as many as possible. Quayle may have been useless but atleast he didnt open is mouth, too often, and prove how stupid he was…potato vs potahto. Biden is just plain stupid and out of touch.

JF McNamara

February 15th, 2011
10:35 am

I’m still undecided on this one. Rail in America is used by companies as a means of shipping products. The transportation aspect of the rail system is nominal even though it gets the lion share of attention.

What I don’t understand is how upgrading the rail system impacts the shipping needs of companies. If they can now use electric trains (ie no fossil fuels) and travel at higher speeds, I can easily see this being net positive in a very short amount of time. I’m never against building infrastructure that improves commerce.

If its passenger only, then its clearly a bad idea in America. There were people against interstates, but that clearly worked out. Not because of the ease of travel but because truckers can move products efficiently. Until I truly understand that, I’d wait to be hardcore for or against it.


February 15th, 2011
10:36 am

Got to love the hypocrisy of the Republicans. First, they pledge to cut spending by at least $100 billion the first year alone. Now, they claim their plan will cut $61 billion, which doesn’t meet the $100 billion pledge because the it’s now in the middle of the fiscal year which they knew it would be when they made the pledge. They also came up with this $61 billion amount by comparing it to last years budget proposal which was not passed instead of comparing their cuts to actual spending. When compared to actual spending, the amount is much less than the $61 billion.

As another poster pointed out earlier, they forcing the Pentagon to buy extra engines which the Pentagon says is not needed and not wanted. This is due to the fact the engine and parts are make in Cantor and Boehner’s districts…the top 2 Republicans in the house. Instead of funding things that are needed and wanted, they want to fund things that are not needed nor wanted.

And of course, there’s Georgia’s lawmakers, both at the state level and federal level, that are disappointed in the lack of more funding for expansion of the port of Savannah. The president’s budget proposal contains $600,000 for the project but Georgia lawmakers were seeking $105 million. These Republican lawmakers who ran on fiscal responsibility, cutting government spending, against earmarks, saying everyone will have to feel the pain are now wanting to increase the spending the president proposed in his budget for this project. They’re even looking at using earmarks, if need be, to get the funding. What happened to fiscal responsibility, cutting government spending and everyone having to feel the pain of the cuts?

retired early

February 15th, 2011
10:36 am

Just one more example of the difference between Liberals who are forward thinking re our country’s future and the conservatives…who want to return to the Guilded Age of early 1900’s….a couple more election cycles in their favor and we are there…back to their utopia of no social programs, no middle class, no income tax…the top 1% have 90% of the money…they may then go back to the good ol days of segregation, corrupt law enforcement, bans on alcohol…..”those were the days…”

Tychus Findlay

February 15th, 2011
10:43 am

High speed rail is unrealistic in a country the size of the US. It works in Europe because their geography is a fraction of ours.

You don’t see high speed rail as a priority in Canada, or Brazil, or Australia, or China, or any other “large’ country.

Here Spot

February 15th, 2011
10:47 am

Bascially anything ObaManure proposes is gonna be fraught with waste and stupidity. 2012 cant get here quick enough.


February 15th, 2011
10:51 am

So, um, it’s okay to subsidize roads but not trains?
The reasons cited above as to ‘why it doesn’t work’ is because we’ve subsidized *that* lifestyle, rather than rail.
We live far apart – because we have cars. Because we need huge parking lots and parking decks to house all those cars. We have lots of interstates because for some reason we have decided that we want to subsidize that rather than trains.
Trains are so much less stressful. Trains allow us such a better lifestyle than cars.
1) crime. When there are more people walking around and near each other, you’d have less crime – when you have a downtown like atlanta, where no one walks around, you have higher crime (NYC is one of the lowest crime cities in the country – look at where the high crime cities are).
2) obesity. You have lower obesity when you can walk places.
3) the young and old can get around. Right now, people buy their ‘barely can drive’ kids big cars they don’t know how to drive, because the parents are so thrilled they don’t have to drive their kids places anymore. If there were ways to get around other than cars, teens could be a little freer – without all the risks of young people on interstates (look at the mortality rates of kids under 18 who were driving – we get those articles *all the time* in this paper). Also, it would be easier to take the keys away from an elderly person who doesn’t have the capacity to drive if they could get around without a car. As it is, we have very dangerous drivers on the road because taking away someone’s keys is akin to taking away all their independence
3) just a nicer way to live – no worrying about car maintenance, how much it costs to fill up the tank, all that time spent filling up the tank and driving around for maintenance, no worrying about driving to one store, shopping, then having to drive across the street to go to another store, since you can only park in a store’s parking lot when you are shopping there. You can go places with other people, without worrying where to ‘ditch the car.’

I am a pretty darn big conservative when it comes to most issues. But I really don’t understand why this is so one way or another. We are all dependent on each other – people have convinced themselves that for some reason, when they are in their car, they are independent. Lot of good it did y’all when we had snow and the govt couldn’t clear the roads. The trains were still running.


February 15th, 2011
10:51 am

Well Kyle if you hate “high speed rail” so much, we can always revert back to the horse and buggy. After all, it’s the repugs dream to push the country back as far as possible — let’s forget about pre Reagan years, or pre-50’s, let’s go all the way back to pre-revolutionary war times!! Republican mantra: Progresss = BAD/European and un-American; Staid, Stale, and The Same= GREAT!! The American way!

Hank Reardon

February 15th, 2011
10:52 am

Tychus, it’s called Google. Try it.


High-speed rail in China
From Wikitravel

China is building a high-speed passenger rail network, similar to French TGV or Japanese Shinkansen “bullet trains”, but far larger and faster. The overall plan calls for 13,000 km of lines in a national high-speed passenger network by 2012, and more by 2020. Over 8,000 km are already in service. As that network comes online, many existing lines will become freight-only lines so overall freight capacity will be improved as well.

These are easily the best way of getting around China where available. The trains are clean, comfortable and modern. Seating is comparable to that in an airplane. Most tickets are for assigned seats; no-seat tickets are sometimes sold in limited numbers, but unlike regular Chinese trains, there is never a mad crush with more people sitting in the aisles than in seats. Also unlike other trains, no smoking is allowed, including toilet and between carriages. Prices are reasonable and, on most routes, departures are frequent.

The fast trains are called CRH, China Railway High-speed. At some train stations there is a separate CRH ticket office or even vending machines; at others, CRH tickets are sold at separate counters in the main ticket office. In either case, just look for the “CRH” signs or logo. There are mostly two classes of seats, first class and second class. Both classes are comfortable, though first has noticeably wider seats. Some trains also have limited number of VIP sightseeing class or private seat cabin.

The letter prefixes on train numbers indicte the type of train. From fastest to slowest, they are:

G or C: latest generation CRH, all with top speeds of at least 330 km/h and some up to 380 km/h (236 mph)
D: earlier generation CRH, with top speeds of 200 km/h or 250 km/h (125 or 155 mph)
Z or T: intermediate-speed non-CRH trains
K or no letter: slower, cheaper and more crowded trains
The speeds attained vary considerably from line to line. The technology used also varies. Nearly all the rolling stock is now manufactured in China, but much of the technology comes from abroad. The Canadian company Bombardier, Japanese Kawasaki, German Siemens and European Alstom have been involved.

See China#Get_around for more general information on rail travel in China.


February 15th, 2011
10:56 am

@tychus: when I lived in Nice, France, it was a 12 hour ‘regular’ train trip to paris. It was about 5 or 6 hours on high speed rail. It’s about 600 miles between the two cities, and less than 250 miles from Atlanta to Charlotte, about 450 miles from atlanta to orlando. So, um, that ‘excuse’ doesn’t really hold water.
IF there was a train between atlanta and orlando that wasn’t a joke (in order to go between the two cities by train, one must go through DC – idiotic) i can tell you there would be a lot of people who took that train (oh, and atlanta to DC, 640 miles, only slightly farther than paris to nice).


February 15th, 2011
10:57 am

Thanks, Hank – makes a lot of sense.

Why I Left the GOP...

February 15th, 2011
10:58 am

Thought like this on from Republicans is exactly why I call myself a conservative not a Republican. Rail is the favorite whipping boy of GOPers because you claim that they don’t break even or raise enough revenue. Yet the GOPs infrastructure improvement recommendation is to spend trillions on roads that are outmoded, inefficient and do not generate ANY revenue outside of the handful of toll roads around the country. Kyle you obviously have no clue about business and operations. You’re just the token GOP hack at the AJC and you give real conservatives like me a bad name.


February 15th, 2011
11:03 am

The thing about high speed rail is you need to have critical masses of people interested in getting from point a to point b on a train. In Europe this makes sense because interesting places are relatively close together and there is a huge tourist trade that rely on the rail. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense in the United States unless we are talking about maybe it being more economical for shipping products rather than people.


February 15th, 2011
11:05 am

Another thing. We dont have any money. Why is buying something like this even on the table? It is like an indigent family saying they want to buy a Cadillac because they could move around faster. Where in the hell are they going? And how will they pay for it? It just doesn’t make any sense to spend when the country is $14 TRILLION in debt.


February 15th, 2011
11:07 am

@wallbanger: but it’s a chicken and the egg thing…
and…um…how big is the dept of transportation budget? there’s a federal budget, then a budget in each state. take some of that money.

JF McNamara

February 15th, 2011
11:10 am

Here’s a good write up on the real issue. Its not the money, its the oppostion of those running freight traffic. I’m sure that’s where all of the hatred for high speed rail is originating. I would seem that they could find a common ground that benefits both passenger and freight rail.



February 15th, 2011
11:11 am

Kyle has obviously never been to Chicago, or heard of Metra. It’s a commuter train system that can get you from South Bend, IN to Madison, WI without getting in your car. I don’t view that as ling distance travel. And how much do we pay over a 20 year period to maintain or roads; not any new ones either. Regional and national rail infrastructure is needed because we can’t just keep building roads. I think must sensible people already know this.

Usually Kyle is quick to badger any person who is in disagreement w him. Even he must know this article sucked and other modes of transportation are needed.

Hank Reardon

February 15th, 2011
11:14 am

Use the money we save by getting out of Iraq completely.
In fact, audit the Pentagon. I’d bet the farm that there is plenty of wasted money to use there.
If we begin slowly now, to lay the foundations for this network, we can do it at the same rate that the demand for these services increases.
Eisenhower’s interstate system wasn’t cheap, but it was well worth it.
Not to mention, designing and laying tracks creates jobs, just like creating the highways did.
Until folks get back to work, you can forget about getting out of debt.


February 15th, 2011
11:15 am

Kyle needs a complete reboot on this topic. Quoting Robert Samuelson, the poster child for the gloom and doom school of economics, who never has anything positive to say about anything, isn’t much of a source. He’s obsessed with deficits, and knows nothing about transportation. And the subsidies for Amtrak are tiny, too small to have the system run properly. The idea that Amtrak couldn’t be run properly because it’s a rail system doesn’t make sense. The Republicans simply don’t want anything in government to run properly because of their rigid ideology, so they have hampered Amtrak at every turn. And short runs are exactly where rail is most efficient … for commutes into cities to combat congestion. In eastern cities like Boston rail is the method of choice for several hundred thousand commuters daily. It’s comfortable, efficient and economical. Atlanta is easily congested enough for that to be a highly attractive solution. Who knows if connecting high speed rail between, say, Birmingham and Atlanta might not lead to a revivification of ties between the two cities and lead to some economic benefit. This editorial is the worst I’ve ever seen Kyle write.

Rafe Hollister

February 15th, 2011
11:16 am

This rail proposal should be DOA. I heard one expert say last week, that when Biden spouts off about “high speed rail”, what he actually means is 39 MPH Amtrak. Many on here fantasize about Japanese “bullet trains” flying along at 190 mph” and what Obama is trying to sell is more Amtrak.

And for those of you long for futuristic mode of transportation, remember rail is horse and buggy. If we had reliable rail lines from NYC to Chicago and to San Fransico, how many would actually take the time to enjoy the scenery and spend two days on the train. A few old geezers on vacation. Rail has not shown itself to be significantly less expensive that airlines. Call and get a price on taking the train from Atlanta to DC and You will find you are spending much more time and saving little if any money.

Rafe Hollister

February 15th, 2011
11:19 am

those of you longing for a futuristic mode of transportation.


February 15th, 2011
11:27 am

Can you say TSA. Yes folks ,all of us non-flying taxpayers subsidize those who fly. Another boondoggle that should be paid for by those who use it.


February 15th, 2011
11:31 am

High speed rail is a great idea! I love the train; when I lived in St. Louis back in the late 1970’s, my friends and I would take the train 3-4 times per year to Chicago. It is just wonderful; the trip took about 3-4 hours; we had great comfortable seats, could eat and drink in our coach, had great views from the windows and because fellow travelers were in a good mood, I had numerous interesting converstaions with other people! It was wonderful; no airline could ever match the atmosphere, comfort or quality, then and definitely now.

If the train had been high speed, we probably would have made Chicago in two hours or less. I would use high speed rail all the time, rather than driving, as I do now. I just refuse to fly with all of the bad treatment travelers are subject to these days; I just refuse to be treated like a criminal for merely wanting to fly somewhat, so I drive whenever the trip is 10 hours or less. High speed rail would save time, money, energy cost and hopefully return pleasure to the travelers.

High speed rail is very successful in both Europe and Japan; it can be successful here in the USA. Of course, building the new rail system would most likely employ thousands of Americans citizens at good wages; I guess we can’t have that! Afterall, business and the GOP, both seem to think they have the American worker were they want us – on our knees and willing to work for 3rd world wages, but think again.

President Obama’s program to build a high speed rail system is right on target. It will employ thousands of Americans, cut our enery cost and dependence and give the airlines some real competition. All of this naysaying is just noise from those who have absolutely no idea how to get this country moving again and how to get us into the future. Be mindeful Kyle, your ideas as so 20th century for someone so young. What a shame.

Port O'John

February 15th, 2011
11:35 am

The Conservative Version of America: The Can’t Do Country.

Scrap space exploration, scrap rail, scrap clean energy, scrap affordable healthcare for ordinary americans. But keep those corporate subsidies for big oil, big developers, big corporate farms, defense contractors and big pharma coming. Because that’s in America’s best interest.


February 15th, 2011
11:39 am

@Rafe Hollister

“I heard one expert say last week, that when Biden spouts off about “high speed rail”, what he actually means is 39 MPH Amtrak.”

Who is this supposedly “expert” you mention? Someone on Fox?


February 15th, 2011
11:41 am

I wonder how many of the extra engines the Pentagon has hanging around? The ones Republicans are forcing the Pentagon to buy even though they don’t want or need them.

H. Hunt

February 15th, 2011
11:42 am

Does the subsidies for Air travel include TSA? Airport and terminal costs?

Bottom line, if I need to travel less than 600 miles, it is a lot easier to just drive, but a waste of fuel and tires.
Think about it – you live 1 hour away from the airport. HAVE to be there 2 hours early, so allow 30 minutes more to park. Flight is 2 to 3 hours, depending on weather. Have to rent a car (1 hour). Probably take 1 hour to destination.
So that’s 7 hours, just in travel. Plus cost of rental car, parking, etc.

When I need to go from ATL to New York, I ALWAYS take Amtrak. Get a sleeper for same price as a flight. Work a bit or read a bit, sleep 8 hours, Breakfast as arriving Washington DC. New York (DOWNTOWN ALREADY !) at the end of lunch.

Rail is what we need between metro areas. We already have the right-of-way (median of the Interstates – elevate the train).
If you think otherwise, well, you ain’t flown much lately.


February 15th, 2011
11:43 am

Every time they ‘expand’ the highway system, it takes a few years or so, but traffic is just as bad as when they proposed ‘relieving’ the congestion.
Why you ask? Well, if you live – wherever – and your commute is 1.5 hours, well, when they expand the roads, and your commute decreases, that’s great for you, right? But housing prices nearby go up, so people have to live even further out. Which we all know they will do – because now ‘further out’ is ‘better’ since you can still have that 1.5 hour commute ‘further out.’ So eventually, congestion goes back to where it was. You can’t win for losing, right?
Wrong…build some trains, that will relieve congestion, because people have choices (and it seems that people who don’t like the train think something along the lines of them being FORCED to take it, and I’ve never seen anywhere where someone would force another person to take a train – if you like driving, great for you – why not let others do something different? it’s completely intolerant…)

Hillbilly Deluxe

February 15th, 2011
11:43 am

Not being an Atlanta resident, it’s probably none of my business but it seems to me it would make more sense to expand rail in the Metro area, than to build a line from Atlanta to Chattanooga. I’d think there’d be many more potential riders.

Gubment cheese

February 15th, 2011
11:55 am

Would amtrak survive without govt subsidies? nope. It fails in the freemarketplace and all this crap about high speed rail comes down to one thing and one thing only. Its just another govt boondoggle that doesn’t survive in the marketplace. End of story.

Hank Reardon

February 15th, 2011
11:59 am

Neither does air travel or farming.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

February 15th, 2011
11:59 am

Any non-military “investment” by the overlords always turns out bad, a waste and a sop to a politically-connected mercantilist.


February 15th, 2011
12:04 pm

The US simply does not have the population density to make rail travel cost effective.

Hank Reardon

February 15th, 2011
12:08 pm

While I’m all for the gov’t removing itself from subsidizing most everything, certain things require a large startup cost and this is one of them. There is no company holding enough capital to begin this system. It is one forward thinking thing that a gov’t like ours can do to enable commerce. Do you use the interstate system, Gubment? Isn’t it wonderful? How long will its capacity suffice?

Pull the plug on subsidizing those industries that are past ’startup’ and let’s see which can survive in the marketplace.


February 15th, 2011
12:11 pm

Gubment Cheese- Name one industry that DOESN’T get some type of subsidy from the ‘gubment’? Oil companies receive them and they’re making record profits. So does Big Pharma thanks to W and Medicare Part D.