Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Bullet Trains: Cash for Clunkers II

President Obama wants $53B for high speed rail.
The White House on Tuesday announced plans to spend $53 billion over the next six years to build high-speed railroads, bringing California's massive bullet train project closer to reality.
It's so fundamentally stupid that it makes me think it's some kind of political payoff. It's like Cash for Clunkers all over again. I almost want it to be corrupt. At least then I wouldn't be thinking that this administration was completely divorced from reality.

Who's going to ride a train to go between cities that are only a hundred miles apart? I guess if you're talking about the congested Boston-DC corridor, that might make sense, but here in California? Are you crazy? Where I live, if I wanted to take the train north to LA, I'd have to drive south to get to the train station and then time my trip according to the train schedules. Once I got to LA, I'd either have to take a cab or rent a car to get where I wanted to go.

It would be absolutely impossible to make this trip take less time than driving. The whole idea is staggeringly dumb.


Jeff Burton said...

The fetishization of rail travel on the left always amazes me. It's dangerous to speculate about occult motives, but I think there a number of things going on. First is the worship of all things european. Second, an aggrandizement of state power. Third, a genuine hatred of the chaos, and yes, freedom enabled by the current transportation paradigm. Recently I read an argument that many rail enthusiasts are simply terrified of airline travel. Seems unlikely to me, but it's more sensible than the ostensible reasons.

Whatever the reasons, the arguments from efficiency are ludicrous. In my neck of the woods, a salubrious change in governors has saved us from a high speed rail connection between chicago and minneapolis. The only thing it would have made more efficient is the drug trade between the two cities.

Whittlin' Man - formerly "Lawman" said...

This idea is just stupid in epic proportions.

Mass transit by rail will never be as feasible here in the US as it is in Europe.

England has almost as many trains running as it does cars on the road ways. It's a pretty easy way to get around if you have all day to get where you're going.

Can you really see US business people taking 8 hours to get somewhere they could drive to in 3? Do you really think they will plan their business activities around a train schedule?

And to echo your comment, why would I use a train to go an hour or two away and then have to rent a car once I got there? The cost would be prohibitive even if I wanted to use the rail system.

I won't even go into the details of the massive cost overruns projects like this always incur which in turn, always increase the final cost of operating.

K T Cat said...

There's a common refrain on the Ricochet podcast - "It's like they don't know us" referring to the Administration. That's a pretty acurate assessment, I think.

tim eisele said...

But of course it's a political payoff. Big construction projects generally *are*, because the construction companies have a lot of political pull.

"If it involves pouring concrete, a government will do it. A government may do things that do not involve pouring concrete, but only by accident" - Ben Bova, "Cement"

K T Cat said...

Tim, I'm not such a cynic as Ben Bova. The Interstate Highway System and our hydroelectric dams suggest that we're capable of mighty engineering efforts that are also quite useful. High speed rail, however, certainly fits Mr. Bova's model.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget why we don't have streetcars any more... once you lay the rail, you're committed to the route. If your demographics change or the population shifts, you're stuck going where the tracks are, even if that's not where you want to be any more.

Rail makes sense in the northeast corridor, where there are many city-dwellers without cars. But even there, they haven't figured out how to make a train go fast. Sure, they can get "up to" 80 mph, but you can do better than that on the highway sometimes ;-) The gypsy buses between cities are much more popular at less than $10 a trip.

If they haven't figured out how to make rail work in the one place it makes sense, it's doomed everywhere else.