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  • Obama’s High-Speed Sale

    President Obama’s proposed $53-billion more for “high-speed rail” (on top of a previous $10-billion) is a testimony to the power of adjectives.

    If it were labeled “plain old rail travel” it would lack the pizazz but would be far more accurate.  Understating costs, overstating benefits, and lots of supersonic rhetoric are the selling points for high-speed rail.

    The “high speed” adjective invokes thoughts of bullet trains speeding at 150 mph, 200 mph or more.  The reality of Obama’s plan is—at best—the 85 mph that is the average speed of America’s fastest train, the Amtrak-run Acela.

    When Obama claims his trains would reach 100 mph and more, he’s talking about peak speed reached only for short stretches, not the average.

    How about pollution savings?  The supposed rail advantage depends on comparing apples to oranges.  If you compare auto emissions on highways, they’re no worse than rail emissions.  Rail has an advantage only if you compare long-distance train trips with car emissions from stop-and-go driving in the city.

    An exhaustive Department of Energy analysis by Oak Ridge National Laboratory concludes, “intercity auto trips tend to be relatively efficient highway trips with higher-than-average vehicle occupancy rates — on average, they are as energy-efficient as rail intercity trips. Additionally, if passenger rail competes for modal share by moving to high speed service, its energy efficiency should be reduced somewhat12 — making overall energy savings even more problematic.”
    The lack of energy or pollution savings leaves us with the key problem:  Huge expense with little benefit.

    Rail travelers don’t pay their own way as drivers must do.  Obama’s plan would increase the rail subsidies, which already are heavily subsidized with tax money–often by hundreds of dollars a trip for each passenger–whereas the U.S. Department of Transportation reports that drivers receive no subsidy:  Drivers buy the roads through fuel taxes, and also must pay for their own car, gas, insurance and repairs.

    Obama’s $63-billion is just a drop in the bucket, though, when compared to the hundreds of billions – if not trillions — his ultimate plan would require (to “give access” to 80% of the country).

    Except for our coastal areas, most of America lacks the population density that makes rail more feasible in places like Europe, Japan or China.  President Obama’s political support is centered in our large cities that would claim the benefits of high-dollar rail subsidies.

    But trains–just like airplanes—won’t take you directly from your home to your destination, but only between airports or train stations.  You must find other means to get to and from the stations.  Only automobiles take you all the way from start to finish—and without stopping at multiple stations as trains must do.

    That’s why rail and transit carry a declining percentage of America’s passengers each year, despite the heavy subsidies they receive.  Airlines handle almost 100 times as many domestic passenger miles as Amtrak, and our roads handle almost 800 times what Amtrak does.

    Even if we doubled our intercity rail, it would provide a very tiny boost to travel—and at exorbitant cost.  People prefer cars because they offer the time-saving convenience and flexibility to carry you to precisely where you want to go.  Our government should recognize that consumers place a premium on this, before spending billions of our money trying to tell us that we’re wrong.

    –Former Congressman Ernest Istook chaired the Transportation Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

    Posted in Ongoing Priorities [slideshow_deploy]

    15 Responses to Obama’s High-Speed Sale

    1. oinonio says:

      You article is full of half-truths and fabrications indicative of either intent to deceive or a lack of knowledge of the issue. A key initiative introduced today is the classification of rail corridors, with the the "Core Express" trains running at speeds on par with Japanese, Chinese or European highspeed systems. Likewise, your describing of "Top speeds not average speed" is perhaps accurate of the status quo, but not of the plan as envisioned.

      Your painting a false picture to your readers who should read the source material rather than your myopic opinion: http://wh.gov/xco

    2. Bobbie says:

      Doesn't work, Mr. Obama. You being government, is walking us into a crisis. You being government, have to step aside and let the free market run it. The free market respects to know what "want" and "need" of the consumer is, you only know how to convince what "want" and "need" is with no respect to individual ability. You're corrupting ways is becoming of you and your content of character is untrustworthy.

    3. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Foundry: Conservative Policy News. -- Topsy.com

    4. Pingback: Obama’s High-Speed Sale | Big Propaganda

    5. Pingback: High-Speed Rail — High-Speed Boondoggle. « American Elephants

    6. Derek, Pittsburgh says:

      I am a staunch conservative. That being said, I am extremely intrigued with high speed rail particularly Vacuum tube high speed rail technology. China and India are moving forward with their own versions and this kind of technology could literally revolutionize travel. It's low emissions and high efficiency could be enough to placate the enviro-nuts who currently run the country (we might have a harder time getting it past the rail labor unions, but we will cross that bridge when it comes). Also, all the technology that is required to build it is readily available. Lets get our fiscal house in order, and then we should consider the possibilities that vacuum tube high speed rails can offer our country and our worlds.

    7. Dennis Georgia says:

      This is another stimulus package that will cost the tax payer trillions down the road. we as tax payers are giving millions a year to train travel, airlines that go no where and have limited people useing them. Members of Congress talk about cutting, even obama has mentioned the word, but when it comes down to the wire they all spend. We as a country do not have the money for this crap that will only benefit those in power, like harry reid, a pawn of pelosi, and his bullet train to vegas. Someone needs to show how this will benefit the tax payer??????????

    8. Tom Sullivan in FL says:

      The United States is broke. The federal government is borrowing almost half its income. The debt is over 5 times income. We cannot afford any new programs.

      Most passenger systems are massive money-losers, not even counting the huge construction expense. Only a financial lunatic could think passenger rail is a good idea.

    9. Mike, Nevada says:

      In response to oinonio: Most of us do not know much about high-speed rail except that the bullet trains look impressively fast. I’d like to learn more, but I had to chuckle when you refer to a White House press release as “source material”. Sorry, but that just isn’t enough of an authoritative source to support this taxpayer’s support of such a huge cost in any economy much less a bad one. And incidentally, Joe Biden is no more "visionary" than Al Gore was, and is about as credible.

    10. Lloyd Scallan (New O says:

      We all know Joe Biden's hair plugs went a little do deep thus effected his speach process. But it did not effect his ability to lie and distort the truth in support of his boss Obama. Yet those such as "oinonio" that refuse to accept facts in favor of "the "plan as enviosioned". This is the same "vision" of the '50's that "invisioned" colinolsation of outer space and rocket ship travel with

      flying cars on earth by this time in history. Every word spoken by Obama and Biden is just another diversion to direct attention away from their final goal

      for this nation.

    11. William Downey, Worc says:

      National transportation policy has to be examined in the light of two other key national policies, infrastructure and energy. The most efficent way to move people and goods across long stretches or from one metropolitan area to another is by rail. Taking vehicles cars and commercial motor vehicles off highways reduces the effect of those vehicles on infrastructue and congestion. This utlimately reduces the consumption of fuel and pollutants.

      Please note that the new generation(s) of locomotive use fuel more effcently and are being designed to run on alternative fuels. Moving people from the automobile to alternate forms of transportation, rail and other mass transit, utlimately reduces energy consumption, as many of the newer vehicles used in mass transit operate on national gas.

      It is time we stopped viewing transportation, energy and infrastructure policy as silo's and started viewing them as interdependent.

    12. Tim AZ says:

      High Speed Debt Enhancement would be more accurate. It's not that difficult to understand that American railroads were not designed for these kinds of speeds. Not to mention that freight trains and high speed rail trains are a deadly and unworkable combination. This would require a completely new rail system separate from our current rail system. I can't be convinced that a trillion dollars would begin to accomplish that task alone. This is just another step towards the economic collapse of America with nice sounding name for it. Had enough yet?

    13. Spiritof76, NH says:

      I think the high speed train would probably carry US Postal mail lifting it out of its perennial red. Can't wait to see the high speed train operating at 10% of its top speed, charging tickets much higher than airlines and serving lousy food. Amtrack is the forerunner to the impending boondoggle-double down on the boondoggle.

      Let us be patriotic and defund the whole government-run snail rails and PO. Let us top the $ printing presses too.

    14. Blue Dog Mich says:

      The key here is that autos take you precisely where you want to go and planes & trains don't. 'Nuff said.

    15. Pingback: High-Speed Pork? Thanks but No Thanks! « American Elephants

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