High-Speed Rail Is Going Nowhere Fast | Citizens Against Government Waste

High-Speed Rail Is Going Nowhere Fast

The WasteWatcher

High-speed rail has long been hyped as the next sensation for public transportation in the United States.  But in many areas, these projects are exorbitantly expensive, unwanted and unnecessary.  Unfortunately, politicians and special interests are trying to keep them on track. 

Like many other infrastructure projects, high-speed rail is subject to rosy projections but fail to meet estimates of cost and usage. These projects require the use of eminent domain to seize and purchase of land, and in some states, it is cheaper to use alternative sources of transportation to cover the same distance.  Rather than continue to waste valuable taxpayer resources on these projects, states should hit the brakes, especially while the country is in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.  High-speed rail in the states and on the national level have been promised for decades, but work to deploy new infrastructure has been delayed because of the high cost. 

The poster child for high-speed rail running into roadblocks is in California.  The project, which was  supposed to unite the state’s coastal metropolises and parts of the Central Valley, is way behind schedule and massively over budget.  Former California Governor Jerry Brown initially budgeted at $35 billion for the project, which has now become a mismanaged fiscal horror story. The now $100 billion cost is 23 percent greater than the highest estimated cost of $81.4 billion that Citizens Against Government Waste projected in an extensive September 2008 joint report with the Reason Foundation and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation.  The report cited many other problems with the project, including absurdly high ridership projections that “could well rank among the most unrealistic projections produced for a major transport project anywhere in the world. Under a passenger-mile per route-mile standard, the CHSRA is projecting higher passenger use of the California system than is found on the Japanese and French HSR networks despite the fact that these countries have conditions that are far more favorable to the use of HSR.”  In May 2019, the Trump administration pulled $1 billion in funding from the project. 

Since 2010, there have been plans for high-speed rail in Texas from Dallas to Houston.  The Texas Central project has led some landowners to come out against the project and sue the state over anticipated land surveying and land seizures.  While the bullet train has political support in the metropolitan areas of Texas, it has received almost universal condemnation in the rural parts of the state. 

As of May 2019, it was estimated that the Texas high-speed rail project will cost $15 billion.  While Texas Central promised not to use public money for the high-speed rail, it is anticipated that the project administrators will ask for federal funding and they even considered using federal stimulus money from the CARES Act to help move the project forward.  Citizens Against Government Waste President Tom Schatz argued in an op-ed published in the Longview News Journalthat the projections do not suggest that Dallas and Houston will connect more efficiently, as Texans have a high rate of car ownership, and the two cities have low rates of public transportation.

The New York State legislature is expected to debate creating a hyperloop and high-speed rail commission “to assess and study the benefits and implications” of adding high-speed rail to the state.  Illinois is also working on a bill to create a High-Speed Rail Commission to investigate and create a plan to connect several cities within the state and St. Louis, Missouri.

While many of these projects claim that they will not use federal taxpayer dollars, eventually the states run out of their own residents’ money and start heading to Congress for help.  While high-speed rail may look exciting at first and if works relatively well in Europe and Japan, the physical obstacles, including geography and distance, along with the long track record of fiscal and organizational mismanagement, make if far more difficult to achieve in the U.S.  High-speed rail projects are off track and going nowhere fast.