Monday, February 14, 2011
SAN DIEGO This morning Newsweek columnist Robert Samuelson had another in a series of columns blasting high-speed rail. His story appeared in the Washington Post and was reprinted in numerous daily papers, including the San Diego Union Tribune.
Read his piece by clicking on the link above. Basically, he argues that history shows government-operated rail systems in the U.S. have been money pits. Samuelson says spending $53 billion on high-speed rail over six years will just make it a bigger pit.
I wrote about plans for high-speed rail in California a month ago. I quoted a transportation economist from the Reason Foundation, a libertarian-leaning think tank, as a critic of high-speed rail. But Samuelson has emerged as the guy who carries the flag for bullet-train opponents.
The enormous cost of high-speed rail should make us welcome critics like Samuelson. On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to assume high-speed rail will fail simply because Amtrak has failed. They’re apples and oranges.
But don’t draw lines between cities, build tracks and assume people will travel by train. You need feeder transit lines that connect high-speed rail stations to the places people really want to go. If you want to discourage travel by car, you have to stop building more freeways lanes and increase gas taxes to be sure the cost of gas is more than people want to spend.
Executives at the California High-Speed Rail Authority say gas may cost $8 a gallon in 20 years but that's wishful thinking. If it’s still cheap for people to drive their cars from San Diego to Oakland, that’s probably what they’ll do.
Higher gas taxes? A moratorium on freeway expansion? You need to take some big steps to make high-speed rail work.