It certainly ain’t your daddy’s “A-Train”
From today’s Wall Street Journal:
President Barack Obama on Thursday called for spending at least $13 billion to launch a “new era” of high-speed passenger rail transportation, sparking competition among states and providing a potentially rich new market for rail equipment makers.
Besides allocating $8 billion in stimulus funds for high-speed rail, Mr. Obama said he would seek to budget $5 billion more over the next five year
Rail is a good way to move people around under the right circumstances. The Metroliner between Washington D.C. and New York is a great way to travel between those two cities. But for anyone who might be expecting a Eurorail-like system to spring up sooner rather than later, you might be a bit disappointed.
The eastern corridors will be pretty well served, though from this DOT map, it looks like I’d have to get to Orlando to catch a train to Miami … at least a high-speed train. There is some talk of opening up the old Florida East Coast Railway lines to get between Jacksonville and Miami. The south and midwest fare pretty well under the Obama plan, and Governor Schwartzeneger has already said he’ll try to get a big chunk of the money for Cahl-ee-forn-ee-ah. But between Texas and Minnesota to Idaho and Nevada … you’re out of luck.
There is some concern among the airlines, which are struggling already, that the huge influx of federal stimulus money into rail travel could seriously effect short-haul airlines. Still, it made sense on the route between D.C. and New York because it was competitively priced and was about the same amount of time to midtown … without all the airline hassles. But even a high-speed train between, for instance, Jacksonville and D.C. (a route shown here and one I actually use), would still take far longer. It’s about 2 hours from here to D.C. on a regional jet. I’m imagining it’ll be a day or more on the train. So I don’t know how much competition that will be for the airlines. And, of course, it’ll take years to build and bring online. Good for people getting money from a federal stimulus. Maybe not so much if you’re standing on the platform waiting for the train.
I know President Obama is looking for projects that will hopefully put a lot of people to work. Building these high-speed rail corridors would very likely do that. But one has to wonder, if passenger rail travel were economically viable, wouldn’t there be companies doing it already? How much of an ongoing subsidy will we be responsible for down the road if the trains don’t turn a profit?
Many of these stimulus ideas come with some of the same questions attached. I know people need to get back to work. I’m one of them. I just hope this new administration has thought some of these things through.