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February 08, 2011

$53 Billion for High Speed Rail

Wait, it wasn't a joke? I swear, it sounded like a joke.

Vice Cretin Joe Biden, who seems like a developmentally-stunted oldster who just really needs to be kept in a sanitarium with a really cool model train kit, is of course pushing for it.

Biden, who estimated he has ridden Amtrak between Washington and his home in Wilmington, Delaware, some 7,900 times, made a strong pitch for rail transportation to enable the United States to compete and lead internationally.

"This is about seizing the future," he said...

Ben notes that Obama was willing to consider up to $775 million (with an m) in cuts to his budget. With one hand he giveth, with the other he bankrupteth.

I'm not anti-train so much as I'm anti-Amtrak.

U.S. taxpayers spent about $32 subsidizing the cost of the typical Amtrak passenger in 2008, about four times the rail operator's estimate, according to a private study.

Amtrak operates a nationwide rail network, serving more than 500 destinations in 46 states. Forty-one of Amtrak's 44 routes lost money in 2008, said the study by Subsidyscope, an arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

...

Leading the list was the train traveling between New Orleans and Los Angeles — the Sunset Limited — which lost $462 per passenger. Taxpayers subsidize the losses to keep the passenger train service running.

That's a high price to pay, year after year, for a nostalgia act.

You know who hates all this? Reason magazine, which attacks government rail with vitriol and facts but mostly facts every other month. In California, a lot of money has been spent on high speed rail products that are simply phantoms.

The project is a high-decibel example of the magical thinking that takes hold when people talk about trains. A few years ago, when the rail bonds were being debated, I participated in the quaint ritual of an editorial board meeting at the Los Angeles Times in which we debated how to “weigh in” on this critical issue. While I, the team’s only mass transit rider, had the handicap of knowing what I was talking about, I was nonetheless pleased at the group’s readiness to acknowledge that the high-speed rail project offered only anemic ridership levels, endless subsidies, and a strong likelihood of never happening. But in the end, of course, we ran with an editorial titled “Believe in the Bullet Train.” The piece complained that “critics…base their arguments on the past, not the future.”

The bullet train also exemplifies the arrogance and Bourbon high-handedness with which grand plans get made. Several times the California High Speed Rail Authority has been caught mapping out bullet train alignments and then failing to notify homeowners whose properties would be slated for seizure via eminent domain. The current plan would have the 220-mile-per-hour train running through well-populated residential areas. It also pits the Authority against Union Pacific over track resources, meaning the bullet train would essentially replace freight—the one genre of rail transport that remains viable and important to the economy—with a passenger rail project that has no hope of ever becoming sustainable.

Finally, the bullet train is a case study in the immortality of a bad idea. While the train itself may never become a reality, sheer political will makes the train project impossible to kill. “The project has been fighting every year to stay alive,” says Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, a watchdog group that supports a rail project in principle but is critical of the Authority. “So they did what they had to do to stay alive, because that’s better than being dead.”

After 14 years of no life signs, how can you tell the difference? Amtrak used to try and lure riders with the slogan “There’s Something About a Train That’s Magic.” In reality, we know that magical trains exist only in cartoons.

I like that part about the train supposedly going 220 miles per hour through the hearts of residential neighborhoods. Yeah, not going to happen; even if it were built it would be forbidden, by law, from going over 70 mph.

But let's pretend. Because that's all America is now, starshine and unicorn glow.


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posted by Ace at 02:15 PM

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