Midwest To Waste $400 MM On High Speed Rail

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I fear I am getting way too political for a real estate blog but I can’t help myself. Breaking news: Midwest to get $400 MM in high speed rail funds. My first thought is that we already have a high speed mode of transportation from Chicago to Detroit and St. Louis. It’s called Southwest Airlines: 2 hours and $89 to Detroit and 1 hour and $84 to St. Louis.

What a total waste. The last time I took a train from Chicago to St. Louis (I hurt my back and didn’t want to drive and since it was last minute the airfare was a lot higher and I thought the train would be fun) the Amtrak train pulled out of the station with a known mechanical problem, drove a few miles down the track, and parked for like 6 hours while we waited for a substitute engine. It’s like putting the post office in charge of getting you somewhere.

I’d like to see the extensive financial analysis that went into deciding that it was worth $200 MM to shave 30 minutes off of the transit time to Detroit. I’d also like to know what the total cost of moving passengers is going to be and what people are willing to pay for this added benefit and how many people are going to use this.

And then we wonder why we have a huge deficit problem. If we want to invest in rail I suspect we would find it more useful focusing on freight transport. Supposedly freight movement grinds to a halt when it gets to Chicago. Consequently our highways in the area are clogged with trucks pulling 40 foot trailers (the drivers of which are talking on their cell phones half the time).

0 thoughts on “Midwest To Waste $400 MM On High Speed Rail

  1. “They will be part of a network expected to connect 80 percent of the country’s high-speed rail within 25 years.”
    This about more than Chicago, STL, and Detroit.
    I understand your concerns w/respect to debt-but as a Country we can’t simply say we’re done building, we’re done w/infrastucture, we’re done modernizing, we’re done innovating. If we simply respond to all Federal projects with unwavering cynicism, where does that get us? Also-people ask “where are the jobs?” Projects like this create such jobs-here in the Midwest, and throughout the Country.
    Also from a practical standpoint-consider “Although air travel has higher speeds, more time is needed for taxiing, boarding (fewer doors), security check, luggage drop, and ticket check. Also rail stations are usually located nearer to urban centers than airports. These factors often offset the speed advantage of air travel for mid-distance trips.” That’s from wikipedia btw and they don’t like 🙂
    As a Country we constantly complain that “we’re falling behind”, yet when we try and “catch up”, we reference our grandkids and what not in denouncing such efforts. That’s not to say I can’t appreciate your position or concerns. Good topic.

  2. *That’s from wikipedia btw and they don’t LIE :)(felt compelled to correct that lol)

  3. Investments need to have returns and it’s not clear to me that they did any return on investment analysis. I find it hard to believe there will be a decent return on this.
    As for the jobs…jobs are only worthwhile if they provide a return on the labor invested. We can create tons of jobs by having people digging holes and then filling them in but at the end of the day we would have nothing to show for it.
    I should have added another point in my post. I’d like to see some rail investment on the freight end. Supposedly freight movement grinds to a halt when it gets to Chicago. Consequently our highways in the area are clogged with trucks pulling 40 foot trailers (the drivers of which are talking on their cell phones half the time).

  4. I have to disagree Gary. Air travel is really impractical for short trips. I would much prefer HIGH SPEED train travel. The trick is it really has to be high speed as in the trains need to go like 200mph. Anything less it probably isn’t worth it.
    The one thing government does well is invest in infrastructure and I think a serious investment in something like this is needed. We also need other alternatives to airplanes. Remember how paralyzed we were for about three weeks following September 11th?

  5. Well, here’s the deal…if passengers pay the full cost I would be fine with it. The fact of the matter is that passengers won’t pay the full cost because it’s not worth it to them. So why should the government decide it’s worth it?

  6. This argument makes no sense and is completely subjective. Since when do air or car travelers pay the full cost of flying or driving? So you think federal, state, and local governments don’t pay anything for runways, airports (and their associated mass transit systems), roads, bridges, etc.? I can assure you that only a small fraction of this funding is covered by ticket taxes, tolls, and private capital investment. Essentially you’re just making a value judgement that you feel it’s justified to spend trillions subsidizing car and air travel but not a few trillion subsidizing train travel (which, by the way, as a viable option would greatly ease the burden on our highways and airports).

  7. To clarify, I meant “a few billion” subsidizing train travel. I’m not advocating spending haphazardly but I’m sick of arguments that ignore the fact that all forms of travel are interconnected. Make train travel a viable option for more people doing business, and businesspeople will use it to their advantage do to more business. Those who don’t want to use the trains will see less road traffic and less construction delays (with less wear and tear, and decreased need to add highway capaity), and find it easier to find a plane ticket at the time they want for a reasonable price.

  8. You’re assuming I’m in favor of government subsidies. I’m opposed to all government subsidies including those that favor the real estate industry. The problem with our political system is that the politicians support stupid ideas so that their own stupid ideas get supported. Subsidizing air travel and auto travel and the petroleum industry makes no sense. Why does this exist? You’ve got gasoline taxes supporting mass transit while roads are being supported by other taxes. Is that nuts or what?

  9. If the government didn’t subsidize the public good of transit systems, we would all be worse off. What PeteF rightly notes is that train travel is under-subsidized compared to other modes of transportation. Ever ride the rails in Europe? That’s one thing Europe gets right.
    As to getting to Detroit, here’s the real time for Southwest: Battle traffic down to Midway (30 mins if you are lucky); park the car (5 min); battle security, get humiliated (30 min); you are worried about missing your flight, so you end up at the gate 45 mins early; boarding nonsense (15 min); the actual trip (45 min); collecting baggage etc. (20 min if you are lucky); great, now you are still 40 min by car from downtown Detroit.
    Do the math, if we had decent rail service I would take the train every time. I can work on the train solid.

  10. You are correct about the time it takes to fly somewhere (but rail security is about to increase). However, if rail travel is so great it shouldn’t need to be subsidized because passengers would be willing to pay the full cost. If not, why should the government pay for it? The fact that other forms of transportation are supported by the government only argues for discontinuing those subsidies. Europe may “get it right” but at what cost? Suppose it costs $1000 to move someone 100 miles. Is that worth it? $2000?

  11. coming late to this but one of the key points that proponents boast about for this is avoiding airport security. It won’t take long for someone to realize these highspeed trains are security risks and install few scanners at the terminals as well.

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