High-speed Rail to Nowhere


Detroit, Mich. — Vice President Biden came here last week to join Obama ideological twin, Governor Jennifer Granholm, to announce another $2 billion in stimulus money for Michigan — in addition to an already promised $7 billion.

But like the stimulus nationally, this money is being fraudulently sold as short-term economic stimulus. In fact, it is long-term boondoggle money dedicated to the musty pet projects of Big Government pols. In Michigan the focus of all this stimulus is transforming the state’s economy to be more European (Granholm has already mandated a Denmark-like wind energy program), with much of the spending going to “high-speed rail.”

For years, Midwestern states have had high-speed rail projects on the drawing board but never had the money to get it done. Now their ship has come in, so to speak — thanks to Obama’s trillion-dollar honey pot. The president is dedicating $13 billion to jump-start a world-class passenger rail system. Granholm wants “high-speed rail” to link Detroit and Pontiac to Chicago, though such rail lines dried up years ago due to lack of business.

To snow the public, Granholm has updated her marketing to tout rail’s potential to create jobs and help make the country energy independent. “If people could get to Chicago in a couple of hours . . . (on trains) that are clean and are high-tech, it would be very inviting,” the governor cheers, noting that the trains will go up to 110 mph. Drinking the kool-aid in gulps, Michigan’s media has blindly touted “high-speed rail” with visions of 200-mph French bullet trains racing across the landscape.

But as Randall O’Toole of the Cato Institute soberly points out, Obama’s proposal should really be called “moderate-speed rail.” That’s because, as usual, Obama’s (and mini-me Granholm’s) rhetoric does not match reality. “His $13 billion won’t fund 200-mph bullet trains. Instead, it is mostly about running Amtrak trains a little faster on existing freight lines,” reports O’Toole.

“Outside of the Boston-Washington corridor, the fastest Amtrak trains have top speeds of about 80 to 90 mph,” he writes. “Obama proposes to boost top speeds to 110 mph in some places, which means average speeds no greater than 70 to 75 miles per hour. This is not an innovation. The Milwaukee Road, Santa Fe, and other railroads routinely ran trains at those speeds 70 years ago — and still couldn’t compete against cars and airlines. Moderate-speed trains will be diesel powered. They will consume oil and emit toxic and greenhouse gases, just like cars and planes.”

As much as Obamacrats dream of Euromerica, the U.S. is not Europe. Its vast distances and relatively low population densities mean building true high-speed Euro-rail would cost half-a-trillion dollars.

Even then, notes O’Toole, the foreign model doesn’t work very well. “France and Japan have each spent roughly the same amount of money per capita on high-speed rail as the United States spent on the interstate highway system. Americans use the interstates to travel nearly 4,000 passenger miles and ship more than 2,000 ton-miles of freight per person per year. By comparison, high-speed rail moves virtually no freight and carries the average resident of Japan less than 400 miles per year, and the average resident of France less than 300 miles per year.”

Struggling states like Michigan need real solutions to their economic woes. Instead, with a big assist from Washington, they are being sold a high-speed bill of goods by Euro-wannabees.


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