Planet Gore

NY Times Math Training

Over the weekend, the Times editorialized on the need for more high-speed rail in the United States. This excerpt stands out:

It’s not as if high-speed rail is a dream only for the East and West Coasts. When the Department of Transportation asked for proposals for using the president’s stimulus money, an astonishing 278 plans arrived from 40 states and the District of Columbia.

There are big needs — like money in New York City for the Moynihan Station and funds for the corridor between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But there are many smaller communities that dream about high-speed rail as well. Florida’s Tampa to Orlando corridor was the subject of one proposal. Another was for a fast train from Portland to Eugene, Ore. The total number of requests would cost about $100 billion.

What a bargain, considering California’s proposals are estimated at close to $50 billion for its planned 800 miles of track. This means the rest of the 277 projects only coast $180 million each?

Or, another way to look at it. It’s estimated that upgrading to high speed track costs $5.5 million per mile according to USA Today. Excluding California again, $50 billion in spending would equal about 9,000 miles of high speed track, or an average of 32 miles of track for each of the 277 remaining proposals. Considering it’s about 85 miles from Tampa to Orlando and about 105 from Portland to Eugene, the majority of the 277 projects must be less than 32 miles. Can the Times point to any evidence that people will give up their cars for a 32-mile trip? Not likely.

But, better yet, if California needs $50 billion for 800 miles of track, the cost per mile is not $5.5 million but $62.5 million. Something tells me that the idea that $100 billion might be a tad on the low side.

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