Robert Samuelson is one of the best syndicated columnists in America. He leaves partisan politics alone and uses arguments based on economics to make his points. A recent column in particular attracted my attention because Samuelson made several points that I have been making about high-speed rail. The article appeared in the Albuquerque Journal and can be found here.
Samuelson writes the following about President Obama’s taxpayer “investment” in high-speed rail:
There’s only one catch (regarding Obama’s plan for high speed rail): The vision is a mirage. The costs of high-speed rail would be huge, and the public benefits meager.
President Obama’s network may never be built. It’s doubtful private investors will advance the money, and once government officials acknowledge the full costs, they’ll retreat. In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office cited a range of construction costs, from $22 million a mile to $132 million a mile. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser figures $50 million a mile might be a plausible average. A 250-mile system would cost $12.5 billion and 10 systems, $125 billion.
Concluded Samuelson, “The mythology of high-speed rail is not just misinformed; it’s antisocial. Governments at all levels are already overburdened.” I couldn’t agree more. Of course, Samuelson has some critics, but what they fail to mention is that roads are so useful that they would still be built and widely used in the absence of government (toll roads would be ubiquitous) whereas passenger rail depends heavily on government subsidies from non-rail users in order to keep chugging along.
Randal O’Toole blogs further here.