High Speed Rail: Another Boondoggle for New Mexico?

Governor Richardson and Sen. Tom Udall held a press conference today to discuss efforts to bring “high speed rail” to New Mexico. According to the two of them, “New Mexico, Colorado and Texas could receive up to $5 million from the Federal Railroad Administration under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 to study the viability of the El Paso to Denver High-Speed Rail Corridor.” Watch the 6pm news on Channel 4 as I was interviewed on the high speed rail issue earlier today.

While using taxpayer money to study these issues is minor in the scope of the overall federal budget, the Rio Grande Foundation has produced a study on the issue that throws cold water on the idea of high speed rail. The release is available here and the full paper can be found here.

As author Randal O’Toole points out in the study:

The administration’s proposed high-speed rail plan will cost $1,000 for every federal income taxpayer, yet the average American will ride high-speed trains less than 60 miles a year, says a new report from the Rio Grande Foundation. The report says that the average New Mexico resident will rarely use high-speed trains.

The federal government is proposing to build true high-speed rail lines—with trains going faster than 120 miles per hour—only in California and Florida. In most of the rest of the country, it is merely proposing to upgrade existing freight tracks to boost top Amtrak speeds from 79 to 110 mph.

Trains with a top speed of 110 mph will have average speeds of just 55 to 75 mph. Not only will that attract few people out of their cars, says the report, such trains will actually be less energy efficient and more polluting than driving.

The federal government left New Mexico out of its plans entirely. But New Mexico’s share of local proposals for moderate-speed trains Albuquerque to Denver are likely to cost $400 for every New Mexico resident—and true high-speed trains would cost at least $7,500 for every New Mexican.

Seems like we could save that $5 million and use it for something a bit more useful than another study, but if the study is done honestly, it will likely show that the costs of moderately high speed rail far outweigh the benefits.

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