Is High Speed Rail the Answer?

This article on Obama’s pouring 8 billion of our taxpayer dollars into “high speed rail” appeared in today’s Albuquerque Journal. The reporter actually does a pretty good job of discussing the very real drawbacks associated with both traditional passenger rail and high speed projects.
The fact is that money is limited and America is not a densely-populated nation. As Randal O’Toole pointed out in his policy paper, “High Speed Rail The Wrong Road for America,” high speed rail is not as big a success as American tourists might think. In fact, despite heavy subsidies for rail and massive taxes on gasoline, rail is losing market share in Europe:

While high-speed rail is convenient for tourists who want to travel through Europe without the expense of renting a car, it has done little to change European travel habits. In 1980, intercity rail accounted for 8.2percent of passenger travel in the EU-15 (the 15 countries that were members of the European Union as of 2000). By 2000, intercity rail had declined to 6.3 percent. Auto driving gained almost exactly the same market share that rails lost in this time period, growing from 76.4 to 78.3 percent. This is a coincidence, as the real challenge to high-speed rail has come from low-cost airlines. Thanks to Europe’s “open skies” policies, domestic air travel increased from 2.5 percent of travel in 1980 to 5.8 percent in 2000. Intercity buses and urban transit both lost shares.