The Myth of High Speed Rail

Posted by Dennis Gill   // December 28, 2011   // Comments Off


I read an article today about the new high speed train that China just introduced to the world that is capable of traveling 500km/h or just over 300 mph.  This announcement again brings up talk about a high speed rail system here in the United States.  And of course it must be funded by the government say the proponents of such a rail system.

After reading the article I thoroughly entertained myself by reading the comments.  The usual suspects where alive and well making comments about why America sucks because we don’t have high speed rail and how all of our roads and bridges are literally falling apart around us.  We need to spend more they say because China is the model for all the world to emulate.  All I can say is that it must be very depressing to wake up every morning and look in the mirror and see a liberal looking back at you.

So why don’t we have a high speed rail in the U.S. while countries like China continue to expand their’s?  Simply put, commuter rail doesn’t make money in the United States.  Amtrak is the only commuter rail system in the United States that serves the entire country.  If you want to take a train from Washington, DC to Los Angles, Amtrak is your only option.  In 1971, all the other commuter rail companies where consolidated into one company that is owned by and subsidized by the feds.  The other train companies got out of the business of hailing people in favor of hailing freight because the airline industry had all but killed commuter rail service.  It was just too expensive and too time consuming to take the train.  Forty years later, nothing much has changed in that regard.

If Amtrak didn’t receive significant amounts of federal money, they would have been out of business almost as soon as they started.  As of today, a flight from Washington to Orlando cost $165 round trip and only takes a couple of hours.  The same trip on Amtrak takes 17 1/2 hours and costs $256.  Even a liberal can figure out which is the better deal.  Knowing what I know about high speed rail, I would all but guarantee that although that trip might be faster on a high speed train, the cost would most like double making it even less competitive with the airlines.

Another reason that high speed rail wouldn’t work in the United States is because of the layout of the country and where large amount of people live.  Lets take a look at what is arguably the nerve center of the country, New York to Washington.  Large numbers of people live in and around those two locations.  Large numbers of people also live between those locations meaning that there are lots of large population centers located between them.  If you travel the highways you know that once you get into a rural area, the speed limits increase and once you get into an urban area, speed limits decrease.  Same holds true for trains.  Even if we had high speed rail between New York and DC, the large population centers it would go through would require it to slow down thus negating any benefit that would be achieve by high speed rail.

So how about New York to LA?  Firstly, I hardly see a benefit as even high speed trains would take much longer then an airplane and cost a lot more.  Second, you still run into situations where the train would have to slow down for large population centers and third, there are two fairly large mountain chains that would have to be negotiated.  While there are freight and passenger trains that do traverse these mountain chains, they don’t do it at high speed for reasons that should be obvious.

Just like green technologies like solar and wind, there just isn’t any money to be made with high speed rail.  When and if there ever is, you will see companies like CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific racing to build one.  Until that time comes, you’ll have to travel to China to experience the thrill of high speed rail.  Heck, you and I paid for most of it anyway so you might as well enjoy it.  That is unless it crashes and kills everybody onboard.


Dennis Gill

About this contributor

Dennis Gill posted 163 articles on this blog.

Dennis is the Director of Marketing and the Communications Lead for John Adams Patriots of Stafford and has been involved with the TEA Party movement since it’s beginnings in 2009. Dennis currently lives and works in Northern Virginia and is a small business owner. He served in the United States Air Force and the Virginia Air National Guard and works as a volunteer with the National American Wartime Museum with their Oral History Project. He is a father of 3 and married his wife Elba in 2004.




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