High speed rail fails to improve transportation

by Lindsey Hubbart

In an attempt to improve the quality of America’s infrastructure system, President Obama and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood worked together to promote the construction of high-speed rail systems around the country. Back in 2009, Obama announced that he has a “vision for high speed rail in America,” similar to the systems in Europe and Japan.

According to a CNN report by Anderson Cooper on high-speed rail in America, the Obama administration has spent $12 billion thus far on building these trains. The large sum of money has produced 134 scattered projects, but has failed to create a unifying system across the country. One train route that the federal government focused on was the one between Seattle and Portland, which cost $800 million. Unfortunately, this $800 million seems to have gone to waste.

The CNN report claims that the initial train ride from Seattle to Portland took three hours and 40 minutes. With the new “high-speed” trains, the route has only decreased by ten minutes. All of the other projects started by this initiative have seen similar results. This project is the epitome of government waste in spending: millions of dollars spent for the slightest improvement.

Paula Hammond, former Secretary of Transportation in Washington state, defended the “improved” rail system to CNN reporters by saying, “Ten minutes doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but, when you think about the fact that you have more options for more round trips, that you know that the train will come reliably and on time, that to us is what our passengers tell us is the most important thing.”

While options for the trip and reliable transportation are all beneficial, they do not justify $800 million of taxpayer money. I would much rather have my tax dollars go to something that actually improves the productivity and welfare of society. Building a train that only improves a route by ten minutes accomplishes neither of those things. If they want to enhance the quality of train transportation, the government ought to work with the infrastructure in place and improve logistics.

High-speed rail is not an effective or cost-efficient means of transportation. Contrary to popular belief, Amtrak trains are not all that energy efficient. According to Randal O’Toole, transportation scholar of the Cato Institute, Amtrak is powered by diesel fuel, so it emits a significant amount of pollution. Additionally, he claims, “The average car on the road today, in inner-city traffic, uses less energy per passenger mile.”  According to John Stossel, high-speed rail is five times more expensive than flying or driving. Another problem with the trains is that the routes are fixed. Thus, they cannot adjust to consumer demand like buses can and people will only have limited use for them.

While high-speed rail may seem like the technology of the future, in its current state, it is much too expensive and will do little to improve the quality of our transportation. For anything that costs millions of taxpayer dollars, we need to focus on what will be the most effective and high-speed rail is not the answer.

Contact Lindsey Hubbart at lhubbart15@my.whitworth.edu

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