Why are they all refusing high speed rail money?

Quick question, why are all these States refusing Federal money for high speed rail?
To me it seems like a no-brainer. It’s free money, plus it’ll create jobs and infrastructure.

What is the reasoning behind rejecting this money? (“real” reasoning as well as well as what they are saying the reason is, if these two things differ)

The money isn’t “free”, and the states don’t like the strings that are attached.

Because it’s not high speed rail and it ends up costing the state more money than the unfunded gift.

We had high speed rail a hundred years ago. It didn’t make money then and it was faster than what is proposed today.

It is another bridge to nowhere and now is not the time to spend money on such ventures.

From NoTrain.com
"The Mayor tells us that spending $810 million on high-speed rail will create thousands of new Wisconsin jobs, but according to the federal government’s own estimate, the total number of permanent jobs created will be 55. That’s $14.5 million per job, not including any hidden costs!

As for hidden costs, no one in your administration, nor Governor Doyle or Mayor Barrett can provide an accurate estimate of what it will cost to operate and maintain the new rail line. Rail projects in numerous other areas have seen original cost estimates skyrocket once construction begins."

Basically, what Scott Walker is saying (and I’m not commenting on my own feelings one way or the other, just what I understand him to be saying) is that it will end up costing Wisconsin a lot of money to have high speed rail. Yes, the construction will create a lot of jobs, but once that’s done, the maintenance will only involve a few people, but be very costly and based on other states with high speed rail, the fares will hardly cover the costs.

Also, IIRC, a one way trip from Milwaukee to Madison (90 minute drive) was going to cost something like $90 and still require a cab ride at the other end. Most people that I talked to, upon hearing that, said the would rather drive or take a bus.
I’d guess that other states that are halting high speed rail are doing it for similar reasons.

The public reasons governors they give are:

  • it’s not completely free – it’s matching money, usually on 10-25% of the cost; their state will have to come up with the rest of the money.
  • it’s one-time money. But once this is built, their state will have to pay money to operate and maintain this (just like any other transportation system).

But, IMO, it is Republican Governors doing it, trying to undermine President Obama.
Development of an effective rail transportation system will hurt airlines & bus companies, who are big supporters of the Republican Party. And development of such a system will be between large cities; thus mostly helping people who vote Democratic.

The trouble is that none of these high speed rail lines is every going to be self-supporting, so the only people supporting it are one that will make money on the construction or delusional morons who can’t do the math and assume anything labeled mass transit is automatically ‘green’.

The fact of the matter is that even in Japan, the only high speed rail line that is in the black is the Tokyo-Osaka line and the rest are losing money.

Well, gee, the Interstate Highway system isn’t self-supporting, either. Nor is the air transport system, if the cost of the FAA & Air Traffic system and the cost of airports is included. River & canal transport is not self-supporting; the Army Corps of Engineers spends lots more on locks & dams & dredging than the income. Railroads were given a huge subsidy in the form of land adjacent to the tracks they laid.

Get real!
No transportation system is ‘self-supporting’, even back to the days of the Roman Empire and ‘all roads lead to Rome’ – those roads were built by provincial governors, generally using prison or slave labor. Commercial companies didn’t build roads, because they were not self-supporting.

Governments build & maintain transportation systems because the resulting commerce and trade is good for the economy & the public, not because they expect to make a profit on the transport system.

Now is precisely the time to be spending money on such ventures (yes, even spending government money on the bridge to nowhere would be better than not spending it).

If the economy were booming, maybe not so much.

That’s true, but it’s precisely the argument that the government should not necessarily be run like a business. Even though the Japanese rail system loses money, if it were to vanish it would be a catastrophe for the country. The public good trumps “business considerations.”


Firstly, “it will create thousands of jobs” and “it will only create 55 permanent jobs” are not exclusive statements. And it doesn’t seem fair to exclude the upfront jobs and include the upfront costs in the calculation.

Secondly, I presume the mayor is envisioning that the improved infrastructure will help to create jobs in the region.

Finally I’m quite dubious about this figure of 55 jobs. I’ve no doubt it uses the number for something, somewhere in the application, but maintaining the track and trains, staffing the stations and driving the trains with that few people seems implausible to me.

Perhaps the 55 jobs includes just the people managing and driving the trains, but not stations or maintenance which would be handled by a contractor? Of course that’s a disingenuous exclusion.

I also realize my list was far from exhaustive: what about management and admin? Or security? No, the 55 figure must exclude sub-contracted tasks.

High speed rail seems like a good idea and would be IF you could get people to use it, but they won’t.

Even in the heyday of railroading, around 1900 interurbans were starting to lose money. By 1920 they were going bankrupt left and and right and in decline.

Cars are more convenient to people and planes are quicker. Rail only works well in very densly populated areas. But even then rail is only faster if you’re going specifically from point A to point B. If you’re transfering anywhere a car is a quicker option.

Of course the government supported railroads and that helped them. But the railroads also funneled in immigration to build the nation as a society and it also brought in population centers and towns and developed the nation. This is pretty much done for the most part.

Roads now are better alternatives. Sure they lose money but so what? The railroad would too, so why add in another loser to the mix.

The Feds should redistribute the refused funds to the states smart enough totake it.

IIRC even the subways in New York wer having financial problems by the 20’s. However, look at New York today; it would just be another boring North American city without that infrastructure. How many billions in construction and expropriation have they saved by having almost no expressways in Manhattan, and reducing the car commuter and parking demands across the city? Infrastructure adds value that cannot be taken away.

I have taken the Shanghai train from the airport, and 7 minutes for what would be an hour on a regular subway? No contest. 430km/hr, 80 yuan ($12) round trip.

The problem is this: in close quarters and dense population, like western Europe, it makes sense. The question is, with the size and lack of population density, does high speed rail make sense outside of the eastern seaboard and the LA-SanFran-Vegas areas? Also, travel in Europe drops a lot of people in the middle of downtown which is their destination; or there are excellent commuter rail options to the local area. The USA does not have that developed infrastructure, meaning a serious expensive cab ride. OTOH, if you fly in, you have the same issue. In short hops (say 3 hours drive or less) do Americans with more cars and better highways want to take a train? For anything over 1000 miles, can a train compete with a jet? 2 hours plus to and from airport vs. 8 hours plus to/from downtown…

So the question is - if you build it, will they come. If you believe that the American dream will continue unscathed and people will be able to afford big SUV’s and cheap gas to travel a thousand miles; or the equivalent airfare will stay $150 round trip; then the answer is ovbious. NO, you are building a white elephant and a long term drain on the state’s economy.

If you think gas will soom be $10/gal and travel city-center to city-center makes sense, then the answer is YES.

As usual in debates, the truth lies somewhere in between. But the decisions are not necessarily made based on truth or unbiased evaluations. Every action includes a calculation on how it can be spun. The governors will show they have stopped Obama from wasting money and creating a tax drain, and Obama will say they missed an opportunity to bring jobs and 21st century infrastructure.

Again, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Here in Seattle they are spending, as Carl Sagan famously said, “billions and billions and billions” of dollars on a light rail system that even the proponents say will only reduce the number of car trips by around 2%. And this is with governments all over facing severe deficits. I forget what the cost per rider is projected to be but it is huge, in the realm of hundreds of dollars a trip.

But it makes the Seattle liberals feel good, so we’re at full steam ahead.

Heard on the news several days ago that our governor said that if the other states didn’t want the Federal money they would be glad to take it here.

We had this billboard up for a while in Wisconsin. Of course, it was put up by people in Wisconsin, but it’s the same idea. It showed up right after Obama came out and said something along the lines of “Just so you know, if you don’t want it, we’re just going to give it to someone else”

When I was a kid my sister and I would take the train from San Diego to Anaheim to grandma’s house. I enjoyed the trains in Europe. When I’ve looked into train travel recently, it has problems. First, it’s cheaper to fly for a longer trip; and it’s cheaper and more convenient to drive on a shorter trip. When my roomie’s cousin visited her last Summer in Oregon, she took the train from San Francisco. It took her 12 hours – and then my friend had to pick her up in Eugene,an hour or two away from Coos Bay… By comparison, I used to drive from L.A. to Bellingham in 19 hours. I think Bellingham to Coos Bay is a similar distance from San Francisco to Coos Bay. 500 miles took me about 8 hours with the congested traffic I ran into.

For train travel to be useful to me, it has to be priced competitively with flying. I haven’t seen it. It needs to be faster. It needs to go where I’m going. Unfortunately to go quickly to where I’m going, it means it doesn’t stop where other people also want to get someplace fast. For me, flying or driving is the better option. Would it be fun to take a train to Seattle? Will it be inexpensive? Yes, and relatively so. But I can drive there in two hours. Anywhere else, it makes more sense to fly.

Well, yes, the whole infrastructure has to be there. When I visit New York, for example, I rarely rent a car for most of my stay. One relative’s house is 5 minutes walk from the train station way out in NJ, the other is 20 minutes away from their train station. Any other place in the USA I visit, I need a car. In France, or Italy, or England, 2/3 of my visit was inside teh cities, and 1/3 I rented a car to see harder to reach spots (Mont. St. Michel and the Loire, Stonehenge, Tuscany…)

But if you don’t start building infrastructure, you will never finish. The debate is whether this is the right infrastructure. Right now car travel is so convenient, especially for short travel, that not much will get people out of cars. The “sweet spot” for fast trains is the about 500-mile air journey that has high traffic volume. Most of the western USA does not qualify for that.