High Speed Trains

I have always loved the idea of these, but, as this article from the Antiplanner notes, our success in building and managing them is not good, especially in California.

An excerpt.

“The California Debacle

“As is well known, the California high-speed rail project is incomplete and out of money. The project got its start in 2008 when the California High-Speed Rail Authority, chaired by former state senator Quentin Kopp, persuaded voters to approve the sale of $9 billion worth of bonds to build the system, which was then projected to cost about $33 billion. Proponents claimed that private investors, the federal government, and others would come up with the rest of the funds. As a safeguard, no bonds could be sold unless they were matched by someone else.

“No private investors materialized, but California scored almost 40 percent of Obama’s high-speed rail funds. In a purely political move, one of the Obama grants came with a requirement that construction should commence in California’s Central Valley, where two Democratic congressmen were fighting close re-election campaigns. The federal grants plus some local government funding allowed the state to sell about $5 billion dollars worth of bonds, giving it $10 billion. Costs quickly rose above projections with the latest estimate being $80 billion. California’s governor has said he has no intention of spending any more state money and even Quentin Kopp has backed away from the project.

“The one Amtrak train connecting Los Angeles with the Bay Area still trundles along at an average speed of less than 39 miles per hour. Result: $4 billion federal dollars and at least another $6 billion state and local dollars wasted.

“The Northeast Corridor Money Pit

“The 2009 economic stimulus law gave Amtrak $683 million to improve service in the Boston-Washington corridor. On top of this, the administration gave Amtrak close to a billion dollars more for the corridor.

“Before spending this money, the fastest trains in the corridor took two hours and 46 minutes to go between New York and Washington and three-and-a-half hours to go between New York and Boston. Today, the fastest trains between New York and Washington take two hours and 49 minutes, a slowdown from 81.7 to 80.2 miles per hour. The fastest trains between New York and Boston still take just three-and-a-half hours, but there are fewer trains that are that fast.

“Amtrak did introduce one train a day that runs non-stop between New York and Washington in two hours and 33 minutes in one direction and two hours and 35 minutes in the other direction. That sounds like progress, except that in 1969 the Penn Central Railroad ran non-stop trains in that corridor that took two hours and 30 minutes.

“The real problem is that the Northeast Corridor has such a huge maintenance backlog that Amtrak, and the commuter railroads that use some of the tracks, need to spend $52 billion just to keep it running. Only after spending that much could any additional billions be expected to actually improve service. This makes the corridor little more than a giant money pit. Result: $954 million of high-speed rail funds wasted.

“Who Shot the Lincoln Trains?

“Before going to Washington, attorney Abraham Lincoln counted several railroads among his clients, and many years later the Alton Railroad operated a train between Chicago and St. Louis that it called the Abraham Lincoln. Today, Amtrak calls the four trains it runs on that route at an average of 53 miles per hour the “Lincoln Service.”

“The State of Illinois received $1.343 billion from the federal high-speed rail fund, plus $46 million in other federal funds, to speed up and increase frequencies in this corridor. The state spent much of this money double-tracking the line and improving grade crossings to allow trains to run at 110 miles per hour. This certainly benefitted Union Pacific, which owned the tracks and can now run more freight trains in the corridor.

“However, passengers haven’t yet seen any benefit. The Lincoln Service still has just four trains a day running an average of 53 miles per hour. Result: $1.389 billion wasted.

“The Pacific Northwest Tragedy

“The state of Washington received more than $800 million to speed up trains between Seattle and Portland. The state estimated that it could reduce the three-and-one-half hour journey by ten minutes, effectively increasing speeds from 53.4 to 56.1 miles per hour, which is still not anything close to high-speed rail. The state also promised to increase train frequencies.”

Retrieved July 29, 2020 from https://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=17334

Be well everyone!

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
This entry was posted in Transportation. Bookmark the permalink.