Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

GAO report on high speed rail

Mark Stencel’s comment on the post below concerning his original CQ Weekly column is herewith moved to the front page. This is good stuff.

In case anyone here is looking for the March GAO report on which much of my CQ column was based, you’ll find it here…

It’s a good, balanced economic reality check on all aspects of the U.S. high-speed rail discussion, with interesting findings on current proposals, past efforts in this country, and existing projects in France, Japan and Spain. The report helpfully sums up and, to the extend possible, enumerates the fiscal challenges while also acknowledging that there are potential societal benefits that policy makers might well decide justify the investments, even if they are not entirely offset by potential revenue.

Susan Fleming, GAO’s director of physical infrastructure issues, summarized the report’s findings succinctly in her prepared testimony for an April 1 House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on high-speed rail. “In summary,” she wrote, “high speed rail does not offer a quick or simple solution to relieving congestion on our nation’s highways and airways. High speed rail projects are costly, risky, take years to develop and build, and require substantial up-front public investment as well as potentially long-term operating subsidies. Yet the potential benefits of high speed rail — both to riders and nonriders — are many.”

It is a good idea to be cautious of the  promises of true high speed rail. It must be kept in mind, however, that these provide many good jobs in construction and, more importantly, operation.

Here at TFA, we are big fans of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association and its proposal for a network of conventional “fast” lines. Cost of start up is less and a lot quicker. Benefits many, including the jobs and improved transportation service to smaller communities.


Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

3 Responses

  1. Allan says:

    I agree fully with having a network of “fast” lines. Let’s get more bang for the buck.

    The lines, for the most part, already exist so there doesn’t need to be an endless strings of environmental, etc. studies.

    They can be implemented more quickly and more cheaply than HSR while providing a much improved service.

  2. MadPark says:

    Allan- This is the approach used here in WA state over the last dozen years or so. Our Talgo trains have just been updated, and, hopefully, there will be state and federal moneys to continue updating roadbed, eliminating grade crossings, tarting up stations, etc. Oregon and British Columbia ought to be contributing more, and we’ll get there in the next few years. A sub 3 hour Seattle to Portland timing will be the sign that we have completed step one. Then it’ll be time to hang catenary and straighten out those curves.

  3. trainstar says:

    I agree with Allan about the “fast” lines comment.

    The report is inconsistent in its definition of high speed trains. On the first page it defines “high speed” as going faster than cars over the same route. Conventional, diesel trains can already do that if the rails are in decent repair, and if they are dispatched properly.

    Then later in the report it only discusses technology that meets the international standard for “high speed” rail.

    We need a decent system of rail in this country that can then support specialized, more expensive lines.

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April 2009


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