Many readers probably won’t recall one of the unintentionally silliest television series in American history, Supertrain, which only aired in 1979. Think of it as The Love Boat without the exotic locations, the beautiful sea shots, and bikinis, and with less wit in its writing, and you’ll get an idea of why its run was more limited than the Skunk Railroad in Willits, California. In an age of airplane and cruise travel, trains on fixed rails don’t exactly excite the imagination any longer, but if the Obama administration gets its way, we’ll be back to Supertrain 2010, as Reason TV explains:
Why are the administration’s plans to throw tens of billions into high-speed rail so unrealistic? Nick Gillespie explodes the fantasy:
1. The lowball costs. CNN estimates that delivering on the plan could cost well over $500 billion and take decades to build, all while failing to cover much of the country at all. Internationally, only two high-speed rail lines have recouped their capital costs and all depend on huge subsidies to stay in operation.
2. The supposed benefits. “We’re gonna be taking cars off of congested highways and reducing carbon emissions,” says Vice President Joe Biden, an ardent rail booster. But most traffic jams are urban, not inter-city, so high-speed rail between metro areas will have no effect on your daily commute. And when construction costs are factored in, high-speed rail “may yield only marginal net greenhouse gas reductions,” say UC-Berkeley researchers.
3. The delusional Amtrak example. Obama and Biden look to Amtrak as precedent, but since its founding in 1971, the nation’s passenger rail system has sucked up almost $35 billion in subsidies and, says The Washington Post’s Robert J. Samuelson, “a typical trip is subsidized by about $50.” About 140 million Americans shlep to work every day, while Amtrak carries just 78,000 passengers. There’s no reason to think that high-speed rail will pump up those numbers, though there’s every reason to believe its costs will grow and grow.
Not too many people live in Chicago while working in Minneapolis, or the other way around. The trains won’t affect normal commuting patterns at all. The reason Biden takes the train every day to travel 250 miles to work is that the train is subsidized by the government. Biden didn’t have to pay the actual cost of the transportation. Otherwise, he would have been just like every other Senator and commuted back and forth every week or two while maintaining a residence in DC. Incidentally, that may have been a better choice for energy consumption, too.
For the rest of the country where urban centers don’t have nearly the concentration seen in the mid-Atlantic region, the notion that a high-speed train will allow me to commute regularly from the Twin Cities to a job in Chicago is absurd. Even at high speed, that would take several hours each way. The only way that would work would be if I bought a condo on the train and lived my life on it. As for any other kind of travel, the trains would travel at a top speed of about 150 MPH, while commercial airline service would travel about three times as fast. A trip from Minneapolis to the West Coast would take a full day, where I could just book a flight and get there in about four hours now.
Supertrains are toys for statist politicians and delusional television executives, and equally unrealistic for both.