High Speed Rail Debate

By James Landers of Saint Petersburg, Florida

Every so often I will turn on the mainstream media nightly news to see what they are talking about and how they talk about it.  Last night I turned on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.  Interestingly enough the story that came on was about high-speed rail around the globe and in the USA.

The story, and I forget who the beat reporter was, revolved at first around China.  They are in the midst of a massive high-speed rail build-up.  While the Chinese are glad to show off what they are doing and share with anyone who will listen their expansive plans, they are also a very closed-lipped and autocratic society.  Inherently, Chinese persons are loathe to criticize anything from the government lest they be turned into the latest “Bodies in Motion” exhibit or interned in a forced labor camp with their families for the rest of their lives.

And there we have NBC hailing China as the great savior of “green” technology through high-speed rail that will never pay for itself.  NEVER.  In fact, there are only two high-speed rails on the planet that have broken even, ““High-speed rail is good for society and it’s good for the environment, but it’s not a profitable business,” said Mr. Barrón of the International Union of Railways. He reckons that only two routes in the world — between Tokyo and Osaka, and between Paris and Lyon, France — have broken even.”     Yet where is the news on that?  Ignored completely.  In fact, in last night’s NBC segment passing mention was made over the high prices for tickets, as well as passing mention of the lack of environmental controls in China and the fact that the government answers to no one was also just glossed over. 

“And why aren’t there more high-speed rails in the USA?”, led the NBC segment into what already seemed like an answered question—-Ticket Prices, Environmental Control and the government.  Why would you need to go any further than that?

Ohhhh, let’s see, in a microcosm we had the “Cash-for-clunkers” debacle.  First the program was funded $1bb that was supposed to last for a year.  After a couple of weeks the government upped the ante to $3bb for a year and quickly folded on that estimation by about 10 months.  That’s right, the best government auditors got it wrong by $2bb and 10 months.  WOW!!!  And we trust them to tell us that costs will not overrun AND that profits will be made on a system tried the world over with only 2 lines breaking even?  And, on 9 out of every 10 high-speed rail systems built the cost overruns are, on average, 45% higher than original estimates.  And from the same book, Megaprojects and Risk, “Cost underestimation and overrun cannot be explained by error and seem to be best explained by strategic misrepresentation, namely lying, with a view to getting projects started.”

And the whine from the liberals who have no intention of getting out of your pocket is “Why are we not building high-speed rails?”

The answer is patently obvious.