Megan McArdle – Does High Speed Rail Have a Future?:
The Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor, established in 1992, is expected to finish its final environmental impact statement sometime in 2011. Some unspecified time after that, it will begin building out the links between Washington DC and Charlotte, North Carolina. For somewhere between 2-5 billion dollars, and three or more decades, we will finally be able to travel from Washington to Charlotte in 6 hours and 50 minutes–just 30 minutes more than it takes to drive the same route. On the plus side, you can read while you travel. On the minus side, it will cost at least three times as much, and you’ll still have to rent a car when you get there.
Whenever someone suggests building a new passenger rail line the immediate response should be “why not just use buses?”
Seriously. Buses use existing infrastructure, so you won’t waste years of time and millions or billions on environmental impact statements or lawsuits. You won’t have to condemn private homes and businesses, kick out their owners, or buy up their land, which is a whole ‘nother nightmare for the people being evicted.
If the bus routes get popular, add more buses. If they aren’t popular, run the route less often, use smaller buses, or drop that route completely. And of course you can send buses into areas where no train can or will ever run.
Because of the presumed speed advantage over a bus, high speed rail would seem to be the exception. Thing is, the odds of an unencumbered high speed line in the U.S. seem unlikely due to terrain and politics. Every politician with constituents on the route will trade their vote for a stop in their town, which kills the high speed part.
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