High-speed rail in U.S.?

2011/01/26

 Just yesterday, while driving to a meeting, I passed by an Amtrak train parked at the Atlanta station and wondered, “Will Obama mention high-speed rail again in his State of the Union address tonight?”

Sure enough, he did. And I have to wonder why he’s so insistent on this multi-billion-dollar investment.

It’s not that high-speed rail isn’t a good idea that hasn’t proven its worth and viability elsewhere. It’s worked great in Europe and Japan, for instance, making even their most distant portions of the regions traversable by rail.

That’s precisely why it probably won’t work in the U.S. — we’re too big! Those other regions and nations are teeny-tiny compared even to many of our states. Our most distant regions” are too distant to support the expense of building and maintaining the rail lines for the meager number of passengers who’ll opt to use them. The lack of profitability is the chief reason high-speed rail hasn’t happened here.

“That hasn’t stopped China,” some would counter. That’s true. China also doesn’t let little negotiable things like freedom and human rights get in the way of progress. In fact, China illustrates the only way a high-speed rail network can happen in a huge nation — through government control and/or subsidies.

Y’know, the same system that props up our all-but-moribund Amtrak lines.

I’d love to see high-speed rail work Stateside. Traveling by train is wonderful. But the truth is: what’s good for Europe isn’t always good for America.

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