Barack Obama’s dream of connecting various corridors of the nation with high speed rail appears to be just that–a dream.
To actually build the network he envisions would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and take more terms then he’s currently allowed to serve.
The short term plan involves using $8 billion from the stimulus plan for smaller projects. This is what it looks like from the Department of Transportation’s strategic blueprint:
- Advance new express high- speed corridor services (operating speeds above 150 mph on primarily dedicated track) in select corridors of 200–600 miles.
- Develop emerging and regional high-speed corridor services (operating speeds up to 90–110 mph and 110–150 mph respectively, on shared and dedicated track) in corridors of 100–500 miles.
- Upgrade reliability and service on conventional intercity rail services (operating speeds up to 79–90 mph). control technology).
As the DOT says, this “emphasises making investments that yield tangible results within the next several years, while also creating a “pipeline” that enables ongoing future corridor development.” Why Obama is talking about a network of high speed rails is beyond us.
The cost alone is immense. Last week, Scientific American ran a story on California’s proposed high speed rail project that would connect San Fransisco and Los Angeles. SciAm put the total cost of that project between $40 billion and $45 billion.
Imagine if we build the vast array of these across the nation. Some of the corridors will be smaller than California, and economies of scale might kick in, but there could be large cost overruns. So at the low end of the California estimate, multiplied by 10 corridors, a massive high speed rail project could cost $300 to $400 billion overall.
In defence of spending the money, it’s important to remember our highways are heavily subsidized and costly as well. California estimates that the cost of expanding the highway and the airports to accommodate an equivalent amount of traffic would be $82 billion. So, if you choose to believe California, setting up a high speed rail system is a comparative bargain.
Front image: extranoise
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