High-Speed Rail Is Not “Interstate 2.0” (Briefing Paper)

The administration has likened President

Obama’s high-speed rail plan to President

Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. Yet

there are crucial differences between interstate

highways and high-speed rail.

First, before Congress approved the Interstate

Highway System, it had a good idea how much it

would cost. In contrast, Congress approved $8

billion for high-speed rail without knowing the

total cost, which is likely to be at least $90 billion.

Second, highway users paid for interstate

highways, whereas high-speed rail will be almost

entirely subsidized by general taxpayers who will

rarely use it.

Third, interstate highways connect all 48 contiguous

states and major metropolitan areas. The

FRA’s high-speed rail plan consists of six unconnected

networks that reach only 33 states and less

than two-thirds of the nation’s 100 largest urban

areas.

Fourth, the average American traveled 4,000

miles on interstates in 2007. High-speed rail proponents

optimistically estimate that the average

American would ride the FRA’s high-speed rail

system less than 60 miles per year.

Finally, interstate highways improved social

welfare by increasing highway safety. In contrast,

far from saving energy and reducing pollution,

high-speed rail would actually increase energy

consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

For all these reasons, the United States government

should not fund high-speed rail. The $8

billion in high-speed rail stimulus funds should

be invested in safety improvements, not in new

trains and new routes that will add to future taxpayer

obligations.

The administration has likened President

Obama’s high-speed rail plan to President

Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. Yet

there are crucial differences between interstate

highways and high-speed rail.

First, before Congress approved the Interstate

Highway System, it had a good idea how much it

would cost. In contrast, Congress approved $8

billion for high-speed rail without knowing the

total cost, which is likely to be at least $90 billion.

Second, highway users paid for interstate

highways, whereas high-speed rail will be almost

entirely subsidized by general taxpayers who will

rarely use it.

Third, interstate highways connect all 48 contiguous

states and major metropolitan areas. The

FRA’s high-speed rail plan consists of six unconnected

networks that reach only 33 states and less

than two-thirds of the nation’s 100 largest urban

areas.

Fourth, the average American traveled 4,000

miles on interstates in 2007. High-speed rail proponents

optimistically estimate that the average

American would ride the FRA’s high-speed rail

system less than 60 miles per year.

Finally, interstate highways improved social

welfare by increasing highway safety. In contrast,

far from saving energy and reducing pollution,

high-speed rail would actually increase energy

consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

For all these reasons, the United States government

should not fund high-speed rail. The $8

billion in high-speed rail stimulus funds should

be invested in safety improvements, not in new

trains and new routes that will add to future taxpayer

obligations.

Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.

Studies from the Cato Institute