/* Google Analytics */

Monday, November 1, 2010

An expensive way to not save the planet

In Monday’s Washington Post, Robert Samuelson wrote about administration plans to make a $10.5 billion down payment on a $200 billion cost of constructing 13 high speed rail corridors (including $19 billion for California).

A few choice quotes:
What would we get for this huge investment?

Not much. Here's what we wouldn't get: any meaningful reduction in traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, air travel, oil consumption or imports. Nada, zip. If you can do fourth-grade math, you can understand why.

We are prisoners of economic geography. Suburbanization after World War II made most rail travel impractical. …Trip origins and destinations are too dispersed to support most rail service.

Only in places with greater population densities, such as Europe and Asia, is high-speed rail potentially attractive. Even there, most of the existing high-speed trains don't earn "enough revenue to cover both their construction and operating costs," the Congressional Research Service report said. The major exceptions seem to be the Tokyo-Osaka and Paris-Lyon lines.

President Obama calls high-speed rail essential "infrastructure" when it's actually old-fashioned "pork barrel." The interesting question is why it retains its intellectual respectability. The answer, it seems, is willful ignorance. People prefer fashionable make-believe to distasteful realities. They imagine public benefits that don't exist and ignore costs that do.

Samuelson predicts economic disaster for California if it spends $43 billion to build a high-speed rail system it can’t afford to operate. Or rather he predicts that the current economic disaster will get worse.

No comments: