High‐​Speed Rail Is Not “Interstate 2.0”

September 9, 2009 • Briefing Paper No. 113

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.

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