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.