Rails Won’t Save America

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Rising gas prices and concerns about greenhousegases have stimulated calls to buildmore rail transit lines in urban areas, increasesubsidies to Amtrak, and construct a large‐​scaleintercity high‐​speed rail system. These megaprojectswill cost hundreds of billions of dollars, butthey won’t save energy or significantly reducegreenhouse gas emissions.

Although media reports suggest that manypeople are taking public transit instead of driving,actual numbers show that recent increasesin transit ridership account for only 3 percent ofthe decline in urban driving. Also, contrary topopular belief, rail transit does not save energy.Many light‐​rail operations use more energy perpassenger mile than the average sport utility vehicle,and almost none uses less than a fuel‐​efficientcar such as a Toyota Prius. People who respond tohigh fuel prices by taking transit are not savingenergy; they are merely imposing their energycosts on someone else.

Rail transportation is also much more heavilysubsidized than other forms of travel. Where highwaysubsidies average less than a penny per passengermile, and subsidies to flying are even lower,Amtrak costs taxpayers 22 cents per passenger mileand urban transit costs 61 cents per passenger mile.

Even if rail transport did save energy, spendingmore money on rail will get few people out oftheir cars. People who want to save energy shouldplan to buy more fuel‐​efficient cars and encouragecities to invest in traffic signal coordination,which can save far more energy at a tiny fraction of the cost of building new rail transport lines.